Frigiliana's history... Phoenicians Moors Civil War Tourism
From Cavemen to Conquistadors...
Prehistoric man in the cave of bats...
Frigiliana History goes back a long way. Along the Rio Higueron, a few dozen metres from the village, archaeological remains were found in the Cueva de los Murciélagos (‘Cave of Bats’) in 1987. This cave is now regarded as of crucial importance to Frigiliana – not so much regarding the flying creatures it contains – but rather that it once housed the first human settlement in the area. It shows that people were in this territory for about a thousand years from about 3000 BC (the end of the Neolithic period), until the Chalcolithic period or Copper Age (about 2000 BC).
For decades the cave had been plundered of its archaeological content, but luckily, before it was totally lost or destroyed, a group of archaeologists excavated the cave in 1987 and therefore identified Frigiliana’s first crucial prehistoric sequence. The archaeological finds from this cave are now on display in Frigiliana’s museum. The photo on the right taken in the Frigiliana’s museum shows the skull of a child dating from the Neolithic, between 4000 and 5000 BC, found in the cave.
Man did not completely desert the area though, and in 2005 there was a new discovery belonging to the Bronze Age in an area called Los Poyos del Molinillo, where ceramic, metallic and stone grinding items were found, as well as an inhumation burial cave.
From the Phoenicians to the Romans...
The Phoenicians were the first civilisation to settle in the territory. Very near the village, at Cerrillo de las Sombras (Hill of the Shadows), there is a necropolis dating from Phoenician times (7th and 6th centuries B.C.), of which there are only two examples of this type in Europe.
This series of small tombs, now known as the Necrópolis del Cortijo de las Sombras, was discovered in 1965 by John Wilkins during the remodelling of his farmhouse. He notified the finding to the authorities, and the cemetery was then excavated by Professor Antonio Arribas a little later, (see their report here from which the above photos were taken).
The tombs consist of small holes dug in the ground in which urns were found with cremated remains inside. Some personal effects were also found in the graves like brooches, rings, and bracelets, made of various metals including bronze and silver. The spiral logo on the side of the Phoenician pot (above left), is actually an Egyptian design, and is now used as the museum’s logo.
After this period, prior to the Roman invasions, there is little evidence of occupation, though what there is seems to indicate the presence of a native Iberian tribe called the Bastulos or Bastetanos. The Roman writers Pliny, Strabo and Ptolemy called them the “Bastulos Poenos”. They were a Celtic community living in a region named by the Romans as Bastetania, (with the capital being Basti, five kilometres from Baza near Granada), an area that corresponded to the modern day provinces of Granada, Almería, as well as parts of Málaga, Murcia and Jaén. These Bastulos would have been living alongside the Turdetani, also ancient Iberians, the successors to the people of Tartessos, whose region stretched from modern day Portugal to Almuñecar. Adding to the mix was a Carthaginian presence in the area at the time of the Punic Wars.
The Romans began arriving in 206 BC, and Frigiliana became part of Conventus de Gades (modern day Cádiz), one of four districts for the administration of justice, in the Roman province of Andalucía. The gaditanus conventus territory covered most of the coast of Baetica from Cádiz to the area west of Almería, including Sexi (Almuñécar), and Malacca (Málaga).
At that time the village was known as Frexiniusana, possibly deriving from the name of an individual that owned property in the area – Frexinius – whose identity has been lost to us down the ages. (The suffix ‘ana’, in Spanish indicates origin and property). Frexiniusana has been corrupted down the centuries to Frigiliana.
There is evidence that there was a fortress built during the time of the Romans in Frigiliana, and that in the early years of the fifth century it was partially destroyed by the Germanic tribe called the Vandals, who were sweeping over Spain, and would give Andalucia its name.
No proper village settlement took place for centuries until the Moors arrived, some time after their invasion of Spain, in 711. From the ninth century the nucleus of the Moorish settlement grew up around its Roman fortress, El Fuerte de Frigiliana, later becoming known as the Castillo de Lizar.
At this time Frigiliana, which was known in the Arabic period as Fixiana, belonged to the Nasrid kingdom of Granada, and its economy was based on the production of oil, raisins, figs, orchards, sugar cane, and producing silk from silk worms.
The Arabs transformed the local agriculture through irrigation, built partly to serve the fort, but also for watering the sloping countryside around the village; a procedure that still exists today. Also, given the steepness, the only way they could farm the hillsides was by carving terraces, also still evident today.
It is curious that the Moors also cultivated large vineyards here, given that Islam explicitly forbids its followers to consume wine, but it seems that this ‘waywardness’, (including reports of drunkenness), was limited mostly to this part of southern Spain, as apparently neighbouring Valencia was quite the opposite, following a far more austere life in accordance with Muslim scripture.
Frigiliana and Omar ben Hafsun – nightmare of the Emirs?
The bloody end to the Moorish era...
The centuries of coexistence in Frigiliana
The Moors did not forcibly evict the former inhabitants of Frigiliana, there seems to be some amount of peaceful coexistance, despite their religious differences. For example, a few miles north of the village in the Cerro de Calixto, there was a 11th century chapel where Saint Ildefonsus, (a venerated Visigothic Bishop of Toledo, who had lived in the 7th century), was worshipped. In the photo on the left you can see part of a pot that was discovered in Frigiliana; on it there is a symbol of three religions – the cross for Christianity, the crescent moons for Islam, and the star for Judaism.
From the 13th century the village of Frigiliana was part of the Nasrid Kingdom, the last Moorish and Muslim dynasty in Spain, founded in 1232.
After the fall of the kingdom of Granada and during the reign of the Catholic Kings, the population continued being Muslim and its way of life and customs didn’t change much at all. In fact when the Christian forces first came in 1487, the chronicles say that the last Hispanic-Muslim mayor gave the castle and its grounds to the Castilian soldiers to avoid useless bloodshed. Many of the villagers even submitted themselves to religious conversion and were subsequently known as Moriscos. Indeed, there was a peaceful co-existence between these three distinct cultures – Christians, Moors and Jews – for about 100 years. The village became the property of the Count Manrique de Lara in 1508, whose house still stands. However, the village was still effectively controlled by the Moors, who still formed the majority of the inhabitants, although in depleted numbers.
The Rebellion of the Alpujarras
However, as time went by, disagreements ensued as the Christians wanted more and more control over the Moors, such as increasing restrictions on their religious beliefs and social practices, but mostly because of the excessive taxes imposed upon them. In 1567 the ‘Royal Pragmatic Law’ of Emperor Philip II, keenly put into force by inquisitor Pedro de Leza, forbid the Moors to speak or write their language, wear their traditional clothing, keep their customs, wear arms, and they were directed to hand over their books to be burned.
The revolt started first in the Alpujarras in the Kingdom of Granada, reaching the town of Bentomiz, near to Frigiliana, in April 1569. The Málaga uprising covered almost the whole region of Axarquía and Málaga Mountains, and was encouraged by various prominent men believing that they would be helped by the North Africans and the Alpujarrans. A local descendant of the governors of Frigiliana, Hernando El Darra, led several thousand rebels gathered in the fortress, El Fuerte de Frigiliana. There they successfully resisted the first attacks by forces sent by the governor of Vélez-Málaga, Arevalo de Zuarzo.
Unfortunately for the rebels, the governor then asked for the help on Saturday, 11th of June 1569 of Don Luis de Zúñiga y Requesens, great Knight Commander of Castile, whose ships were passing the area with an army of six thousand men. The Commander was already under orders from the King, Philip II, to put down the rebellion in the Alpujarras. He landed on the beaches of Torrox, and the subsequent battle is known nowadays as the Battle of the Peñon de Frigiliana (Rock of Frigiliana).
The Battle of the Peñon de Frigiliana
The reason why the six to seven thousand Moors chose to make a stand at the Rock of Frigiliana was, of course, purely strategic. It was a natural defensive barrier, difficult to access and therefore easy to defend. Moreover, the mountain range behind the village, Las Almijaras, were a frontier between the zone that was already at war in the Granada region – Las Alpujarras – and those regions in the West around Vélez, at peace. If all did not go according to plan, they could find paths through the mountains and head into the Granada region. Besides, if help was also to come from that direction, they were at the closest point.
The Christians recruited a motley collection to fight the Moors alongside their regular soldiers. Apart from military regiments from Italy (from where Luis de Zanaga had received his orders to put down the Alpujarran conflict), there were convicts that had been let out from a gaol in Barcelona, and even a group of 300 Turkish galley rowers.
During the battle it was reported that although the 3000 Moors on top of the fortress had few shot guns or crossbows, they had many slingers, in fact so many that the stones they released in the air seemed liked ‘a cloud of hail’. They also inserted heavy logs through the holes in the centres of mill stones, and rolled them down the mountain with great effect, scything down the oncoming Christian forces.
But in the end the peasant army could not stand up to the Christian forces, especially due to the disciplined soldiers from Málaga and Vélez, who had played a far more effective role than the Italian regiments.
The aftermath of the Peñon battle
It was one of the bloodiest battles in the history of the region. The Peñon was covered with a blanket of red blood in which more than two thousand Moors lay dead. Legend has it that many of the Moorish women who were fighting alongside their husbands, brothers and sons, threw themselves over the cliffs rather than be captured by the Christians when they saw all was lost. Others simply ran with their children on their shoulders trying to get away from the carnage.
It is said that at least 2000 lost their lives in the battle – half of whom were women, and 300 were children. Thousands of the younger men ran away to join the fighting in the Alpujarras. Many subsequently died in other battles, and the remainder either escaped to Africa or were captured and made into galley slaves. Finally, half of those who had stood defiantly at the Rock of Frigiliana – mostly Moorish women and boys – were sold as slaves and then given to troops as ‘spoils of war’. Many went to Córdoba, Toledo and even as far as Leon.
But the Christians suffered losses too, the Castillian victors lost nearly 500 dead and over 800 were wounded. In fact it is known that the King of Spain later on expressed his displeasure at the Commander using his forces in this battle. Don Luis de Zúñiga ordered the destruction of the castle, as well as the burial of the men on his side who had fallen, before sailing off with his galleys to Málaga. While some Moorish bodies may have been disposed of, (most likely cremated), many would have just been left to rot, given that no one was left in the village to afford them proper burials. The attachment to this event is so great in Frigiliana, that this battle is still commemorated on the day of San Antonio.
The end of an era
The battle at the Peñón de Frigiliana in 1569 ended centuries of coexistence between the three different cultures in these parts: the Moors, Jews and Christians. The near ghost town of Frigiliana was then repopulated by old Christians, mostly from Granada and Valencia.
The Alpujarras revolt finally finished in 1571, and almost the entire Morisco population was expelled from the former Kingdom of Granada, and spread around Spain. But that wasn’t the end for the Moors, even those that had coverted to Christianity, because in 1609 King Philip III finally ordered their complete expulsion from Spain.
This Moorish part of the village is known as the ‘Barribarto’ quarter. ‘Barribarto’ being a contraction of ‘Barrio Alto’ (upper quarter), a term not exclusive to Frigiliana, as other villages in this part of Andalucia use it. As well as Barribarto, the area is also known as the Barrio Mudejar. Mudejar was a term used to describe the Moors who stayed in Spain after the reconquest but did not convert to Christianity, and also to a style of architecture and decoration in Spain that was strongly influenced by Moorish taste and craftsmanship. So when strolling through the old quarter it is very easy to turn back the clock and imagine children running through the narrow streets, as men and women went to work on the fields. There would have been a cacophony of languages spoken here, Castilian, Berber, Arabic, and Hebrew, among others. Are there perhaps descendants of the Moors left in Frigiliana – or any Andalucían village for the matter – where they had lived for 30 generations? No one is sure, but some say it is highly likely that a few would have stayed and mixed with the Christians who repopulated the area.
The 17th to the 19th centuries...
The slow return
During the 17th century, Frigiliana suffered from a period of inactivity with its population declining from its 15th and 16th century heights of more than 3000 inhabitants, to not much more than a hundred individuals. The expulsion of the Moors meant that many of the local industries disappeared including the production of silk.
However, one of the Moors agricultural innovations, that of the growing and refining of sugar cane was maintained, and indeed intensified. The industry became so successful that they took over the largest building in the village, El Ingenio Nuestra Señora del Carmen (photo left), an old 16th century mansion, and converted it into a factory to refine the cane into sweet molasses. It is still operating today, and is the last of its kind in Europe. There is now a special day to commemorate the cane honey produced there, called Dia de la Miel de Caña held in late April / early May.
Moreover, from the middle of the 17th century, Frigiliana started to organise itself politically, economically and socially. In May 1640, the fifth Lord of Frigiliana, Don Iñigo Manrique de Lara, obtained official recognition of the village from King Philip IV. The municipality was created and the first population census was carried out, which showed that there were 160 inhabitants at the time. But over the next 60 years the village started to expand again, and some 500 people were registered in the year 1700.
While the 18th century was a century of mixed fortunes in foreign policy, there was a gradual recovery and increase in prosperity through much of Spain as the new Bourbon monarchy followed the French system of modernising the economy. Nearby Torre del Mar experienced such an increase in business that its port was expanded in order to better ship the grape and citrus harvests to northern Europe. By the end of this century and into the next, Málaga became the second most important industrial centre of Spain, due to the high-class bourgeoisie that had been formed – mainly the Larios and the Heredia families. The expansion of the sugar cane fields under the auspices of the Larios family, was of great benefit to the people of Frigiliana, Nerja and Maro.
Yellow fever, War of Independence, bandits, earthquakes and phylloxera
However, the 19th century was not a good one for the Málaga area. It started off tragically with an epidemic of yellow fever that swept Málaga in 1803 and 1804, devastating the population. In fact the municipal government in Vélez-Málaga was so depleted that its powers were assumed by the military.
Then from 1808, Spain was embroiled in a war against Napoleon and his French forces, (n.b. the Peninsular War to the British, and the War of Independence to the Spanish). In 1808, Napoleon installed his elder brother Joseph as the King of Spain and his troops occupied the country. Napoleon’s troops captured villages like Frigiliana and nearby Nerja. The French forces set up coastal defences in the castle at Nerja. This emplacement and a similar tower nearby were destroyed with the help of British led forces in 1811 / 1812 in order to deny their use to the French occupying forces. [The sequence of events has always been contentious, though new evidence is helping build a more accurate narrative – see Nerja history page].
Then between 1810 and 1812, a grisly incident took place in Frigiliana, when, after a group of French soldiers disappeared, some of the residents of the village were hanged in revenge at a place now known as La Horca (‘The Gallows’), where the new football pitch was built.
Málaga rebelled against the French troops and this period left the region in a very bad state economically when the French troops left, (around 1812). Napoleon later said that his intervention in Spain was among his worst mistakes, referring to it as ‘the Spanish wasps nest’ or ‘the Spanish ulcer’, which had divided and exhausted his military strength.
The Spanish War of Independence was one of the most successful wars fought by resistance fighters in history, and is the origin of the word guerrilla in the English language, (from ‘guerra de guerrillas’ or ‘war of little wars’). [The photo above left shows a historical reenactment of the failed attempt to burn Algarrobo down by French troops in 1811, organised by Algarrobo council in 2015 – more details here].
Just as in many other villages in the Axarquía, Frigiliana was subjected to the bandits that roamed the countryside towards the end of the 19th century. In 1844, the activities of the bandits led the government to set up the Guardia Civil: Spain’s paramilitary national police force. Many bandits were forced into the service of local landowners or the Guardia Civil itself. [Painting right by Goya – ‘Asalto al Coche].
In late 1884 and early 1885, two successive earthquakes hit the region, with an epicentre in Zafarraya, devastating many villages. [Illustration left of the after effects of the earthquake in Nerja].
If that wasn’t bad enough, the economy was further shocked by the blight that wiped out many of the vineyards in Spain – the phylloxera pest which had reached Málaga by 1876. Many families were ruined as a result.
Despite all this Frigiliana reached its maximum population of 3200 in 1887, before going into decline again.
The 20th century and beyond...
Although the 20th century brought some of its advances to the old Axarquían villages such as public lighting, the area continued to be gripped in an economic crisis. One that had started at the end of the previous century because of the region’s inability to compete with Catalan industries, plus the high price of coal.
The country’s stability had also greatly deteriorated with the Spanish–American War in 1898, with its resulting loss of Cuba. The island of Cuba was regarded more as a province of Spain than as a colony, being a part of it for almost 400 hundred years. It was also one of Spain’s most prosperous territories, and therefore its loss was quite humbling for Spain. However, in the end it was more of a blow to Spain’s pride rather than its fortunes as large quantities of capital held by Spanish people not only in Cuba but all over America began to be returned to the peninsula and invested in Spain.
However, the political consequences were serious. The defeat in the war began the weakening of the country’s fragile political stability, which was still reeling after the loss of most of its colonies in the Americas earlier in the century. Moreover the money being invested was far from Spain’s south, which was still largely agricultural based.
At this time, demonstrators in Frigiliana congregated around the town hall calling for ‘bread and work’. Then, beyond the hands of any politician, the village suffered at the hand of nature. The village was rocked by three earthquakes in 1921, 1922, and 1924, and following that, a hurricane in 1928 which caused one death, several wounded and immeasurable damage to the surrounding fields.
Agriculture in the south of Spain consisted largely of estates where occasional work was offered to the landless peasants who constantly struggled against starvation. In fact nearly three quarters of them were described in the 1930 census as ‘day labourers’. And there was little spiritual comfort for them either as the local priests aligned themselves with the ‘latifundistas’ (landowners); therefore the Church was seen as a perpetuator of their oppression. Alongside the landowners and the priests, were those that were charged to keep the status quo, the police. Thus Spain’s poor had a feeling of being marginalised in society, something that would soon have serious consequences. In 1936, life in Frigiliana, along with the rest of the country, was turned upside down in the Civil War.
The Spanish Civil War and aftermath
In February 1937, refugees from Frigiliana joined the thousands of families, children and militia fleeing the area from the encroaching Nationalists. Many were bombarded by Italian planes and warships on the road to Almería from Málaga, where an estimated 3000 to 5000 people died. However, some of the Frigiliana refugees were saved this fate and ordered to return to their homes.
The Nationalists then formed an armed ‘Falange’ (a pseudo Fascist group) in the village, and anybody connected with the Republican regime was rounded up. Some were forced onto trucks and driven to nearby Torrox, never to be seen again. The streets in Frigiliana were renamed, such as Generalísimo Franco and José Antonio, (renamed again in 1986 as Calle Real and Plaza de la Iglesia).
Just as at the Battle of Peñon de Frigiliana, a nationalist military force allied with Catholicism entered Frigiliana seeking to reaffirm the old order. They were the new Reyes Católicos wanting to purge the state of disenters and create a new Spain.
The Spanish Civil War ended on 1 April 1939. In Frigiliana repression was swift and violent for the next 20 years. However, the Sierra Almijara that had provided a refuge and base for resistance throughout Frigiliana’s history, did so again for the Maquis or guerrilla fighters who continued to fight back. [Photo above left of ‘Maquis’ fighters in the Axarquia]. About 500 communist guerrillas waged a last resistance to Franco, of which 23 were natives of Frigiliana. Kidnapping, murder, theft, and robbery were frequent occurrences and the civilian population was as terrified by some of the Civil Guard forces as of the bandits. Both would take revenge on anybody they considered unsympathetic to their cause.
Tourism and boom at last
From the 1960’s, with the gradual boom in tourism and a general rise in prosperity, many public works and improvements in Frigiliana’s infrastructure have been carried out; but always with respect to the look of the village, especially its Moorish past. The 1970’s and 80’s were crucial in the promotion of the village, and it garnered many awards.
Meanwhile, with an eye to the future of the village, young people pursued higher education and thereafter engaged in various occupations throughout the country. Though many did not have to travel far to find work given the economic boom that came in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, with the evolving residential tourist market.