La Vall de Laguar: last bastion of the Valencian Moriscos rebelled

When Jaime I the Conqueror proposed, back in the thirteenth century, to recover the territory that the Muslims had snatched from the Visigoths during the first quarter of the 8th century, the Mohammedans were already firmly established in a large part of the Iberian Peninsula and, as it is logical, they would not easily yield to the demands of the Christian invaders.

After the Conquest, the best farmland was assigned to the Christians, and the worst were given to the Mohammedans, to plant their crops. Many of these lands were in abrupt and steep places, difficult to access and with not so fertile soils. An amazing sample of lands assigned to Arabs can be found, currently, in the municipality of Vall de Laguar, which is located in the interior of the Marina Alta region (Alicante) and whose constituent villages are Benimaurell, Fleix, Campell and Fontilles. In the place we find more than 6000 steps that, it is believed, would have been built by the Mohammedans, possibly during the Mudejar period – although they are known as “the Moorish steps of the Vall de Laguar” -, whose steps saved the wide ravine of l’Infern, as well as other ravines in the area, to reach the agricultural fields located on the other sides of the ravines. The hiking route marked PR-CV 147, and known as “The Cathedral of Sendersimo”, runs through the aforementioned steps, whose origin would go back, according to this theory, to five hundred years ago.

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View of l’Infern ravine, from Juvees de Dalt (La Vall de Laguar).

But the coexistence between Muslims and Christians was numbered. In the year 1502, the Catholic Kings dictated the pragmatic of forced conversion, according to which, all the Muslims of the Crown of Castile had to choose between expulsion or conversion to Christianity. Carlos I the César decreed the same thing for the crown of Aragon, in the year 1525. It was then when the coexistence between old Christians and Moriscos (Muslims converted to Christianity) began. A century had not yet passed when, in 1609, Philip III decreed the definitive expulsion of the Moriscos, which took place between that year and 1613.

Many Moors rebelled, who refused to leave their homeland, became strong in different parts of the Iberian Peninsula, although they were defeated one after the other. In the rugged corners of La Vall de Laguar the last rebellious Moriscos of the Kingdom of Valencia took refuge, who were defeated, finally, in November 1609 at the top of the Sierra del Cavall Verd. Those who were not massacred were taken, by ship, to different parts of North Africa, where they were treated as foreigners.

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Ruins next to l’Infern ravine.

Later, La Vall de Laguar was repopulated, in the year 1611, with Mallorcan farmers who descended from ancient Catalan settlers. But numerous farmlands were abandoned and the demographic evolution was severely affected, since the Kingdom of Valencia lost around a third of its population. Those events marked a milestone in History and, although the Moriscos were expelled, in the Iberian Peninsula remained some of their customs, constructive procedures and even some of their words. Without going any further, Laguar derives from al-Agwar, which means “the caves”.

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