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History - La Guardia de Jaén

History - La Guardia de Jaén

La Guardia de Jaén is rich in history given the various cultures that have passed through it over time, from the Roman era to the Re-conquest. Apart from its important role as a Castilian vanguard against the Kingdom of Granada, what distinguishes La Guardia from other municipalities on the border is its probable former housing of an ancient and illustrious Iberian oppidum, known as Mentesa Bastia. This site is mentioned by Plinio as a Roman detachment of Hispania Citerior.

The archaeological sites in the area testify that it was inhabited about 4000 years before Christ. The first human settlements in the area are located in Cueva Cabrera and the Corralejos or Corredor Sepulcral, both from Neolithic times. Within the burial sites of these eras, more than 30 tombs excavated in the rock were found, as well as cinerary urns with their grave goods, other utensils and various types of ceramic remains, shields and ornaments.

The Romans named the settlement Mentesa Bastetanorum, which reached its maximum splendor as a privileged Roman municipality in the first century until the Arab dominion in the eighth century. The gold from the Roman mines of the time enjoyed great popularity given the high quality, purity and fineness. The gold was destined directly to Rome, setting the jewels of emperors and tribunes. The Roman mint also boosted the importance of the town and its development during the Visigoth era.

During the Visigoth period, Mentesa, or Montija, belonged to the Cartaginense province, being located in the southeast limit between it and the Baetica of the Roman period, faithful to its future border tradition. Thus, it was the last Oretan city that divided this town from the neighboring Bastetans, although it surely never belonged to Bastetans or was under Byzantine control, despite the proximity of the border to the latter; as evidenced by the events that followed the temporary kidnapping of Bishop Cecilio de Mentesa, mentioned in the first law of the Liber Iudiciorum and in close relationship with Sisebuto.

As head of a diocese, the town was one of the three episcopal headquarters in the Jaén area: Mentesa (La Guardia), Beatia (Baeza) and Tucci (Martos), already in Betica, perhaps the three most important towns in Jaén. Some milestones found in the area attest to the location of the Viniolis-Mentesa section of the Via Acci-Castulo in this city. The Via Augusta (Via Hercúlea) could be controlled from Mentesa, among other roads, which linked Levante with Turdetania until the last empire of Tartesos.

Even after the collapse of the Roman empire, the mint continued to operate and became the mint in the Cartaginense that most frequently issued after the capital, Toledo. Its currency circulated throughout Hispania during the reigns of Monarchs such as Recaredo, Witerico, Gundemaro, Sisebuto, Suintila, Sisenando, Egica and Witiza.

Mantissa (Mantißa) was an ancient Moorish city situated on good plains of very fertile land and possessing abundant water. From a military standpoint, it was a practically impregnable defensive bastion, given its location and solid defenses. This made it a very important strategic position, aggravated in turn by its status as a stage on the road that linked Acci (Guadix) to Cástulo and Aurgi (Jaén). This is illustrated in the First General Chronicle when it is mentioned that Táriq ibn Ziyad, in the occupation of the Peninsula in 711, led his expeditionary army along said Roman road, which went from Astigi (Écija) to Toledo, through Mentesa.

Already at the height of Arab domination, Mantissa, which according to Arab authors was one of the oldest cities in the Cora de Yayyan, again acquired great importance by becoming its capital (Wâdi ‘Abd Allâh). Around the year 741, when Syrian Yunds penetrated the peninsula, it was settled by the Arab clans of the Uqayli and Assadis, descendants of the Governor favored by Abderramán I of the Yayyan kura, Al-Husayn, who formed an aristocratic ruling minority compared to the rest of the indigenous population of the province of Jaén. But the mixture of clans, and the quarrels and revenge that accompanied it, gave rise to a stage of internal confrontations. It was then that, according to some sources, Táriq ibn Ziyad rebuilt and established the first defensive structures of his castle, a site that was doomed to endure numerous warlike conflicts between the Arab clans.

As early as the ninth century, in the chronicles of the Muladi uprisings led by the rebel Umar B. Hafsun, La Guardia is mentioned on several occasions. Although described as a Medina, subsequent circumstances transformed it into a fortification (hisn) due to the state of war it was subjected to by a descendant of Al-Husayn, who guarded the hill on which it was based and remained independent until being evicted by Abderramán III in 913. Finally subdued together with Sumuntan and the fortification near Martos, from then on Mantissa left its place to neighboring Jaén. These situations and subsequent changes in the administrative division during the first centuries of the Muslim era triggered the final transfer of the capital to Jaén in the Emirate of Córdoba of Abderramán II and with it, its definitive stage of decline.

In 1244 Ferdinand III “El Santo” conquered the town. He went on to be intermittently Moorish and Christian until the fall of Granada. Once again, La Guardia acquired great strategic importance in the area as a fundamental defensive bastion for the defense of Castile in the valley of the Guadalbullón River. Throughout the subsequent two centuries and as a consequence of the pacts of Fernando III and Muhammad I in the Capitulations of Jaén, the Nasrid border was established in the walls of the Castle of La Guardia.

At the dawn of the Modern Age, La Guardia emerged around 1340 as the property of Don Lope Díaz de Baeza, also called Lope Ruíz de Baeza y Haro, a wealthy man of Castile, son of Don Juan Ruíz de Baeza (Lord of La Guardia and Bailén), who established a mayorazgo. The mayorazgo was maintained until the outcome of the First Castilian Civil War, when Enrique II de Trastamara deprived the title of the third Lord of La Guardia, Don Lope Díaz de Baeza for positioning himself in favor of his stepbrother, Pedro I de Castilla “el Cruel”.

The term of the town and its castle were ceded by the King to Ruy González Messía upon his marriage to the daughter of Lope Díaz (Leonor Fernández de Córdoba), since the latter had no male offspring. Thus began the tutelage of the Mexía (or Messía) family, whose history remained linked to that of La Guardia for many more years until the disappearance of the Lordships. In 1566, the knight Gonzalo Messía Carrillo took over the Marquisate of the town by order of Felipe II.