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Alicante History

 

Alicante History

The land around Alicante has been inhabited for thousands of years. Between 5000 and 3000 BC, the first tribes of hunter-gatherers gradually moved down from central Europe. Some of the earliest settlements were around the slopes of Mount Benacantil, where the Castle of Santa Barbara now stands. Although no definitive remains have been found, archaeological evidence suggests that the Iberians (native Spanish) fortified the hilltop.

By around 1000 BC, Greek and Phoenician traders began visiting the eastern coast of Spain, significantly influencing the region by introducing iron, the alphabet, and the pottery wheel. By 600 BC, the armies of Carthage and Rome started to penetrate the peninsula and compete for dominance. The Carthaginian general Hamilcar, father of the legendary Hannibal, founded the fortified settlement of Akra Leuke on the site of modern-day Alicante. While the Carthaginians initially conquered much of the land around Alicante, they were eventually overpowered by the Romans, who ruled the area for over 700 years. By 500 AD, as Rome declined, Alicante came under the control of the Goths.

Both Roman and Gothic resistance to Arab occupation was surprisingly minimal. The Arab rule brought significant cultural influence, including art, architecture, and the introduction of oranges, palms, and rice. The Moors (Arabs) ruled southern Spain until the Reconquista began around 1100 AD. Alicante finally fell to King Alfonso X for the Castilian crown in 1246, and the last Moorish rulers were expelled from Spain in 1492.

After centuries of war, the 1500s ushered in a period of peace and prosperity for the region. Alicante grew into a major trading hub, exporting wine, oranges, and olive oil. However, this prosperity was short-lived. The city faced conflict beginning with Charles II of France, whose Armada bombarded Alicante for seven consecutive days. Soon after, Alicante became involved in the War of Spanish Succession (1701-14), siding with the losing faction. The new ruler of Spain, Felipe, punished the entire region of Valencia by revoking many of its semi-autonomous privileges. This led to a period of slow decline, which continued until the arrival of the railway in 1858 and the onset of the 20th century.

The railway’s arrival cemented Alicante’s role as a leading port, prompting significant expansion of the city. Except for a bleak period under the dictatorship of Franco (1940-1976), the 20th century has been prosperous for Alicante. It is now the second-largest city in the Land of Valencia, with much of its income derived from tourism, and the export of fruit produce and salt.

 

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