Thousands of Years
As we are getting to know both our new village of Moclín, and the people who live here, we are also getting to discover that we happen to live in an extraordinarily historic corner of Spain. Neither Andrew nor I were particularly interested in history at school, but certainly as we have got older, we have both become far more intrigued by the imprint that history has left on society, landscapes and culture, and never more so than here in Spain.
Settlements go back to the Neolithic and Palaeolithic periods and the mountains here have been a strategic geological stronghold, certainly since around 7,000 BC. Our historical knowledge is, at present, minimal but gradually we are beginning to pick up old documents recounting battles that have taken place here; we are exploring burial sites and archaeological digs; delving into old buildings that tell rich tales of their own individual histories of Moorish kingdoms, resistance to invasions from the Christians, and bloody battles and ambushes. Since the 13th Century, Moclín has found itself as a frontier post - on the frontline between Christian-ruled Jaén Province and Mozárabe-ruled Granada. In more recent years, less than 100 years ago in fact, Moclín found itself on the front line of yet another war, the Spanish Civil War, and below Moclín Castle Republican trenches stare across the valley to Tózar and the frontline trenches of Franco’s Nationalist forces.
To take a drive around the surrounding countryside is to unfurl time, and there are areas that look as through they are completely unchanged from the 1930s. Walk through valleys, and deep into gorges, and you are taken back 1,000s of years.
Moclín Castle was built in the mid 13th Century to defend the Moorish Kingdom of Granada from the Christian-ruled Kingdoms of Castile, and from the time of its construction the fortress was almost constantly under siege until it was captured by the armies of the Catholic King and Queen, Isabel y Fernando in 1486. It was from Moclín that Isabel y Fernando eventually moved to conquer Granada some 6 years later, in 1492.
One of the bloodiest battles in the region’s history took place in 1280. Despite the Castle being one of the most impregnable fortresses of that time, the court of King Alfonso X based themselves in Córdoba to plan an attack that would allow them to break through the Montes de Granada, via Moclín, and into the Vega of Granada, the plains surrounding Granada itself.
Due to an ailment, Alfonso himself could not lead the armies and remained in Córdoba, entrusting the campaign to his eldest son, the Infante Don Sancho supported by, amongst others, Don Gonzalo Ruiz Giron, Master of Santiago. Sancho based himself in Alcalá la Real and ordered Gonzalo to lead an expeditionary force in order to protect the army’s stockpiling of supplies. Gonzalo’s troops were predominantly mercenaries, and as they returned from their expedition they were attacked by the army of Mohammed II who then feigned retreat, leading the army of Gonzalo into an ambush below Moclín Castle. The Moors understood the terrain, the forests and ravines, so it was relatively easy to surround their enemy and cut them off, with devastating consequences. During the Battle of Moclín, subsequently known as the Desastre de Moclín, 2,800 Christians were killed and Gonzalo was fatally wounded.
So, Moclín played a hugely important role in the battles between the Christians and the Moors, but it has been fascinating to discover that history here extends way beyond the 13th Century. We found out today that an archaeological site in our neighbouring village of Tózar was only purchased some 5 or 6 years ago by the Ayuntamiento. Prior to that purchase, the land was privately owned, but it is a catalogue of 7,000 years of history. Excavation of the land began in 2012 at the top of the site, where archaeologists discovered a Mozárabe cemetery, or Necrópolis Mozárabe. Here, some 80 tombs had been carved into the rock on the shallow promontory that projects into the surrounding landscape. The cemetery predates the Battle of Moclín, and was used primarily between the 9th and 12th Centuries, but just below the burial site, archaeologists found another burial chamber, the Dolmen Pileta de la Zorra, dating to sometime between the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, so possibly 4,000 - 5,000 years BC.
Further excavation revealed the remains of a Mozárabe Village a short distance down the site, and sadly the dig has been stopped due to a relocation of funding. It is something of a tragedy that, in an area that is clearly so rich in archaeological treasures, funding needs to be redistributed and spread thinly. The Ayuntamiento are currently concentrating on the incredibly cave network in nearby Malalmuerzo, a 3+ cavern palaeolithic complex with paintings from that time of hunting scenes. Next week, we have decided to join a party to clamber into the caves for a closer look, so barring any unexpected flash floods, we will return to tell more about this expedition!
We were shown a cave closer to home earlier this week, and something of a Gaudi-esque labour of love by a local artist/builder, Rafa. This extraordinarily organic construction has been created in front of an original cave just below Moclín Castle, and it is a work in progress. The stunning mosaic ceiling in one of the interior rooms, depicting a crescent moon and stars, has taken Rafa 10 years of work, and even now it remains unfinished.
Rafa is also a Keeper of the Keys for another of Moclín’s fascinating buildings, the Posito del Pan. In an earlier post, we mentioned that Moclín was one of Las Siete Villas, the 7 towns that became the providers of Granada’s grain supplies following the conquest of Granada in 1492. The Posito dates originally from the second half of the 15th Century and was the centre for trading grain. It was here that grain prices were fixed and loans could be obtained, and it was the Posito del Pan in Moclín that provided a contribution to the first Bank of Spain: “El Posito de Moclín participle en la creation del Banco de España (Banco de San Carlos - Carlos III) con 28,000 Reales imports de 14 acciones qui cifraban el 0.93% del capital 300.000.000 de Reales - Año 1.783”.
We are rather overwhelmed to have found ourselves in a village that has such an important strategic position in Andalucia, and yet the area is comparatively little-known. It seems no accident then, that to drive through the narrow lanes in the surrounding countryside, you are transported back some 100 years to another era, and the mountains and valleys here have concealed themselves from today’s rapidly changing world.
The Posito de Pan is available for holiday rentals via AirBnB, and can sleep up to 6 people. Details can ben seen at https://abnb.me/0Y1f0CDDiP
Of course, if you are planning a visit to any part of Granada Province, do get in touch with us through Granada Concierge and we can put together your own portfolio of things to do and places to visit during your time here.