The land around Alicante has been inhabited for many thousands of years, with the first tribes of hunter gatherers moving down gradually from central parts of Europe between 5000 and 3000 BC. Some of the earliest settlements in the area were around the slopes of Mount Benacantil, today occupied by the Castle of Santa Barbara. Although no definite remains have been found, archaeological evidence does seem to indicate that the Iberians (native Spanish) fortified the hilltop.
By around 1000 BC Greek and Phoenician traders had started visiting the eastern coast of Spain for the purposes of trade, and played a major part in the introduction of iron, the alphabet, and the pottery wheel. By 600 BC the armies of Carthage and Rome began to penetrate the peninsula and fight for dominance. The Carthaginian general Hamilcar (father of the legendary Hannibal) founded the fortified settlement of Akra Leuke, on the site of the modern city of Alicante. The Carthaginians conquered much of the land around Alicante, but in the end were no match for the Romans. They proved to be the primary force and ruled here for over 700 years. By 500 AD Rome was in decline, and Alicante was more or less under the control of the Goths.
Surprisingly little resistance was put up by either Roman or Goth to the Arab occupation, which brought art and architectural influence, in addition to oranges, palms and rice. The Moors (Arabs) ruled southern Spain until 1100 AD (the start of the reconquista (re-conquest)). Alicante finally fell to King Alfonso X for the Castilian crown in 1246, and the last Moorish rulers were ejected from Spain in 1492.
After centuries of war the 1500’s brought peace and prosperity to the region. Alicante grew to become a major trading station, exporting wine, oranges and olive oil. This was in the end short-lived, and the city sunk into a another period of conflict beginning with Charles II of France, whose Armada bombed the city for 7 consecutive days. Almost immediately afterwards Alicante became embroiled in the War of Spanish Succession (1701-14). Unfortunately it backed the losing side and the new ruler of Spain “Felipe” punished the entire region of Valencia by withdrawing many of the semi-autonomous privileges it had enjoyed since the expulsion of the Moors. This in turn brought a period of slow decline, with little change until the introduction of the railway in 1858 and the start of the 20th century.
The arrival of the railway guaranteed Alicante’s leading role as a port, and as a result the city expanded considerably. With the exception of a wretched age under the rule of the dictator Franco (1940-1976) the 20th century has been good to Alicante. It is now the 2nd largest city in the land of Valencia, and derives much of its income from tourism, and exporting fruit produce and salt.