Sometimes it takes a visitor to motivate you to explore your own home territory. Given how fascinated I am with the history and culture of my adopted Andalucian homeland, I’ve been pretty slow on the uptake in discovering all of the interesting sites in Velez-Malaga, the capital city of our region of La Axarquia and only minutes from El Carligto. But in organizing an itinerary for a visiting journalist from the Sunday Times in the UK I wanted to keep everything as local as possible and I remembered hearing something about a few different cultural routes being offered through the Velez-Malaga town hall and tourism office. I’ve done the tours of Cordoba with the Mezquita Mosque-Cathedral and Granada with the incomparable Alhambra, but having only scratched the surface of what’s to be discovered in Velez-Malaga, on my doorstep, I was amazed at what a trove of historical treasures are just waiting to be discovered.
Velez-Malaga today reflects the blend and eventual clash of the three historic cultures of Judaism, Islam and Christianity in the region, much like Cordoba and Granada themselves. There are many examples of “Mudejar” architecture, a mix of the Christian and Moorish building styles and materials, and numerous Catholic churches that once were Islamic Mosques. As part of our exploration of Iberian pork, from our latest culinary package, involves the investigation of these three cultures to understand the rise in prominence of pork in Spanish cuisine, Velez-Malaga seemed a fine local base for our study. Consider that Muslims and Jews do not eat pork and you’re well on your way to understanding how pork became such a prominent staple of Spanish cuisine after the Christian reconquest of the 15th century; in the early days it seems to have become a kind of litmus test to prove allegiance to Christ and the Catholic king of Spain.
The coat of arms of Velez-Malaga represents this period of the Christian reconquest with an important moment in the city’s history, and in fact the history of Spain. It depicts the event in 1487 when the Catholic King Ferdinand rode into the city with a mass of infantry and cavalry, and under a rain of arrows his guard, Sebastian , jumped in front of him to suffer the blows and save the king (thereafter the martyred San Sebastian). In the end, rather than see the city sacked and destroyed, the Muslim ruler surrendered and officially received the Catholic Monarchs to hand over the city.
Yet the first historical mention of a settlement in the area dates all the way back to the Phoenicians in the 8th century BC. The Romans also left their mark on the area, but the name Velez-Malaga itself and the modern roots of the city are very much of Moorish origins from around the 10th century. With a healthy silk trade and a strategic position it was one of the most important cities of the Nasrid kingdom based in Granada at the height of the dynasty between the 12th and 15th centuries. The most obvious remnant from this era is the Alcazaba, the old fortress, sitting atop the highest point in the city and overlooking the sea only 4 km away. It was originally a fortified city with the “Medina”, where the civilians actually lived, located below the Alcazaba and contained within the city walls with only four or five gates into the city.