Bronze age origins
The earliest evidence of urban settlement in the village was found at El Morro de Mezquitilla, dating back to the Bronze Age. However, the most interesting findings were made at the Trayamar Necropolis, where a series of tombs dating back to the 8th century BC stretch from the Trayamar urbanisation to a nearby hill.
They are without doubt some of the most important historical-artistic relics in Europe, as far as Phoenician civilisation is concerned.
Following the Phoenicians came the Carthaginians for a short while, until the Romans conquered the whole country for centuries. With the fall of the Roman empire most villagers along the coast moved towards the hills to seek refuge from the invading Vandals, thus founding the pueblo.
Although we generally call the people who conquered Spain in 711 the Moors, they were actually made up out of various tribes. The people who conquered this area were specifically the Berber tribe of the Beni Tumi who gave their name to the Sierra de Bentomiz, and its castle.
During the Moorish period, Algarrobo came under the protection of the Castle of Bentomiz and consisted of a few streets, a mosque and a protective wall. However, the invaders actually stimulated the local economy and raised the profile of the area by cultivating raisins, figs and almonds, in addition to producing silk. They were also responsible for the winding streets and varying levels that still characterise the layout of the village today.
[Above: Recreation of Bentomiz Castle. A still from “Castillos de la Axarquia”, by the Axarquía Tourist Product Development Plan – see YouTube video right – financed by the Axarquía Tourist Product Development Plan].
While the name of the village is thought to be of Berber origin, there is no conclusive proof as to its origin. In one arabic text it is described as: “Al-Jarrūba, min qurà Multumās”, or Al-Jarruba, of the farms of Bentomiz’. However, it is also speculated that it may well just be named after the carob tree, known in Arabic as Algarrobo, or even just a translation of ‘the winds’. Left, Ceratonia siliqua, the European carob tree.
There is a story that there is a passage between the Algarrobo fortress and Bentomiz Castle, built to carry supplies from one place to the other without having to go out to open ground during sieges. The tunnel has not been found but the legend continues.
In 1487, along with other villages in the Axarquía, Algarrobo fell to the Catholic Monarchs. At first the Moors were allowed to stay in the area, but as laws prohibiting them from exercising their Muslim religion became stricter and stricter there were many uprisings.
Towards the end of the 16th century, the village of Algarrobo fell into the hands of Doña Catalina de Ribera, who quashed a rebellion by Moorish converts; subsequently, he expelled them and repopulated the area with old Christian families. The days of the Moors were over.
According to the historian Juan Jesús Bravo Caro, the new settlers were inexperienced as farmers in the rugged steep slopes of the Sierra Tejeda and Sierra Almijara, which made life for them extremely difficult. However, there was no choice, as this area was flanked by an area even more unsuitable for the cultivation of crops – the valley of the River Algarrobo. But despite lacking the Moors technical know-how, the settlers, the latest in a very long line of inhabitants of the area, managed to survive.
Algarrobo and the Peninsular War
Algarrobo’s part in the Peninsular War has gone down into local legend. This war, that took place between 1807 to 1814, known in Spain as the War of Independence, was a conflict between Napoleon and the allied powers of Spain, Britain and Portugal, for control of Spain.
It began with the ‘Dos de Mayo’ uprising in Madrid on 2nd and 3rd of May 1808, a rebellion against the occupation of the city by French troops, provoking repression by French Imperial forces and triggering the ‘Guerra de la Independencia Española’ or Peninsular war. But the years of fighting in Spain were to be a heavy burden on France’s so-called ‘Grande Armée’.
Left – ‘Tres de Mayo’ painted by Francisco Goya in 1814. It depicts French soldiers executing civilians defending Madrid, following the uprising of May 1808.
While the French were often victorious in battle, their communications and supplies were severely tested and their units were frequently isolated, harassed or overwhelmed by partisans fighting an intense guerrilla war of raids and ambushes. The Spanish armies were repeatedly beaten and driven to the peripheries but time and again they would regroup and relentlessly hound the French. This drain on French resources led Napoleon to call the conflict the “Spanish Ulcer”. Indeed, it was as a result of the tactics of the Spanish that the word ‘guerrilla’ (meaning a member of a small independent group taking part in irregular fighting), was first termed.
None were more committed to this policy of guerrilla war than the citizens of the Axarquía, and a legend has grown around an incident that took place in Algarrobo at this time.
20 hours to save Algarrobo from destruction… !
To deal with these troublesome Spanish fighters, a French officer called Comandante Bellangé was sent out from Málaga on September 19th 1811, at the head of a regiment of men. While the bulk of his army found nothing, the story goes that a dozen French soldiers under the leadership of a Capitan Ricard were ambushed and killed. It was said that the guerrillas that made this attack consisted mainly of men from Algarrobo, and lead by a man called José Segovia.
Comandante Bellangé’s reaction was swift, and he came to Algarrobo with his army on September the 24th, searching for Jose Segovia, who continued to elude him. It is at this point that the ‘official’ history ends, and legend begins.
Right and below – Poster and scene from a recreation of the failed attempt to burn Algarrobo down by French troops in 1811, organised by Algarrobo council and put on by ‘La Asociación Histórico Cultural Torrijos 1831’ in 2015.
According to local legend, Bellangé blamed the whole town of Algarrobo for the death of his men, as the guerrillas were natives of there and were obviously being protected. Therefore he decided that Algarrobo, as an example to the neighbouring towns, should be reduced to ashes and its inhabitants annihilated. The mayor asked for clemency and for the sentence to be delayed until the French governor in Málaga was notified of the case, hoping that he would be merciful and forgive them. It was not the citizens of Algarrobo who had made the ambush, he argued, it was just a small group.
Bellangé accepted this and calculated the time it would take a man to do the 80 kilometre round trip to and from Málaga, as well as carrying out the task, roughly one day. However, he then subtracted a few hours to avoid the mission from succeeding, giving them only 20 hours to save the town from destruction.
Thus, as time was not on the side of the desperate townsfolk, they decided to give one of the finest horses to the best horsemen in the town who, in his desperation, ran the unfortunate animal into the ground and had to find another to complete the journey.
It is said that the rider arrived with a pardon, with only a few minutes to spare, to the joy and happiness of the residents of Algarrobo!