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.

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