The known history of Alicante goes back thousands of years, all the way back to the Iberian Civilisation. The Iberians were a B.C. era people documented by later Greek and Roman writers, including Hecataeus. They occupied the eastern and southern coasts of the Iberian Peninsula, located in Europe. This nearly 600,000 kilometre piece of land now supports three countries, Spain, Portugal and Andorra, as well as two smaller territories claimed by Britain and France.
Not a great deal is known about the oldest Iberian culture; instead, this blanket term is used for a number of diverse peoples from an Iron Age, pre-Roman civilisation. Antiquated Greek and Roman sources also tend to avoid defining ethnicity or even common features among the peoples, but do list a long list of peoples, tribes and groups. Some of these include the Andosini, the Ceretani, Lacetani, Turdetani, Oscenses, among others.
Whatever once defined the ancient Iberians, by the sixth century B.C., the influence of the Greeks and Phoenicians was powerful enough to affect Iberian culture. What we do know of them is that they lived in smaller communities and in some cases tribes. They did have a great understanding of metalworking and agriculture. Their societies were surprisingly complex, showing signs of varying social classes and urbanisation, though this may well have come from dealings with the Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians. Their primary trade was precious metals. The first colony on record dates back to 1100 B.C., though the first mention of them occurred in sixth Century B.C. Greeks. There were also apparently Caucasian Iberians unique from non-Caucasian Iberians. Their supposed date of arrival is the Neolithic Period, and starting in what is now Spain. However, other evidence suggests they may have come farther east or perhaps even from North Africa.
These B.C. era tribes made settlements on Alicante’s Mount Benacantil. By the year 1000 B.C., Greek and Phoenician civilisation revolutionised Iberian culture, as they introduced iron, pottery wheels and the written alphabet.
By the sixth century, Carthage and Rome began fighting for rights to the Iberian Peninsula, a war that eventually ended with Rome’s success—although Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca did tentatively establish the Akra Leuka, a.k.a. “White Mountain.” When Rome took possession of the peninsula they ruled for 700 years.
The decline of the Roman Empire saw what was then “Lecentum” fall into the hands of the Visogoths. By the eighth century, Romans and the Goths let the territory go to Arabs who took over Medina Laqant, bringing their unique architectural principles, Moorish art and foods. The term Alicante is Arabic and means The City of Lights. The Moors ruled over Alicante and all of eastern and southern Spain until the eleventh century, when the Reconquest took place. By 1246, Alfonso of the Castilians took control of the land, but only until 1298, when the Catalonian King James II or Aragon rose. His Valencian Kingdom even had the land declared a Royal Village.
Castile and Aragon feuded over Alicante for decades until Valencia won, starting a fifteenth century Golden Age, and a rise of Valencia as a major trading nation, bringing its wines, olive oil and oranges to the world. By the year 1614, King Felipe III expelled remaining Moriscos (Muslims force-converted to Christianity) because of their relationship with Berber pirates who were attacking the coast and affecting the land’s trade and profitability. The violence damaged the trade industry and caused many artisans and labourers to leave.
Now nearly bankrupt, by the early 1700s Valencia’s Alicante took part in the War of Spanish Succession, led by Carlos. Carlos lost and Felipe punished Alicante by ceasing the land’s semi-autonomous status, sending it into even further decline. In later centuries its primary exports were shoes, fish, oranges and almonds.
It wouldn’t be until the 1800s that Alicante finally began to recover and start once again trading internationally. Spain’s neutrality in World War I only helped to reignite trade, though the Moroccan War of 1920 did see many young men drafted into war. This led to political turmoil and eventually the establishment of a Second Spanish Republic in 1931. Then came the Spanish Civil War in 1936, where Alicante, loyal to Republic Government, was overtaken by General Franco’s troops in 1939. Its last Republican officials fled through the harbour, even while air bombings terrorised the city.
Franco’s dictatorship government wasn’t easy for Alicante, though it did improve by the 1960s when tourism started to boom. This is also the period when larger buildings were erected and development began in Playa de San Juan, leading to the creation of hotels, bars and restaurants. When Franco passed in 1975, Juan Carlos I took over and began a much more democratic government, albeit still a democratic constitutional-influenced monarchy. This allowed more autonomy in regions such as Alicante, the likes of which it hadn’t enjoyed in, literally, centuries.
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