History of Almunecar

Tuesday, August 9, 2011
By Editor

You know, when we talk about eras covering our Roman or Phoenician settlements, it’s easy to underestimate the sheer length of these periods. Take the Phoenician occupation of Almunecar, for example, which lasted 600 years, starting around 800 BC, not only did this period commence 300 years before the Classical Golden Age of Greece, but those 600 years would take us back to some 80 years before Columbus discovered the Americas, as an equivalent time lapse. So it is not as if the Phoenicians turned up for a couple of beers and buggered off again, is it?

No, the Phoenicians turned up, set up shop and turned Sexi, as it was then known, into a major salted-fish supplier for Greece and Rome. Actually, the prime product was garum made from mackerel liver and roe, which was a kind of highly concentrated fish paste, guaranteed to knock the sandals off a Roman legionary at 100 paces.

After those 600 odd years, the Phoenicians did abandon Almunecar, with a little help from the Romans, around 218 AD. The Romans had got themselves into a pissing match with Carthage, which originated as a Phoenician colony but had outstripped the mother country in importance… bit like the bloody Americans, really. Anyway, after a little misunderstanding with Hannibal and a herd of grumpy elephants, they set about knocking on the head all the Phoenician-cum-Carthage colonies on the Mediterranean coast of Iberia, and amongst them, Almunecar, bless them. No more garum fish paste them, eh?

Anyway, what can we tell you about the Romans that you don’t already know… apart from the fish paste, that is? They hung around almost 700 years and by 49 BC; i.e., a couple of years after Julius stab-me-in-the-forum Caesar had knocked some sense into the blue-painted Britons, they bestowed the title of Firmium Julium Sexi on the town, which was the equivalent of a “I love Almunecar” bumper sticker, sort of thing. Little did he know that just under 2,000 years later the Britons would be cruising Almunecar, but instead of being painted blue, they would be sporting lobster red skin, bless them.

But back to the Roman peasant stompers of the First Century… Now, because they were really into this garum muck, they decided to outdo the Phoenicians on the fish-salting front and expand the business premises. Not only did you need a lot of fish and salt to knock out the goods, but you also needed plenty of fresh water, so being Romans they just sort of built an elevated river (aqueduct) to show off.

Aqueduct in Rio Seco

Four stretches of this engineering feat are still standing, despite our politicians and 2,000 years of wear and tear! When the Moors turned up, they took one look at them and said, “We’ll have those, thank you very much,” and bagged them along with the majority of the Iberian Peninsular, but we’ll come to those blighters in a moment, after finishing with the Rowdy Romans and dealt with the Unwashed Visigoths.

Anyway, as we were saying, the Romans, who were incapable of sitting still, also knocked up San Miguel Castle Mark I, and as they were really into spanning things with arches, linked the Peñon to the Castle with a 30-metre arch which lasted until the dawn of the 19th century. Of course, the castle that we see today contains little of that original construction, but they were the lads that got up one morning and said, “Hey, what about a castle – make a nice bloody change from aqueducts, right?”

Finally, on the subject of our 1st century Latin wine louts, they also built a palace – being Roman it was pretty drab and had no little squiggly bits – which today survives as the Palacios de Siete Cuevas. Of course, it wasn’t a cave at all, but by the time that the unwashed Visigoths had got through with it, it might as well have been. The building survived all this time as ‘social housing,’ until the tenants were rehoused in the 1970’s. It’s now a museum, by the way. To finish off the list of Roman remains we have the Roman bridge in Cotobro, that doesn’t look very Roman, but then again neither would you after 2,000 years of being stomped over, right? There are also Roman tombs or burial-urn buildings.

By 476 AD, Roman Almunecar was a top tourist site for visiting barbarians, who much like London rioters 1,500-odd years later, trashed everything in sight, with the difference that the Vandals and Goths basically trashed the whole of the Roman Western Empire.

With smelly Visigoths in command in Almunecar, everything ground to a halt. The fish curing industry disappeared, along with the garum. Besides, who needed the reek of garum to blow your Roman sandals off, when you had the aroma of Visigoths to hand?

So that’s it; there’s not a lot more to mention about the Visigoths as they didn’t actually achieve anything, build anything or change their underwear once in the 300 years that they used to sit around and wait for the Muslims to turn up.

Further down the coast, in Tarifa near Gibraltar, some pretty industrious Arabs turned up in 711 on a mission – kick some Iberian butt, which they did, remarkable well, until 1492 when they were evicted from their last chill out pad, known as the Alhambra. The Phoenicians managed 600 years, the Romans 700 years, the Visigoths not quite 300, but the Muslims clocked up virtually 800 years. In fact the Muslims occupied Spain for a greater time period than that which has elapsed since they were kicked out!

As for Almunecar, a whizz kid called Abd ar-rahman I from Damascus, ran his ship up on one of our beaches in 711, took one whiff of the Visigoths and buggered off to Cordoba to found a completely independent emirate. This was the first emirate in all of the Muslim lands to emancipate itself from central control in Damascus.

Back in Almunecar, the Arabs revived the fish-preserving industry, introduced sugar cane and sat around on cushions smoking dope – cool!

As a well-known artist and Almunecar resident, Roland Fade, pointed out, the Muslims were really on the ball: in Granada, they knocked up a palace, gardens and fountains, plenty of scantily dressed chicks and stocked serious amounts of dope – Roland misses the 60’s, you might have guessed.

Meanwhile, back down in Almunecar, they strengthened the castle, fortified the walls and built steam baths, as well as dungeons for Christian party spoilers.

Hell, but all good things have to end, so by 1489 the unwashed Visigoths, converted into unwashed Christians overran the town’s defences, closed the baths, banned the dope and set about making the whole peninsular into a dreary, penitence-junky, suspiciously odorous, bad-vibes abode.

Did you know that the cross on the rock was raised – the original cross that is – at the mouth of the old harbour to mark the Christian victory in 1498? In those times, San Cristobal was a bay with the Majuelo botantical park actually being on the water’s edge. In fact, they found a landing stage in Jete because ships could actually sail up that far.
But the 15th/16th Century Christians didn’t sit around and pick their boils all day like the Visigoths – no, Sir; they did some serious building, too. The church was started in 1557 and by 1600 looked pretty much as it does today. It was also the first Baroque-style building in the province of Granada. You’ve got to remember that the Italians had gone all psychedelic with lots of twiddly bits (formally known as the Renaissance) around that time, so is it any wonder that Almunecar should have a quick flirt with bricks?

Medieval Fountain

A good place to see some of these early public works is the Calle Real where the fountain – the Medieval chick with the twin-barrelled Wonderbra – was built in 1559, using the 1,500-year-old Roman water supply system from Las Angosturas.

With the recently evicted Muslims in a huff over on the North African coast, pirate raids became pretty frequent, so Charles the III ordered the whole of the coastline to be surveyed and a system of coastal fortifications to be set up, consisting of stone watch towers (atalayas) in line of sight, laced with small garrison forts (La Herradura & Tesorillo) and the Castillo de San Miguel acting as a main-defensive point on this part of the coast.

It all worked pretty well until the French sneaked in over the Pyrenees in 1808 and overran the country. Before you could say, “Oy, watch it with that bayonet – you’ll have somebody’s eye out with it,” they were sitting in San Miguel castle and wiping out all the garrison wine supply – is nothing sacred?

The British, who were not keen on the French at the best of times, agreed to send down a group of ships in 1812 and render useless all the coastal defence works, either through shelling, as was the case with San Miguel, or just by landing Royal Marines and sailors to spike the guns of small installations further down the coast.

The British worked in conjunction with Spanish guerrilla units, such as the one led by the Mayor of Otivar, Alcaide Caridad, who had a great time throwing the French out of Nerja, Almunecar, Motril and even tackled the main French garrison in Granada in a pitched battle just outside Padul, where he had his arse kicked. Good lad, mind – shame about the bullet holes.

Actually, he survived the war, after recovering in a cave from 12 musket-ball wounds, only to die a drunk and forgotten; poor sod.

Anyway, HMS Hyacinth shelled the castle, which encouraged the French to pack up and go, but not before attempting to blow up the castle; hence the fallen tower at the entrance. With the French gone the castle was patched up, only to be turned into the town cemetery after a cholera outbreak in 1830.

And so it remained until 1986, when it was emptied and the cemetery moved down to its present location… not before half of the Almunecar school boys turned up at school with grisly trophies from the coffins. I remember taking a walk up in the castle at the time and the place was strewn with broken coffins and femurs – most of the skulls had been bagged by schoolboys.

So, it’s getting late and that’s about all there is to tell, without getting into boring details, so thus concludes the Seaside Gazette’s Condensed History of Almunecar – Amen.

(News/History: Almunecar, Costa Tropical, Granada, Andalucia

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