History of Parauta

The village of Parauta. © Michelle Chaplow
The village of Parauta.

History of Parauta

As with the other villages in the Alto Genal, the village is of Moorish origins and was known as Hins Auta during the Arabic period. In conjunction with Cenay (see Pujerra), this pueblo may have been another Visigothic enclave after the Moorish invasion of Spain in 711 AD. The Moslem invaders tolerated Christianity and the two religions at first lived side by side. As in any community, this was not an easy truce and the best lands were always allocated to the Moors. However this harmony was not to last, as the pueblo was to play its part in history. Though debatable, this is acknowledged as being the birthplace in 854 of Omar Ben Hafsun.



Omar Ben Hafsun

Omar was of noble visigothic stock that claimed lineage from a count named Alfonso. The family had converted to the Moslem faith some time after the invasion, mainly for tax and social reasons. Omar’s family was probably the holder of a small lordship based in the valley, but his authority was annulled in 879, when he killed a neighbour. Disowned by his father, he fled first to Morocco but later returned and established himself near the village of Ardales, on a hilltop called Bobastro, 40km north of Marbella. It is believed that he held onto some of his forefather’s Christian beliefs, though in reality he practised banditry.

Bobastro was not an easy place to take but after repelling a few expeditions sent to defeat him, Omar surrendered in 833 and was taken to Cordoba. Instead of facing death he was given a second chance and was drafted into the army. However, he was considered a neo-Muslim and he did not settle down to the Arabic way of life. He deserted and fled back to Bobastro and re-established his community. It is said that he converted to Christianity and was baptised Samuel, though history still records him as Omar or Umar. He was liked by the peasantry and lived a Robin Hood-type existence, protecting them from taxation.

Umar Ben Hafsun took advantage of the Arabic division of the house of the Omeyas in Cordoba in 899. In the process he carved out his own mozarabic kingdom. It is said that he was able to attract much support, as many Visigoths craved some form of religious freedom. When one of his garrison commanders was captured, the official was crucified between a dog and a pig. At its height, Omar’s kingdom stretched over the whole province of Malaga and parts of Cadiz, Granada, Almeria and Cordoba.

When Omar died in 917, his kingdom began to disintegrate as his two sons quarrelled. By 922, the immediate area was taken by Abd Al-Rahman III. Bobastro did not fall until 928 and the remaining Christian followers seem to have been given an ultimatum of converting to the Moslem faith or death. On entering his fortress they found a Christian church and Omar’s body buried in a Christian style. His body was dug up and taken to Cordoba to be publicly crucified. The 1,100-year-old church has survived, only because it was cut out of rock. It has an interesting nave, supported by its Arabic horseshoe arches.

Omar’s birthplace was recorded at having been at a place called Alqueria Parauntena de Torrichela. This was further described as a fortified homestead, which some have interpreted as a castle. The pueblo of Parauta does not seem to have had such a structure, although it is more likely that the probable site lies within the municipal district, more habitable than the surrounding harsh landscape. As no obvious candidate for a location has been suggested, another theory has placed his birthplace in the sub-region of Axarquia, on the other side of Malaga. Even so, the legend helps to support the theory that a Visigothic community lived in the Alto Genal and was relegated to the mountainous marginal lands rather than the lower fertile valleys.

Parauta was not the only Moorish community in the municipal district. Half way between the pueblo and Cartajima, on the old royal way, stood the satellite settlement of Benahazin. The place name suggests that this was called Bena Al Hazin in the Moorish period, although the family name of Hazin has been lost to records. As in the entire whole region, the Moors submitted to the Christian army in 1485 after the fall of Ronda. Benahazin had a population of 35 in the military census of 1492 and was therefore not particularly large. Although it was listed as a community when it joined Parauta in the Parish of Cenay, the census of 1501 does not record any inhabitants. Therefore, it can only be presumed that the pueblo was deserted soon after the first Christian census.

The same census of Parauta in 1492 recorded a population of 280, larger than the number of inhabitants of the present day. The population must have been either dispersed or killed, as this dropped to 38 in 1501 and was not big enough to host its own parish seat. The inquisition of 1560 did not visit the pueblo, which suggests that it was a struggling community. How much the pueblo played in the Morisco uprising of 1568-70 is not known but probability suggests that it and suffered as a result. This would have reduced the population even more, though it is know that it was replaced with Christians from the Cadiz and Seville area. Family names such as Castro, Dominguez and Sanchez are common in the pueblo and originate from the new Christian stock, attracted to the pueblo with the promise of land. The Inquisition of 1582 that sat in Casares did condemn three inhabitants from the community. They were all fined for not adopting the Christian way of dress and customs.

The pueblo followed the same population expansion in the 18 th century, when the church was enlarged and a new district to the village was built. Other than the hindrance of the French occupation, the pueblo’s inhabitants peaked at 1,800 in 1854. The figures slowly declined thereafter but the biggest fall occurred between 1960-80, when the pueblo lost over 60 per cent of its population. Many moved to the Costa del Sol, but still return to original family homes during festivals. Today the village has a population of less than 220 and like many other pueblos its population is still on a sleep decline.

In an attempt to bring some life to a dying community, the Mayor in 1999 won an award for being an ecological municipal. Antonio Sanchez (obviously descended from the original Christian settlers) was able to attract European funding to finance the project. His hard work paid off, as the pueblo was only the second one in Europe to be granted this status. Part of the criteria was to demonstrate that Parauta was environmentally friendly. With an average population of five people per square kilometre, with most of the district lying in a Natural Park, this was probably an easier task as a pilot scheme than at first imagined. Part of the award was to look at the pueblo’s future and how it will grow and at the same time fit into the ecology. As a modern town, this would not be an easy task.