The Battle of Frigiliana

In a recent post, I mentioned in passing the Battle of Frigiliana. Today I’m coming back to it in some detail, as it was a key part of the history of this region, La Axarquía, which lies roughly between Velez Málaga in the west and the Granada province boundary in the east, and from the coast up into the sierras to the north.
In the closing years of the Reconquest, the two most important fortress towns in La Axarquía were Bentomíz (now disappeared) in the western part and Frigiliana in the eastern section. There was a thriving industry exporting fine silk to Britain, Flanders, Germany and Norway.
I suppose that we tend to think of the Reconquest as a matter of the christian forces driving back the invading muslim forces from North Africa, a bit like the first Gulf War to drive Saddam Hussain out of Kuwait. It was, in reality, more like a genocide or ‘ethnic cleansing’. The people of Al Andalus (the muslim kingdom of Spain) at the end of the 15th century, could trace their their heritage back through more than thirty generations of continuous settlement in Spain; they were, if you like, as ‘Spanish’ as the christian populations in the rest of Spain.
The Reconquest was a long and bloody civil war, culminating but not finishing in 1492 with the fall of Granada and the expulsion of the Boabdil. Very many muslims left Spain at that time, but many remained, and converted to christianity, not always willingly. These are the people whom we refer to as los moriscos. Nominally christian, they continued to follow their traditional ways, speak their own language and wear their traditional form of dress. However, they suffered recurrent persecution and lived life very much as second class citizens. This could not continue indefinitely and everything came to a head at Christmas 1568 when the moriscos of Granada rose up in rebellion, shortly followed by those of La Axarquía.
Initial skirmishes took place around Bentomíz, but the land was judged too difficult to defend and so the villagers began to trek across the mountains from all parts of La Axarquía to the village of Frigiliana on the slopes of the mountain of El Fuente. They had all arrived in Frigiliana by the end of April 1569.
On June 11th, the christian forces attacked, reinforced by a section of the Spanish fleet which had been called back from Italy and landed at Nerja. The people retreated up onto the ridge above the castle from where they rolled rocks and millstones down at the advancing forces, but they were heavily outnumbered and it was clear that defeat was unavoidable. Realising this, many - men, women and children - threw themselves off the ridge, preferring death to servitude; the survivors were marched off to a life of slavery, leaving the surrounding countryside emptied of all people. Only slowly was the region repopulated with christian Spanish from the north.
If you visit Frigiliana and go up into the old morisco quarter you will find a series of 12 ceramic wall plaques which retell this story of another bloody time in the village’s history.


A Significant Date In The Calendar

Tonight the clocks go forward, but that's not what I mean. No, today I gathered up all my winter, long-sleeved shirts, and took them up to the cupboard upstairs; and I brought down my short-sleeved, summer shirts. The next step will be substituting sandals for shoes and socks, and shorts for trousers - not long now!!


La Gente de la Sierra

Visitors to the Costa del Sol often find themselves seduced by the contribution made to modern day Spain by its Islamic past. Architecture, food, place names, music - all show strong links with the Moorish period of Al Andalus. Highlights include the great Mezquita in Córdoba and the Alhambra palaces in Granada, but the links are there to be seen in even the smallest villages.
In many ways Frigiliana epitomises this heritage, having been the site of just about the last battle between Christian and Muslim, when in May 1569 Moriscos from across the Axarquía were defeated in the Battle of Frigiliana; the full story is told in panels of ceramic tiles mounted on walls around the village, the idea of a past alcalde (mayor), Antonio Navas Acosta. He was also responsible for the restoration of cobbles throughout the streets of the old part of the village, inset with their traditional patterns. Indeed, in 1983 Frigiliana was declared the prettiest village in Spain.
It was only after I came to live here permanently two years ago, that I learned of another, darker side to the history of Frigiliana, one which even today is very rarely spoken of. In November 1947, eight years after the end of the civil war, the area bounded by Frigiliana, Torrox and Cómpeta was declared a war zone by the government in Madrid. Earlier that year, 12 men from Frigiliana had gone up into the mountains to join the communist guerrillas under the leadership of José Muñoz Lozano (known by the code name, Roberto). Eventually, a total of 21 local men would become part of the guerrilla group fighting to overthrow the Franco government.
In response, the area was reinforced by large numbers of soldiers and Guardia Civil officers, tasked with wiping out the guerrillas. The conflict lasted for five years until the last of the guerrillas still in the mountains, Antonio Sanchez Martín, was shot dead. By the time it was all over, eleven guerrillas had been shot dead in skirmishes, ambushes, or summary executions; three had been executed after trial, one had committed suicide, and two had been killed by their comrades suspected of spying for the authorities.
I learned all of this, and more from a book* by local author, David Baird, published just after my arrival. I would unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone interested to see just how different life in this region was only 60 years ago.
The photograph that heads this posting is one of my favourites, showing the ridge La Loma de las Vacas surrounded by mist. It is a chastening thought that it was on that ridge on April 22nd 1950 that Civil Guard officers shot dead three village men whom they had arrested earlier in the day; their bodies were later delivered to the cemetery.

* "Between Two Fires", Baird,D, Maroma Press, 2008, Frigiliana
ISBN: 978-84-612-2053-3


My New Interest

For many years now I've enjoyed painting in watercolours, mainly scenes from around Frigiliana. Whenever we were here on holiday my camera would be with me yielding a rich source of inspiration for paintings once back in the UK. Having moved here permanently, though, I found it harder and harder to find new subjects, so this year I decided to switch to another subject - portraits. So armed with photos of family members I began trying my hand (literally) at the subject; it was one of the reasons I had my recent Lake District holiday, the chance just to focus on my painting for a few days. That seems to have successfully kick-started my interest, and already I can see improvements. I've a long way to go yet, but I'm really very pleased with this painting of my youngest granddaughter.


The Rain In Spain.....

..... falls mainly on the plain, if we are to believe Professor Higgins. This year, however, a not inconsiderable amount has fallen on the Costa. In view of the absolutely horrendous storm that blew its way across Portugal, northern Spain and western France at the weekend, let me make it quite clear that I am not complaining; I am simply reporting.
There are a number of English-language monthly magazines which are published free each month. One of them publishes an occasional feature examining our weather over the year, and this time around it makes fascinating reading.
Over the course of the year Nerja, our nearest town received 529mm of rain, or just 0ver 21 inches. However, half of this total fell between and end of December 2008 and the middle of December 2009. The other half fell between the 18th and the 26th December 2009! The wet weather continued into 2010 with January receiving a further 103mm or 4 inches of rain, with rain falling on half the days in the month.
This is an area where the arrival or absence of rain is always an issue, and so we should be thankful for such an abundant supply. Unfortunately in the quantities which this winter brought it causes problems of its own. Apart from several landslips, one of which left a house in the campo resting five metres further down the hill than it should be, and leaning at an angle of 5 degrees, the sheer volume of water has threatened the reservoirs that collect it. The sluice gates had to be opened at all seven reservoirs in the Malaga province, in two days discharging water equivalent to a whole month's consumption.