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View of the castle of Jimena de la Frontera through orange trees
View of the castle of Jimena de la Frontera through orange trees in the Plaza de la Constitución

History of Jimena

Jimena de la Frontera is a historic village located in the Campo de Gibraltar region, inside Los Alcornocales National Park.

The town has a long and interesting history, encompassing Phoenician, Iberian, Carthaginian and Roman civilisations.

Cave paintings found in Laja Alta cave (located just to the north of the town) date back up to 6,000 years. Multiple images on the cave walls depict human, animal and godlike figures; although these can’t be accurately dated as they’re so diverse, they originate from the Neolithic era (from 10,000 to 1700 BC).

Other paintings showing ships were initially thought to date from between 1000 and 700 BC, when the Phoenicians arrived at the Straits of Gibraltar. However a recent study by the University of Granada using scientific dating techniques showed that some ship paintings are, in fact, much older than previously thought: between 4,000 - 6,000 years old. Part of this dating process, and the topic of the ships’ origin, were featured in a documentary entitled The Neolithic Gate of Civilization shown on TVE 2 in June 2016.

In terms of monuments, Jimena is mainly known for its hilltop castle west of the village, built by the Moors in around AD750. Its impressive legacy and occupants over the ages are explained at the site. Today you can see the castle’s keep and storage facilities, plus water supply systems such as Roman cisterns. For more information on the castle, see our castle's page here.

Jimena through the ages

The remains of the ancient Phoenician city of Oba were found in the grounds of the castle, which was later occupied by the Romans and known for its coins, minted locally and bearing text in the Libyan-Phoenician alphabet between 47-44 BC. Epigraphs of the old city - "Res Publica Obensis" (“Republic of Oba”) - can be seen in the castle. During this period, the local area developed in importance commercially and strategically, thanks to Jimena’s inland hilltop position and location near the Straits of Gibraltar.

By the 3rd century the name Oba disappeared due to Germanic invasions; the Visigoths settled there briefly, then the Byzantines arrived in the 6th century. A Byzantine garrison was created with a double wall for protection, part of which can still be seen today. Jimena was probably captured by the Moors soon after their invasion of the Straits of Gibraltar in 711.

The Reconquest by Fernando III in 1250 liberated nearby Arcos de la Frontera and Medina Sidonia, however Jimena remained a frontier town, still under Moorish rule - hence its name. It was governed by the Marinid (a Berber dynasty) until 1319 , when Ismail I yielded, along with others, to the Nasrid kingdom of Granada, in exchange for help against the Christians.

In 1431, Jimena fell to the Christians with the assault by the Marshal of Castile, Pedro García de Herrera. Two decades later, in 1451, it was reconquered and passed back to the Nasrids; shortly after in 1456, the town was returned to Christian rule under Henry IV.

Moving forward 250 years, with the loss of Gibraltar to Anglo-Dutch forces in 1704, during the War of Spanish Succession, Jimena was again transformed into a strategic military enclave, this time to fight against British interests.

At the end of the 18th century, a blast furnace for the Royal Artillery Factory of Carlos III was constructed on the banks of the wonderfully-named Hozgarganta River, a tributary of the Guadiaro. This produced artillery supplies (bullets and cannon balls) for conflicts such as the Siege of Gibraltar, as well as those taking place in the American Empire. The factory was maintained despite logistical difficulties caused by the conflict, but ultimately high costs and its location led to its abandonment.

During the war of independence against Napoleon’s invading forces from 1808-1814, local historical heritage was lost, such as the municipal archives. When General Ballasteros established his barracks within the castle, the outer curtain wall which surrounds the keep tower was rebuilt.

By the 20th century, much of the castle’s grounds were transformed by agricultural activities, with the result that the remains of the ancient town were covered up.