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Villajoyosa, the Historic Capital of the Marina Baja Region
Title: Sphinx.Villajoyosa (popularly known as "La Vila") is located in the south of the Marina Baja region in the modern day province of Alicante (Valencian Region, Spain). This is a coastal area well sheltered from its surroundings by a horseshoe of high mountain ranges (including the Aitana range) that surround it. To the south of Villajoyosa there are a number of low mountains and small valleys which make communication with the neighbouring local region of l'Alacantí difficult.
The sheltered location of this local region accounts for the exceptional climate of the coastal towns of Villajoyosa and Benidorm, which have the highest average annual temperature in Spain (above 19º) and along with Almeria share the highest number of hours of sun per year, with scarcely 300mm of rainfall and where freezing is non existent. This is because the area is sheltered by the mountain ranges from the cold winds and rains from the west, which are frequent in the Iberian Peninsula.
This landward isolation has not been an obstacle in the development of the settlements that have historically occurred in Villajoyosa, as the Mediterranean has provided a great communication route which has always given the settlements a clear seafaring tradition. The area surrounding the town contains the largest amount of agricultural land in the local region, one of the region’s two rivers (the Amadorio) and a good beach with excellent anchorage conditions. If we add together all these factors along with the town’s location on an easily defended coastal hill, we can understand why Villajoyosa has been the historic capital of the local region from at least the 6th century B.C. to the late Roman period (6th century A.D.) and later after a gap of a number of centuries, in which the Islamic settlements abandoned the coastal area for the interior of the municipal district, again from the Christian occupation in 1300.
Before the Foundation of the Town of Vila Joiosa
Title: Necklace Pendant. We still don’t know very much about the important Iberian town which lies below the old town and which probably corresponds to the town of "Alonis" referred to by Greek geographers of that time. But we do know more about two very important cemeteries which were the longest in use in the whole of the Iberian Peninsula: the cemeteries of Poble Nou and Casetes, both of which contain burials dating from the 6th century B.C. to at least the 4th or 5th centuries A.D. and were used continuously for 1000 years. In these cemeteries a number of Orientalizing style Phoenician jewels have been found, including the outstanding Poble Nou necklace, as well as Etruscan and Egyptian artefacts.
Title: The Tower of Saint Joseph. In the Roman period a large populated site continued in the area of the old town and the surrounding lands however, it seems that this wasn’t the site which attained the status of a municipium under the reign of the emperor Vespasian around 74 A.D. All the indications point to the location of this municipium in the Torres district of Villajoyosa, near to the site of the Saint Joseph Roman funerary tower (the best preserved monument of its kind in the Valencian region). The settlement, which lies under the present town of Villajoyosa, was probably an important port and industrial vicus (a larger settlement, dependant on the municipium, but without official status). Here, there are abundant remains of salt-fish industries, and large storerooms of the Roman port are also known to be under the modern day Sant Pere square.
The foundation of Vila Joiosa
Title: Islamic Pot. Before the year 1300 the town is not mentioned in any of the numerous documents of the Reconquest however, other settlements in the surrounding areas such as Torres, Orcheta or Finestrat do appear which confirms that the site of the Iberian town and Roman port was semi-deserted during the Islamic period. The numerous archaeological excavations carried out up to now in Villajoyosa have confirmed the absence of medieval remains before 1300, although an abundance of remains have been found from this date on.
Title: Coin of Jaime II. Villajoyosa is therefore a new town, which was founded by Bernat de Sarrià, Admiral of the Kingdom of Aragon's Navy and a nobleman in the service of King Jaume II "the Just", in a time of territorial expansion of the Christian kingdoms of Castilla and Aragon into the lands of Alicante and Murcia. The new settlement was constructed on the same hill which occupied the Iberian town 2000 years before, taking advantage of its excellent position. Bernat de Sarrià legitimized the foundation of the town by buying the lands from the "Friars d'Uclés" (the Order of Santiago) in 1293, although the result of a later lawsuit in 1311 declared this illegal and they were taken away and returned to Pere Ferrandes de Hixar who had previously administered and profited from the lands, in the name of the Order.
Title: Earthenware with Blue & Purple Decoration. Sarrià took advantage of this gap of eighteen years to found a Christian town, which was the only one in the immediate area during this period, surrounded by Islamic hamlets which had participated in important revolts against the Crown of Valencia some years before. This town, the vanguard, the spearhead of the Kingdom of Valencia, was baptised with the name Vila Joiosa, which in old Valencian means "joyful town" and it was populated by people from Catalonia and Aragon who brought with them a new culture and a new language. In Barcelona on the 8th March 1300 Bernat de Sarrià granted Villajoyosa its town charter which laid out its territory, the conditions of land ownership, the taxes and the rights and dues of the inhabitants. The old town still preserves the typical layout of a town of the re-conquest with its grid like town plan, characterised by large streets that descend down towards the sea parallel to the town walls and with other streets crossing perpendicularly to them. The main axis of the town was the "Major" street that descended towards the sea from the main gate, the "portal", situated in the north of the town.
A Brief History of the Town
Title: The Old Town. In the 14th century King Pedro IV granted the town's port the privilege to trade cereals, olive oil, wine, raisins, almonds and other fruit. In fact in the 14th and 15th centuries Vila Joiosa was the only port permitted to trade goods in this region. Fishing, trade, the dockyard for boat construction and agriculture were the pillars of the local economy. Different titled families followed one another in proprietorship of the town, which in 1443 obtained the coveted privilege of becoming a Royal town. Every year a council of six people governed the town's institutions and the Mayor administrated the municipal's assets in the name of the king.
Title: View of the Old Town. In the 16th century the population exceeded 1000 inhabitants and the "Arsenal" shipyards were famous throughout the kingdom. Berber pirates from their bases in Algeria harassed the Alicante coast looking for captives to sell as slaves or for ransom. Villajoyosa persistently appeared in many of the chronicles of that time due to these attacks and due to its important role in the defence against the pirates. Many of the local townspeople dedicated themselves to piracy which allowed them to attack the enemy boats in return for part of the booty. In the port corsair boats were also built for the inhabitants of other towns such as Denia. Villajoyosa was the capital of a "Requerimiento" or coastal-defence district which covered the area up to Altea (ie the whole of the local region) and which was under the control of the Viceroy's "Veedor" (Chief Inspector) and a "requeridor" (Inspector), who were based at the castle in Villajoyosa. In the 16th century the old medieval walls and castle were not sufficiently strong enough to contain the frequent and sometimes substantial attacks (such as that in 1538) on them. Therefore the military engineers Cervelló and Aldana were entrusted by King Felipe II to plan and to build new walls, which were finished in the middle of the century. These are the walls that can be seen today that cover the earlier medieval remains. As part of the same defensive system coastal watchtowers were erected including the Aguiló and Xarco towers in Villajoyosa, as well as a number of inland watchtowers attached to rural farmhouses, which today have been declared as Sites of Cultural Interest. The work on the fortified church of the Assumption was also finished during this time.
Title: The Xarco Tower. Between 1609 and 1614 the "moriscos" or Spanish Moors were expelled from Spain, which would have led to an important decrease in Villajoyosa's population, as many local people moved out of the town to repopulate the practically deserted Islamic areas in the interior of the region. Bad harvests due to droughts and various epidemics such as those in 1630 and 1650 contributed to this crisis. The authorisation in 1653 of the building of a reservoir in Relleu, necessary for the irrigation of Villajoyosa's cultivated lands provided new hope for the local economy. At the same time the "miracle of Saint Martha's tears" occurred. This period also saw the construction of a new municipal nursing home as well as the convent of Saint Pedro and Saint Martha (1607).
Title: The Chapel of Saint Martha. The 18th century brought about a rapid population increase, from 1500 inhabitants in 1713 to 5,500 in 1794. By the middle of the century half of the population now lived outside the walled area and this expansion led to, during the beginning of the next century, the destruction of the town's two gates and two wall towers, while the old castle became rundown. The ending of the pirate attacks contributed to this relaxation of the defences however, the walls had already been badly affected by the War of Succession which had led to the loss of the "Valencian rights" including those of Villajoyosa in 1707. The buildings attached to the interior part of the town walls, which had been built in the 17th century began to grow over the top of the walls forming the characteristic "hanging houses" that overlook the river today. Urban expansion developed towards the sea (the "raval" district) and towards the north (around the "pla de l'Olm or Olmo square). There was a clear improvement in land communications during the 18th century with new bridges, (the d'En Gil and Torres) built across ancient fords, as well as the transformation of the medieval way from Alicante to Denia into a road. During this flourishing century the chapel of Saint Martha was also constructed (1736).
Title: The Schooner "Jonense". The population continued to grow until the mid half of the 19th century reaching more than 9000 inhabitants. However, four large Cholera epidemics and emigration to Algeria later caused a stagnation in this population growth which was further setback in the first half of the 20th century by the Civil War and emigration to America, France and Andalucia. However, in the 19th century the developing shipping and chocolate industries as well as the maritime trade led to clear economic prosperity. Villajoyosa was the main port of the industrial region of Alcoy and it had one of the most important merchant sailing fleets in the Spanish Mediterranean. In the port schooners, brigantines and other 3 masted ships up to 400 tonnes in size were constructed, many of which traded with America and the Philippines. Also in the 19th century the Poble Nou district of the town was constructed and from 1860 it was joined to the old town by the main road bridge. The urban growth of the area around the streets Llimons (now Dr. Álvaro Esquerdo), Nueva (now Canalejas) and Colón has continued the town's expansion since then.
Title: The Barbera. In the second half of the 20th century there was a significant population increase to over 25000 inhabitants. The arrival of electricity around 1900; the increase in the service sector and industry; the rise in fishing (which replaced maritime trade); the construction of the port (in the 1920s and 30s), the regional hospital and the courthouse; the development of tourism and other factors influenced local economic prosperity during the last century. Recently a number of important town projects have been developed including; the Youth Centre (designed by Dolores Alonso and Javier García-Solera), the King Juan Carlos I Park, the Municipal Market (by the design studio Soto and Maroto), the Local Police Station (designed by Alejandro Zahera and Farshid Moussavi), the Pensioners Day Centre (designed by Juan Bautista Aragonés) and the Barbera dels Aragonés Manor House and Park (designed by Jaime Llinares Galiana, José Luis Gallardo, Miguel del Rey and Iñigo Magro). Many other projects are also in progress such as the Municipal Auditorium (designed by José María Torres Nadal), the new El Pla Football Stadium and the renovation and enlargement of the José Calsita and Maisa Lloret Sports Centres. Many more projects are in the pipeline such as the seafront Promenades of the Vila and Paradís beaches, the new Arts and Cultural Centre, the Archaeological Museum and the Museum of the Barbera.
Text by Antonio Espinosa Ruiz