Santa Pola: last refuge of the Elche Moriscos

Scarcely four hundred years ago these lands (and those of the rest of the Iberian Peninsula) saw those people leave, who for so long had worked and configured them, in a way that has lasted to this day.

It was the Moriscos (or Moors), who were once Mudejar and, much earlier, simply Muslims, who conquered the Iberian Peninsula back in the eighth century. In the case of the Moriscos of Elche, the castle and port of Santa Pola were the last places they stepped on before being expelled, to the north of Africa, after almost nine centuries inhabiting the territory that was their homeland.

Embarkation of the Moriscos in the Grao de Valencia (Pere Oromig, 1616).

The coexistence with Christians, since the Infante Alfonso (future Alfonso X of Castile) took control of Elche around the year 1250, was not exempt from setbacks and numerous disputes —Jaime I regained the place, in 1265, after a Muslim rebellion—. As in other municipalities, the conquered were expelled to extrawalls and, there, they were allowed to erect their suburb (today, in Elche, known as Raval). In addition, the less fertile lands were given to them, with a flow of water significantly less than that of the Christians, which they received through the Marchena irrigation channel.

Returning to the main question: such were the conflicts arising between Christians and Mudejars, especially towards the 15th and 16th centuries, that they decided to decree the conversion of the last ones to Christianity —by order of Carlos I of Spain, the Caesar— and thus, they would be called Moriscos. But such a conversion, which took place in Elche on January 22, 1526, was not carried out in privacy, as many Moriscos continued to practice the cult of the Koran.

The expulsion of the Moriscos (Gabriel Puig Roda, 1894).

With the reign of Felipe III, the monarch decreed the definitive expulsion of the moriscos, the 4 of August of 1609, which was announced the 22 of September. Those of Elche were about 400 families, that is to say, 1540 people, who would correspond to a third of the population. They left their suburbs on October 3 and were guided, to Santa Pola, by two infantry companies of one hundred and fifty components each, between arquebusiers and musketeers. The own Mr. of Elche (also Duke of Maqueda), Jorge de Cárdenas, confiscated everything what these possessed – although his contemporary, the historian Cristóbal Sanz, wrote the opposite by personal interests. And what the Moriscos of Elche suffered on the way to the port that would embark them to Africa, also happened to the Moors of many municipalities, because almost all were victims of looting. Those of Crevillent and Aspe ran similar fates, since they rendered vassalage to Jorge de Cárdenas and were embarked in the same port, Santa Pola.

Embarkation of the Moriscos in the port of Alicante (Pere Oromig and Francisco Peralta, 1613).

Previously to the multitudinous boarding, the castle of Santa Pola lodged to the moriscos coming from the mentioned municipalities, although by then they had already been unjustly deprived of their most precious belongings, leaving them only those clothes that covered their bodies. Nine galleys from Sicily were anchored at the port, and four from Portugal. Then, these boats went to the port of Alicante, where they met with the rest of the squadron to depart for Oran and Mers el-Kebir, in Africa, on October 5. On the 11th of the same month, they arrived on the African coast. But, in general, the inhabitants of the neighboring continent were not as hospitable as the newcomers expected, as many were subjected to mistreatment and looting.

Disembarkation of the Moriscos in the Port of Oran (Vicent Mestre, 1613).

But not all the Moriscos left the Peninsula, because children under 4 years were allowed to stay, if the parents so wanted, with families of old Christians. In addition, many children —children of the rebellious Moriscos of the mountains of the interior of Alicante— were orphans and were adopted by different families (of old Christians) of the Valencian geography. In the year 1610 there were, in Elche, eight girls and boys coming from Relleu and La Vall de Laguar, among other places, as well as a girl, it is believed that from Moriscos from Elche. Evidently, they adopted Christian names, customs and traditions, but their genetics remained, forever, in the land that saw their ancestors born. There is more to take a look at our people.


These and other interesting data are collected in the book Paseos con historia por la costa de Alicante, already available in bookstores.
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