Jaen City - History

Mirador Santa Catalina Castle, Jaen Cathedral  © Michelle Chaplow
Mirador Santa Catalina Castle, Jaen Cathedral ( click to enlarge images)

History of Jaen

Human presence in the current city was established as from the Chalcolithic stage, at the end of the Neolithic, when there were several scattered macro villages in the area. Some of these settlements are related to the agaric culture, with abundant cave paintings and remains of megalithic architecture in the surroundings of the city.

During the proto-historic stage, an Iberian oppidum located on the hill of the Plaza de Armas de Puente Tablas must have stood out. The excavations carried out in this enclave have determined the existence of a stepped wall, towers of large ashlars. Similarly, on the slopes of Santa Catalina, near the Santa Catalina Castle, there were various scattered settlements, since Jaén was the most important religious sanctuary in Oretania, and a place of pilgrimage. Findings of broken-edge pottery from the late fifth century and beginning of the sixth century BC have been abundant. The town was not Romanized and in it there are also remains of Tartessian and Medieval culture.

In the Punic stage, the importance of the city as a strategic area of ​​passage became clear, which caused Greeks and Phoenicians to maintain commercial contacts with the area. Following the Carthaginian conquest of the Guadalquivir Valley, which began in 237 BC and lasted until 231 BC, mining in the Sierra Morena began. Jaén, was taken over and a castle was constructed by Carthaginian General Aníbal Barca, which lead to an increase in population and a later target for the Romans.

Around the year 207 AC the city was taken by Romain Escipión el Africano from the Carthaginians. From the moment of its conquest, the Romans considered it a rich city under military occupation and a tribute was enforced due to its previous support of Cartago. Tito Livio would describe Jaén as an opulent city and Estrabón, who recorded the extraordinary fertility of the region, gave it the names of Auringi and Oringe, while Polybius knew it as Elinga, the Council of Ilíberis as Advinge, and finally, Plinio as Nijis or Oringis. The city was located around the stream of the Magdalena, the heart of the old city, it was not large and there are not many remains, although stelae and mosaics are preserved, many of them in the Museum of Jaén.

From the end of the Roman Republic to the beginning of the Roman Empire, the city was Romanized until the Emperor Vespasian, or perhaps his son Titus, granted it the rank of municipality with Latin law, henceforth known as Flavio Aurgitano or Aurgi.

The Visigoths settled in the first third of the sixth century, leaving the city on the fringes of their settlements, so it continued to be a territory dominated by the Hispano-Roman population, with some military garrisons such as Mentesa, in which the Germanic population was concentrated. During this century, the Visigoth presence was weak, being frequent the rebellions of the Hispano-Roman aristocracy. The Visigothic presence represented a moment of decline for the city in favor of Mentesa, as far as the Byzantine limes reached, which translated into a reduction in archaeological material.

After the conquest of the peninsula by the Arabs, the city regained its importance, becoming the capital of the Taifa of Jaén. It was granted a wali, and Mosques, fortifications and Palaces were built. During the five centuries of Arab rule, the city of Jayyān was considered to be great. In the tenth century, the city was conquered by Abderramán III, becoming the capital of the Yayyan Cora.

The Almoravids incorporated it into their empire in 1091 and the Almohads conquered it in 1148. During the Muslim period, Jaén had excellent lands watered by abundant waters that flowed from rivers and sources, which helped to create lush forests and a large amount of crops and cereals, as well as a famous industry of tapestries and wooden household utensils that were exported throughout al-Andalus and the Maghreb.

In 1225 the city of Jaén was besieged by the troops of Fernando III el Santo, beginning a fierce defense of the city by the Muslims that came to bring together 3,000 Christian knights, 50,000 Muslim peons and another 160 Christian knights under the command of Álvaro Pérez de Castro. The city was again besieged in 1230 and in 1246 the city was reconquered by Fernando III el Santo, King of Castilla y León, through a vassalage pact with the Nasrid Sultan of Arjona, Muhammad I Al-Ahmar.

Due to its strategic importance, the city resumed the role of head of the new Castilian Kingdom, and until the conquest of Granada it played a very important role in the fight against the Muslims in the south. King Enrique II de Castilla granted the city numerous privileges, as his own Council which was increased with the arrival in the city of King Enrique IV, the Constable Miguel Lucas de Iranzo.

Throughout this period, the importance of the Jewish population is noteworthy, especially since the tenth century, with the birth in the city of the famous Jewish courtier, Hasday ibn Shaprut, and being of great importance in the reigns of Fernando III el Santo and of Alfonso X, until reaching the serious persecutions against the Jews of 1391, and the creation of the third court of the Spanish Inquisition in the Kingdom of Jaén in 1483.

After the conquest of Granada and the discovery of America in 1492, the city had an important role in the cultural, social and military plane of the conquest and settlement in Hispanic America, because the city hosted the court of the Catholic Monarchs in several occasions, as well as the meeting in which Queen Isabel I de Castile agreed to pay for the trips of Christopher Columbus, which took place in August 1489 in the old Episcopal Palace. After this period, the city fell into a decline from which it attempted to recover in the seventeenth century, although the crisis, increased by the policy of the Habsburgs.

In the nineteenth century, with the War of Independence, (Peninsular War) the city was taken by the French, who built a garrison in the castle. During the reign of Fernando VII, in the Liberal Triennium, it became the scene of the battle between the absolutist and liberal troops, led by Rafael Riego. The city was not named provincial capital until 1833. For its part, under the reign of Isabel II, it remained loyal to the Queen in the face of Carlist supporters, proclaiming it the independent canton city in 1873 during the First Republic.

In the twentieth century, the works undertaken under the mayoralties of José del Prado y Palacio and Fermín Palma García stand out, and the agrarian struggles that took place until the end of the Civil War, were of special importance in the capital, especially those carried out by the Socialist movement in the province, which was one of the most numerous of the time. During the Civil War the city remained loyal to the government of the Second Republic until April 1939. During the War, both the city jail and the Cathedral served as a prison for hundreds of detainees from the capital and the towns of the province.

From here were the dramatic events of the departures of the “death trains” on August 11 and 12, 1936, where hundreds of right-wing prisoners were transferred, among which were member of the political class and Bishop Manuel Basulto Jiménez, who were executed at the Madrid stations and the bombing of the city by the Condor Legion of the Nazi army that was sent to Jaén by General Gonzalo Queipo de Llano on April 1, 1937, in response to the Republican bombardment of Córdoba. There were 159 deaths due to the direct action of the bombs and 280 wounded, as well as the execution of 128 right-wing prisoners in the Mancha Real cemetery by decision of the municipal authorities.

During the Civil War of Miguel Hernández was notorious, who actively participated in the communist newspaper «Frente Sur». The capture of the city at the end of March 1939 led to the arrest of hundreds of people who were tried, and many sentenced to death, accused of crimes in the Republican rearguard.

The Transition and the arrival of democracy gave a new impetus to the development of the city. Since then the politics of the city has varied between the main parties both in the city government and in the representatives of the citizens in the different administrations. One of the most outstanding historical events was the terrorist bomb attack committed by ETA in the castle in July 1996. A few months before, a 1.000m long blue ribbon had been hoisted from the towers of the castle.


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