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Alicante - History

Alicante History

The area around Alicante has been inhabited for over 7000 years, with the first tribes of hunter gatherers moving down gradually from Central Europe between 5000 and 3000 BCE. Some of the earliest settlements were made on the slopes of Mount Benacantil, where the Castillo de Santa Barbara stands today. By 1000 BC Greek and Phoenician traders had begun to visit the Eastern coast of Spain, establishing small trading ports and introducing the native Iberian tribes to the alphabet, iron and the pottery wheel. By the sixth century BC, the rival armies of Carthage and Rome began to invade and fight for control of the Iberian Peninsula. The Carthaginian general Hamilcar established the fortified settlement of Akra Leuke, where Alicante stands today.

Although the Carthaginians conquered much of the land around Alicante, they were, in the end, no match for the Romans, who ended up ruling Iberia for over 700 years. By the fifth century Rome was in decline, with Alicante more or less under the control of the Visigoth warlord Teodmiro. Neither the Romans nor the Goths, however, put up much resistance to the Arab occupation of the area, which brought oranges, rice, palms and the gifts of Islamic art and architecture. The Moors ruled Southern and Eastern Spain until the 11th century reconquista (reconquest). Alicante was finally taken in 1246 by the Castellan king Alfonso X, and the last Muslim rulers left Spain for North Africa in 1492.

After centuries of war, Alicante enjoyed a siglo de oro (golden age) during the 15th century, rising to become a major Mediterranean trading station, exporting rice, wine, olive oil, oranges and wool. But between 1609 and 1614 King Felipe III expelled thousands of Arabs who had remained in Valencia after the reconquista. This act of intolerance cost the region dearly; with so many skilled artisans and agricultural labourers gone, the Christian feudal nobility found itself sliding into bankruptcy. Things got worse when in the early 16th century Alicante, along with the rest of Valencia, backed Carlos in the War of Spanish Succession. Felipe won, and he punished the whole region by withdrawing the semi-autonomous status it had enjoyed since the time of the reconquista. Alicante went into a long, slow decline, surviving through the 18th and 19th centuries by making shoes and growing oranges, and relieving its frustration with occasional attempts at rebellion.

By the early 20th century the whole of Spain was almost at the point of revolution. Amid growing civil unrest, after years of sponsoring a failed military dictatorship, King Alfonso XIII abdicated the throne, and in 1931 a Spanish Republic was declared. A left-wing coalition of communists and socialists narrowly won the subsequent elections. In 1936, General Francisco Franco led an uprising, supported by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, to re-establish the authority of the Catholic church, the army and the aristocracy. After three years of bloody civil war, Franco's armies were victorious, with Valencia and Alicante the last cities loyal to the government to be overcome.

The next 20 years under Franco's police state were wretched ones for Alicante, with severe frosts in 1941 and 1946 adding to the problems for local orange farmers. Franco died at last in 1975, with his successor King Juan Carlos I guiding Spain towards democracy. Regional governments were given more power, and the cities of Valencia were permitted an autonomy they had not been allowed for four centuries.

At the start of the 21st century, in this New Spain, Alicante is the Valencia region's second-largest town. It has spruced itself up and is starting to attract waves of visitors looking for the 'real' Spain. As its tourist dollars continue to grow, Alicante's only concern is how much tourism it wants or can continue to bear.

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