History of Higuera de Calatrava
by Saskia Mier
Different utensils from the Neolithic era have been found locally that testify to early human presence in these lands. The discoveryof pieces of Iberian, Roman and Arab caliphal pottery in the farmhouses of Fuente Palacios and La Hondonera is also documented. From a later period are the remains of the town of La Atalaya (from between the Final Copper and Ancient Bronze eras) where there are remains of fortifications.
From the second century BC, the entire area, which until then was controlled by the Iberians, passed under the control of Turris, a town located on Cerro Castellar. Under the Roman Empire and integrated into the province of Baetica, the existence of “villae” -type farms were confirmed, among which were the Cortijo El Calvo, Los Antojos, Cerrillo del Eco or Porras. From this time, a military diploma is preserved that was found in the Cerro Franco in 225 AD.
The current location of the town originated inan Arab farmhouse of which no written references are recordeduntil the Christian conquest. In 1225,King Fernando III of Castile took the Castle and Martos through the Pact of the Navas de Tolosa, signed with the Emir of BaezaAben Mohammad, alias “al-Bayyasi”. In 1228, the Castilian Monarch donated Martos and its term to the Religious-Military Order of Calatrava by means of a Rolled Letter of Privilege and Donation (No. 62).
The Order of Calatrava appointed the Martosas head of the Andalusian party, constituting the Encomienda de Martos that included Torreximeno, Xamilena, Santiago, Figuera de Martos, Torre de Alcázar and Venzalá, Monte de Lope Álvarez, some 200 yugates in the Arjona estate and Porcuna, the latter being handed over when it was conquered from the Arabs. The aforementioned Villas of theEncomienda de Martos became a Christian-Castilian territory bordering the Arab Kingdom of Granada through Jaén, Alcaudete and Alcalá la Real that still remained under the jurisdiction of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada, which gave rise to continuous sieges and raids.
During the fifteenth century, Higuera de Martos suffered numerousattacks from the Nasrid Moors of Granada, the best documented being those of 1408 and 1471.According to the Chronicle of King Juan II of Castilla y León, compiled by Fernán Pérez de Guzmán in 1779, on February 18, 1408, the Nasrid King of Granada arrived at Alcaudete, under the Castilian Monarchy, with a powerful armyof 7,000 horse riders and 120, 000peons (foot soldiers) and foughthard against the Castle, without success, since it was defended by Martín Alonso de Montemayor and his army.
As the Nasrid needed provisions to maintain their army and continue the siege of Alcaudete, the King of Granada sent 1,000 horsemen and many more foot soldiers to Alvendín to bring bread. The Mayor of Baena, the Mayor of the Donceles and the Bishop of Córdoba learned of the arrival of the Moors to Alvendín, andcame with their Knights to the aid of the town, but when many other Moors arrived on horseback and on foot from Alcaudete, they had to return to their barracks, unable toprevent the passage of the Moors, given the high number of troops.
On September 29, 1471, the Moors re-entered through Alcaudete, theirpassage allowed by the Lord of Montemayor, reaching the places that belonged to the Order of Calatrava. The Moors entered the town, devastating it. The Constable of Castile, Miguel Lucas de Iranzo sent a letter to Pope Sixtus IV in which he recounted what happened.
With the Re-conquest of Granada, the area lost the strategic value it had formerly held as the danger of Moorish attacks disappeared. During this time, many neighboursleft to repopulate towns of the old Kingdom of Granada such as Arenas (Málaga), or Loja.
Higuera de Martos, named after its membership, began to process its Letter of Privilege in the last decade of the sixteenth century, obtaining it in 1600, at which time it was renamed Higuera de Calatrava due to its membership of the Order of Calatrava.
After the Spanish Civil War, the Francoist authorities surrounded almost the entire town with barbed wire, turning it into a concentration camp for Republican prisoners. More than 10,000 people were detained there.Hernández de Miguelrecollects in his book, “The Franco Concentration Camps”, different testimonies that indicate that an undetermined number of inmates perished due to overcrowding and disease and that these deaths were not recorded. According to these same testimonies, detaineeswent up to 21 days without receiving food, having to survive on roots, grass and the remains of food stuckto the boilers where the soldiers who guarded the compound were cooking. They also reported that murders took place at night, mostly of Republican Army officers, who were confined apart, and that they were buried in mass graves, although there is no data on thesevictims, nor has agrave been located. The camp was in operation between April and June 1939.
Once the prison camp was closed, most of the residents returned to the municipality. In December 1939, the town was adopted by decree for reconstruction purposes. The General Directorate of Devastated Regions began the necessary works to install a new Town Hall, market, schools, Civil Guard barracks and rectory, and to restore thechurch,as well as dozens of social houses, among other works, in order to make the town habitable again.