History of FarajanThough the pueblo boasts of its medieval past, from the earliest times man took a great interest in the hilltop of El Romeral. A signpost today leads the explorer up to a Neolithic dolmen (burial site) and other evidence has come to light suggesting that the hill was inhabited by the later Bronze Age Iberians. Local historians further believe the site was still inhabited in the early Roman period, which is feasible.
MoorishDuring the Moorish period, the municipal district contained the separate Moorish communities of Balastar and Chucar. The hilltop of Cerro de los Castillejos, in the south of the district bordering Juzcar was almost certainly the site of a Moorish lookout tower (atalaya). At the time of the Reconquest in 1485, the three communities all had healthy populations. The first written evidence of the social structure comes from the military census of 1492, when the area was referred to as the District of Havaral. Whether Havaral refers to a lost major village or to a local leader is not clear. However, the census does give us an idea of the population in the area around the time of the Reconquest. It is interesting to note that when the pueblo surrendered, its inhabitants contained both Christian slaves and Jews, who were the powerhouse behind the production of silk in the region.
At the time of the first military census, Farajan had a head of household count of 60, with a sizeable population of over 175. The deserted village of Chucar had 45 households housing 140 inhabitants, making it almost as equal in importance. Balastar or Albalastaz was smaller, with 52 inhabitants. The census actually recorded the number of houses, which was high when compared against the actual population. This suggests that numbers were already falling by this time.
A further census in 1501 did not record any residents for Chucar or Albalastar (note the change of spelling) and Farajan had shrunk by almost 50 per cent to 33 households. A crude calculation suggests that out of the possible population of 750, a deficit of nearly 500 people had occurred in a nine-year period. It is possible to conclude that the Moors were made landless and only the more reliable ones, such as the Morisco converts, were herded together into the pueblo of Farajan under the authority of the Crown. The others were probably sold into some form of serfdom and, as we discovered, over a hundred-year period the outlying villages were erased from the landscape.
A legend survives from this period of a Morisco who controlled the flow of water from the mountains to Chucar and Balastar. He lived by a spring and depending on how well he was treated by the two communities his reward was to divert more water. Chucar is on the other side of the Río Genal and its location may have been to deter possible post-Reconquest settlers. In actual fact, the two communities who compared notes on the water supply after 1485 are Farajan and Alpandeire. The latter apparently was not as fortunate as Farajan, as the springs can dry up in the late summer.
InquisitionThe Inquisition visited the pueblo in 1560 and probably sowed the seeds of discontent. Out of a fairly small population, three male Moriscos were fined for continuing with Moslem traditions. Closely associated with the pueblo of Alpandeire, the majority of the population rose in open revolt in the Morisco uprising of 1568-1570 and paid the price. After the pacification of the area, some of the inhabitants took to the hills rather than face expulsion and continued to harass Philip II’s troops. The Inquisition returned in 1582 and charged one victim as a heretic but he was found not guilty. Could a pueblo survive a scandal when it was recorded in the census of 1587 that Farajan only had five heads of houses left in the pueblo? A later census of the area in 1591 lists a zero return, which suggests the village actually died and the land remained dormant. This was not a profitable way to manage the land and so Philip III commenced an active policy of repopulating the pueblo, after a decree.
It is interesting to note that at this time the Parish seat at Chucar was abandoned and established in the pueblo from 1604 onwards. The population steadily grew and peaked in 1730 at 675. It did not maintain this level for long, which may have been as a result of the pull of the New World. Jobs were also available in neighbouring Juzcar, where Spain’s first smelting plant was established by royal charter in 1731.
French OcupationHow the French occupation of 1810-12 effected the population is not clear. However, along with the surrounding area, in 1814 the pueblo was given its town charter in recognition of its loyalty and sacrifice during the war. So proud were they of the royal recognition that the royal arms were incorporated into the pueblo’s emblem. By 1846 the population had clawed its way back to 628 and peaked in 1887 at 926. With the arrival of the industrial revolution and the pull of the coast, the number of inhabitants plummeted, the largest fall taking place between 1960 and 1970.
Many of its former inhabitants have not cut off their past and keep a property for special occasions. The main celebration is held between 5-7 August in honour of San Sebastian, and is a great pull to many of the pueblo’s offspring, who return once a year to their home. Chatting to the returnees, you will find that many have come from Málaga and as far afield as Seville. Offspring no longer consider the place home and once the latest generation departs, the pueblo may well become a ghost town. Today the population stands at 273 and by all estimates will continue to decline at the rate of over five per cent per year.
Today very little of the district is actual cultivated. The agriculture is based on olive oil production and, further afield, chestnuts. Most of the landscape is given over to forest and a large number of pigs roam the woods in a semi-wild state. In the past the pueblo boasted two water and two animal mills. The need for this has now long gone and only a ruined water mill down by the Río Genal can be visited.