A Brief History of Spain (4)

The opening for the Muslim Era was provided by a major dispute within the Visigothic hierarchy. The Visigoths were Christinas, but subscribed to the Arian interpretation of the relationship between Jesus and God. As such they were considered heretics by Rome, and so whe the Visigothn King Recarold converted to catholicism in the 6th century this led to internal conflicts within the ruling families, conflict which came to a head on the death of Recarold’s son and successor, King Witiza in 710. Roderic, Duke of Baetica (an Arian) immediatelyseized the throne and installed himself as King. Witiza’s family then appealed for help to Tariq ben Ziyad, the Berber Governor of Tangier, and In April 711 he crossed the straits with an army estimated at between 7,000 and 12,000 men, establishing a beachhead near to Algeciras (Gibr al Tariq = Gibraltar). He rapidly advanced to Medina Sidonia where he defeated Roderic’s forces and carried on to take the Visigothic capital of Toledo. Over the next three years, the Berbers spread out across the Peninsula as far as the borders of Galicia in the west, and to the banks of the Ebro in the north and east. Generally at this stage, we are talking about taking control of the territory rather than actually occupying it. For the most part the local population stayed put, many converting to Islam, but many more not. Although nominally the Reconquest began almost immediately with the Battle of Covadonga (Asturias) at which the Christian, Pelayo defeated the invading Muslims, in truth this was no more than a little local skirmish between a Muslim raiding party and the local population defending their cattle and their women. The Christian kingdoms of the north of Hispania were too small, too weak and too disunited in the eighth century to put up any real resistance. Over the next 150 years these kingdoms gradually came together, the two main events bringing this about being firstly the claim in 791 of Alfonso II of Galicia to be the rightful successor to the Visigothic kings, with his sights set on Toledo, the Visigothic capital, and secondly, the ‘discovery’ around 830 AD of the long lost tomb of St James in present day Santiago de Compostela. The tomb rapidly became the third most important pilgrimage destination after Jerusalem and Rome, which in turn led to the Knights Templar establishing themselves along the route as protectors of the faithful, thus greatly increasing Christian military strength, and ushering in the beginning of the true process of reconquest, which even so would not be finally completed until the end of the fifteenth century. Meanwhile, the three hundred years from Tariq’s landing in 711 to the death of the Caliph of Córdoba, al-Mansur in 1031 represents the golden age of Al-Andalus, as the Muslims named those parts (most) of the Peninsula under their rule. The name, Al-Andalus harks back to the Germanic tribes driven out of tHispania in 429; Al-Andalus, the land of the Vandals.


A Brief History of Spain (3)

The Romans, as I said last time, invaded the Iberian Peninsula in force early in the third century BC. They named the territory Hispania, which gives us our first taste of a name resembling modern, Spain. We have already seen how the Phoenicians gave us the name, Gadir which evolved into Cádiz, and that the Carthaginians gave us Cartagena, the name by which that city is still known today. The Romans gave us some more recognisable names. They divided Hispania into four provinces, in the north west, Callecia (Galicia), in the east, Tarraconensis (Tarragona), in the west, Lusitania (Portugal) and in the south, Baetica, the province which came to be the richest in natural resources and hence the most important along with its capital, Córdoba. In honour of the Emperor Augustus, they also founded the city of Caesarea Augusta (Zaragoza). Christianity appears to have arrived in Hispania very quickly after the death of Jesus, although it is difficult to pin down precisely when. If we look to the New Testament there are a couple of clues. The book, Acts of the Apostles tells us that in AD 44, Herod had James,brother of John (author of the Gospel of St John) beheaded. Spanish legend has it that James’s disciples brought his remains by boat to the north west coast of Spain, coming ashore in what is now Galicia, where they received permission to bury his body. For some time a chapel marked the site of the burial, but this fell into disuse and knowledge of its location was lost. We shall return to this later, but the choice of Hispania as a destination might suggest that there was already a Christian presence. A second clue is to be found in St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, written in AD 57 or 58. He promises the Christians living in Rome that, “When I have... officially handed over what has been raised, I shall set out for Spain, and visit you on the way.” Unfortunately, there is no record in the New Testament, and no local tradition in Spain, that Paul ever did get to Hispania, but it was his custom to visit existing Christian communities rather than to set out to convert people from scratch, and so his intention lends support to the idea that there were already Christians living in Hispania within 25 to 30 years of Jesus’s death. A third clue is a tradition in the Orthodox Church, that during the first century AD, the “Six Apostolic Men” sent to convert Hispania were all martyred. All of this points to Christianity arriving here very early, though not as early as reported by one schoolboy howler picked up by one of the markers of this year’s A-Level papers, in which a student confidently asserted that, “The Romans brought Christianity to Spain in the third century BC.” Roman rule in Hispania lasted some six hundred years. Then in AD 409 Germanic tribes crossed the Rhine, swept across Gaul and entered Hispania. The Suevi occupied Galicia and northern Portugal; the Alani conquered and settled southern Portugal (the Alentejo), and the Vandals took over Baetica. All of this was possible because the Roman Empire was by now in terminal decline, to the extent that the Emperor Honorius was unable to send troops to drive out the invaders. Instead, he appealed for help to Athaulf, his sister’s husband and the King of the Visigoths (who were also Christians), to do the job for him. Athaulf and his armies entered the peninsula in strength in AD 415, basically ignoring the Suevi in the north west, but slowly but steadily driving the Alani and the Vandals south, until in AD 429 these two tribes were forced to retreat across the straits into North Africa. Unfortunately for Honorius, the Visigoths were very taken with the lands that they had conquered and so stayed on setting up their own kingdom and establishing their own capital city at Toledo; the country continued to be know as Hispania. So now we have Christianity firmly established in Spain. Next we will look at the arrival of Islam.


A Brief History of Spain (2)

Moving forward to around 12,000 BC, we come to the Neolithic Age when a sophisticated culture seems to have developed in southern Spain, marked among things by the building of megalithic tombs along the coastal areas of the Peninsula, of which a particularly fine example is to be found at Antequera, here in Andalucía. The region around Almería was settled in the millennium from 5,000 to 4,000 BC by the Iberians, a neolithic people who arrived from North Africa bringing with them an agricultural, pastoral style of living.. With the arrival of the Bronze Age, made possible partly by a settled lifestyle, but mainly by the abundant supply of copper in the area, these people began to spread outwards from Almería, roughly 1,500 BC, into the rest of Andalucía and north onto the meseta. Then, in 1,000 BC they were joined by several waves of Celtic and Germanic tribes, and we find ourselves in the era of the Celt/Iberians. It was at this time that the Iberians founded the kingdom of Tartessus, based on the estuary of the Guadalquivir river and extending from present-day Huelva in the west to what is now Tarifa in the south. At the other end of the Mediterranean, a major power was the Phoenicians who were extending their trading activities westward, first into modern-day Libya, and then through the straits and up the west coast of the peninsula where they founded a trading post, the city of Gadir, now Cadiz, the oldest city in Europe. They remained a powerful influence in the area for the following four hundred years, until their growing links with Byzantium in the east shifted the whole emphasis of their activities. The Phoenicians left behind them the colony of Carthage on the North African coast. Freed from the control of the Phoenicians, in 600 BC the Carthaginians invade and destroyed Tartessus, and then spread eastwards along the Mediterranean coast as far as present-day Murcia; here they founded their new capital, Cartagena. The most famous of the Carthaginians was a gentleman by the name of Hannibal, he of elephant fame. The main, competing political entity to the Carthaginians was Rome and its empire to the east. At the time we are talking about - the early third century BC - Rome took little interest in the Iberian Peninsula, its westward expansion having stopped at the Pyrenees. Hannibal, on the other hand, had ambitions beyond his station. Confidently, he attacked the might of the Rpman Empire in 219 BC - and lost. Thus ended the rule of the Carthaginians and thus came the wholesale invasion and occupation of the peninsula by the Romans. More about the Romans next time.


A Brief History of Spain (1)

Recently I was invited to speak on the topic of the three cultures to a group to which my wife belongs. The latest festival had just finished and members were interested to know what it was all about. As I researched the topic, I found more and more of interest and dug further and further back into history. It struck me that other people might also be interested in the story of the Iberian peninsula and so over the next few postings that is what I am going to write about. We start a long, long way back; near the village of Orce, in Granada Province, is an archeological site which has yielded the earliest know human artifacts in Europe. The stone tools which have been discovered were made by our human ancestors, the Neanderthals, some 1.4 million years ago, dating which demonstrates that early humans were colonising western Europe almost half a million years earlier than previously believed. Their presence covered an enormous timeframe, stretching right up to around 40,000 years ago by which time the Mediterranean coast from Tangier to Alicante represented the last outmost of Neanderthal Man, as Homo Sapiens arrived from France via the Bay of Biscay coastline, and progressively spread south. Close by Frigiliana we have the town of Nerja, and on the outskirts of the town are the famous Nerja Caves, a major tourist attraction. Only a relatively small part of the caves are open to the public, though it will still take you two or three hours to look round them; the caves then penetrate deep into the mountain for several kilometres. In the upper galleries, archeologists have discovered a series of cave paintings, thought to dat back to the Stone Age. Recently, however, organic material found in the area which has the paintings has been dated to an estimated 42,000 years ago. Investigators from France have now visited the paintings with sophisticated electronic equipment which has allowed them to take samples of the calcium deposits overlying the paintings, without damaging the paintings themselves. These deposits have now been taken away for dating in the laboratory; it will take some months but the results are awaited with great excitement. If the age is confirmed as 42,000 years, then a major reassessment will be needed. Either Homo Sapiens arrived in this area much earlier than was thought, or Neanderthal Man also produced cave art. This latter conclusion would call into question the universally accepted view that the ability to create representational paintings is a unique characteristic of modern man, Homo Sapiens. All this of course, is long before the “three cultures”, but serves to demonstrate the importance of this area way back at the dawn of human time.


The Good News And The Bad News

September has arrived and with it, cooler weather. There is a precision here that I have noticed in previous years and which I am at a loss to explain. For the past six weeks or thereabouts we have had daily maximum temperatures ranging between 32 and 37 degrees, and overnight lows of around 23 to 25 degrees. And so it continued through last week. But yesterday was the first day of September and our maximum was 27 degrees; overnight it fell to 17 degrees and today’s high is 24 degrees. My online weather forecast tells me that this is the pattern for the next 14 days. How does the weather know the date so accurately? A stupid question, I know, but it does it year in, year out. It can’t be just coincidence - can it? Whatever the reason and whatever the mechanism, this is the good news. Our electricity costs will be less as we shan’t need the aircon and the fans. It is pleasant to go out and about again during the day, and soon we’ll be able to take up serious walking again. That is on a personal level. On a wider consideration, we should hopefully have seen the last of the horrendous fires like the one I wrote about last time; the countryside is still tinder-dry, but it’s unliklely that we will see a repeat of “the three 30s”. I only learned yesterday of this rule of thumb that brings the emergency services to full alertness: If you have temperatures of 30 degrees or above, and you have wind speeds of 30 kmh or above and you have humidity of less than 30%, then you have all the necessary ingredients for major wildfires to break out. I’ve titled this post ‘The Good News And The Bad News”. The bad news, too, is a consequence of the arrival of September, though this hopefully is a one-off situation. To combat the current economic crisis (or if you are on the paying out end, to exacerbate it!), the Spanish government announced changes to IVA rates (VAT) with effect from 1st September. The 8% rate is increased to 10%, the 18% rate is increased to 21% and the 4% rate, imposed on items judged necessities, is abolished, being replaced by either the 10% or the 21% rate. So up go all the prices yet again, and in addition to permitted increases in gas and electricity prices which are effectively backdated to allow the utility companies to make up the ground lost when these prices were frozen in the autumn of last year. So actually, not using the aircon and the fans means we won’t pay as much more as we might have done. Moreover, public sector employees, who last year saw their pay cut by around 5%, now have to work an extra two and a half hours a week with no extra pay to accompany it.


More Fires

At the beginning of this week a fire broke out in the campo at the edge of the village. This time it broke out in the valley bottom near to houses, and so was more worrying than our previous two fires this year. Fortunately, it was also quite close to the municipal, outdoor swimming pool, so the smaller of the two helicopters dealing with the fire was able to get water from there, which did rather interfere with holiday-makers’ ability to enjoy a swim. Fortunately, too, the vegetation in that area is a mixture of matorral (short, coarse grasses, thyme, rosemary and other woody shrubs), fruit trees, olive trees and almond trees, which are slow to ignite. Not so in the area of the western Costa del Sol behind Marbella where fire broke out on Thursday evening, growing and spreading rapidly to destroy 1.500 hectares (3,700 acres) and several houses before being brought under control. At least one person died, around hal a dozen needed hospital treatment and more than 5,000 people had to flee their homes. Unlike our own locality, the mountain is heavily forested with pine and eucalyptus, both highly resinous and hence swift to ignite. These trees burn fiercely and with the help of a strong breeze, throw off huge numbers of burning embers which in turn start fresh fires. The photographs and video footage which I saw online showed something truly horrendous. In 1975 a fire raged through the mountains behind Frigiliana. At that time, our mountains, too, were heavily populated with pine trees, all of which were burned to the ground, leaving the whole sierra denuded. That must have been even more terrifying; in those days communications were poor, access to the sierras was by rough, unsurfaced drove roads, and there were no helicopters to come to the rescue with their canvas buckets.