Lovers of fortresses and architecture will enjoy a trip to the mountains of Marina Alta for a close-up look at a proudly preserved parish church that bears witness to a precarious mediaeval past. Documents show that this castle/fortress became a Christian parish church in 1317.
The architectural structures of Murla range from mediaeval to modern and the historical past of the place is marked by cultural and structural grievances. All this makes Murla a very interesting place to visit. Let us take a look...
* Report by Karla Ingleton Darocas, Hons. B.A. (KarlaDarocas.com) (C) no part of this text or photos may be replicated)
The castle church of San Miguel Arcángel is located in the middle of town. It was preserved in order to preserve the original castle, which was built by Arabs on Roman ruins at the time and was called the "Castle of the Pop Valley".
The solid façade of stone, brick and rammed earth is without much ornamentation. It houses a Christian cross and a large visual tribute to the mediaeval military archangel Saint Michael, painted on glazed tiles and set in stone
Above the door is a niche with a small statue of the same archangel. In earlier times, this was the "murder hole", an opening in the wall above an entrance used to throw projectiles or other things at besiegers.
The fortified metal gate has been restored because it is not made of mediaeval bronze and therefore oxidised green, but of pewter and matt silver. It is surrounded by ashlars, which are smooth square stones set close together using an ancient technique. A 21st century wooden door has been installed to facilitate access.
I was not there when the church was open, so I'll have to wait for another time to get in
The west tower of the bastion is well-preserved, but you can see that the upper half has been rebuilt, along with the battlements on the parapet, reconstructed in the Mudejar style from stacked flat clay bricks.
There are very few arched arrow windows, one on each level of the tower. These are a great mediaeval reminder of the type of warfare that was waged in this historic area.
On the south side of the fort church is the east tower with a deep base. Archival notes indicate that the castle fort had an outer wall and the main building was surrounded by a moat. The moat was not primarily used to repel attackers, but to stop tunnelers. Tunnelling under a castle was an effective way to bring down the walls or infiltrate the castle. A moat would bring down any tunnel.
The west side was the actual main entrance in the Middle Ages. In the old fortress, the holes can still be seen that contained the receptacle for the counterweight of the drawbridge, which was attached to the lifting chains of the bridge and made it possible to raise the platform via a kind of winch.
BRIEF HISTORY OF MURLA
The town of Murla is an important reference point in Muslim and Christian history. For centuries, hundreds of Arab peasants lived in this area, serving under a famous warrior/vassal named Al Azraq. From his father he inherited control of a vast mountainous area that included the Val de Gallinera and the Val de Pop, as well as the valleys of Alcalá and Ebo.
Under this Arab vassal, Murla was a well-ordered and prosperous area with a good irrigation system, advanced cattle breeding and land administration.
Murla was also of strategic importance for the cluster of forts and castles in the Taifa of Denia, which controlled the key crossings that connected the coast with the inland towns of Xátiva, Cocentaina and Alcoi.
But in 1244, with the signing of the "Jovada Pact", Al-Azraq gave Murla and the lands, among other possessions, to the Aragonese Prince Alfonso
In 1262, the community of Murla was founded. Its first Christian lord was Alfonso's son, Don Pedro, making Murla part of the royal patrimony of Aragon.
Throughout Murla's history, it had numerous owners. Later it became part of the duchy of the Count of Gandia, the Count-Dukes of Benavente and the Dukes of Osuna
Murla was a mixed population of ancient and Moorish Christians (Moriscos) who earned a decent living and income for their masters until 1601
From 1609 to 1614, the Spanish government systematically expelled the Moriscos through a series of decrees affecting the various Spanish kingdoms, with varying degrees of success. Historians disagree, but between 250,000 and 300,000 Moriscos (4% of the total Spanish population) were expelled.
The defenders of the Moriscos were the Valencian and Aragonese nobility, who benefited most from the poor Moriscos and the cheap labour they provided.
With the expulsion of 33% of the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Valencia, the Marina Alta lost practically its entire population. The infrastructure fell into disrepair and the Christian nobles and landlords fell into arrears. Short of cash, many of the Valencian nobles increased the rents for their Christian tenants to even come close to their former income. The increase in rents meant that no new tenants came to replace them and, as a result, agricultural production in Valencia fell tremendously.
In just three months, 116,000 Moriscos were taken from Valencia to North Africa.
Expulsion of the Moriscos in the port of Dénia, by Vincente Mostre.
Murla and the surrounding area were repopulated with 150 Mallorcan families and invitations were sent to Christian families from Altea, Barcelona, Benissa, Bocairent, Calpe, Finestrat, Murla, Mutxamel, Polop and Valencia to repopulate the region of Marina Alta
THE TOWER TRAGEDY
9.30 am, on the fateful 1st of May 1990, is another date that will forever go down in the history of Murla.
On that day, the 19th century bell tower of the fortified church of San Miguel Arcángel collapsed. The octagonal, 30-metre-high bell tower had been built on the 13th-century western bastion.
It was built in the 13th century. The bell tower and its foundation had been cracked for many years and at this advanced stage of decay could not withstand the force of the terrible rain the previous night.
The truly terrible part of this story was that the entire bell tower collapsed onto two neighbouring houses. In one of the houses lived two single sisters, Rosa and Consolación Sala Giner, aged 81 and 84, who perished. In the other house, a woman saved her own life by running into the street when she heard the noise and went to see what had happened
A nephew of the sisters, with the help of other neighbours, tried to enter the house to save his aunts but failed. Then, to the astonishment of all the citizens, the two houses collapsed and disappeared under the rubble of the bell tower.
IN THE END...
The town of Murla has finally built a new bell tower and completed it in 2014. It has a modern design and is 36 metres high. It is the tallest structure in Murla. It houses the four bells of the old bell tower, which have been restored. However, the townspeople are not very enthusiastic about their new tower... and here is a newspaper article I found that sums it all up.
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