How Altāya became Altea

How Altāya became Altea
In opposition to what many outsiders think, Altea la Vella is not the historical center of the current Altea, but a small, separate urban nucleus that gave rise to the current population.

It is indisputable that the town of Altea is one of the most picturesque and beautiful places on the coast of Alicante (the Costa Blanca). The old town is perched on a hill, on top of which stands the emblematic Church of Nuestra Señora del Consuelo, surrounded by traditional white houses and, of course, numerous workshops of all kinds of artists. But, contrary to what many foreigners believe, Altea la Vella (Altea la Vieja) does not correspond to the old walled enclosure of the current Altea, but it is another urban nucleus, located about 3.5 kilometers from it and north of the Algar River.

The etymological origin of Altea goes back, at least, to the time of Islamic domination (8th-13th centuries), when a settlement called Altāya was established in the place known today as Altea la Vella (or Poblet). Nevertheless, some sources affirm that such denomination could have been the one that the Greeks granted to the river Algar, which would have been adopted later by the Romans and, later, by the Muslims. Of these two hypotheses, the first appears to be strengthened, since the Greek presence on these coasts was very scarce and limited to trade with the Phoenicians and the Iberians. Historically it was speculated that in Dénia or Jávea there could be a Greek settlement, although the lack of evidence ruled out this possibility among the research community.

After the Christian Conquest, in the 13th century, Altāya was renamed Altea, although it remained under Muslim control for some years due to concessions of vassalage with King Jaume I and some rebellion led by the restless al-Azraq. By then, Bellaguarda —the oldest neighborhood in what is now Altea— had just been erected by the Christians and had a defensive bastion, of which the tower of the same name was part.

Altea la Vella
Plaza de la Iglesia (Altea la Vella).

The decrees of conversion of the Muslims to Christianity and, later, of definitive expulsion of the Moors led to a significant depopulation, the result of which was the complete abandonment of the original Altea (the ancient Altāya, today, Altea la Vella). At the same time, around Bellaguarda a small hamlet had been created, protected by the bulwark and, at the dawn of the 17th century, Carta Puebla was granted to occupy the new site of Altea, on the hill next to Bellaguarda.

Fortunately, the original site (Altea la Vella) began to populate again, and gradually, from the 18th century and now constitutes a quiet hamlet of Altea, located at the foot of the ever fascinating Sierra de Bernia, natural border between the districts of Marina Baixa and Marina Alta, but that is another story.

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