Alcalá began fortuitously, on the top of a mountain around the castle, like so many other towns in Andalucia. The housing and the roads are said to have been made when Per Afán de Ribera, Marquis of Tarifa obtained the title of Duke of Alcalá in the 16th century. Consequently, thanks to him were built the Casa del Cabildo, the parish church of San Jorge, the Plaza Alta, the convent, the streets of the nobility, the priests' house, the town, the cemetery... the other monks looked towards the lower parts of the town, the Alameda, where their tiny rooms were located, and the hill of Santo Domingo where the Dominicans settled.
During childhood in the 30s - during the war - it was fun to go up to the top behind the castle. Oblivious to the sad struggle, they dreamed about the history captured by those rocks. Around there had been the cave men, the Turdestanis, the Romans, the Visigoths, the Arabs, the Christians. They had already been learning about it in school with Don Manual Marchante.
Most important for them was the castle, a Roman construction, restored by the Almohades, a present from the Moorish King of Granada to the tribe of the Gazules, North African warriors. That was until the blessed King Ferdinand III came, with his warriors and conquered the town. Next came the poet king, Alfonso X, el Sabio (the wise one), in 1264. He disliked warfare and won over the people with culture, with poems, with public charts and maps, and by distributing the land. He was not a good warrior, but he was a master of letters and an outstanding poet who created songs in that sweetest of Spanish languages, Gallega. And he also put wonderful names to towns and places. To this one, he gave one of the prettiest, Alcalá de los Gazules.
The castle had a wall and a well. The wall went by the Beaterio de Jesús María y José, bordering the two buildings, while the well area was inside the nuns' enclosure. The children would stick their heads around the area of the well to see if they could spot any Moors, but they only made out a big room where the Moors collected rain water. And the gardener told them that there was a passage through which the Moors escaped to the "Prao" when they were surrounded by Christians. The Beaterio was liked very much by the boys and girls because it had been their first school. It was a type of nursery or pre-school, where the children were welcomed from the ages of three to fives years.
The loving care of the nuns, and living together with other boys and girls, was the best present they could have at their age. Their mother had been educated in the Beaterio as a boarder and she wanted her sons to go there too. She had received a good education, lovely handwriting, and at the same time, she had been able to develop one of her favourite activities, drawing and painting. Her sons still keep excellent examples of the work she did in El Beaterio from twelve to sixteen years of age, from 1912 to 1916.
The castle was in use until the 19th century but with the French invasion it was sacked, and to make sure it was abandoned they blew it up. It's said that the town struggled heroically to defend it and so the King granted the three titles of Muy Noble, Leal e Ilustre Ciudad de Alcalá de los Gazules [Most Noble, Loyal and Illustrious town of Alcalá de los Gazules]. From then on, the roads extended downwards looking for the easiest routes. But he preferred the Alcalá at the top of the mountain of Gazul, not below, the Playa and the roads. After the war, a mayor constructed with stones from the castle, the water tank alongside.
On top, the Levante roamed freely and, in the arch at the mouth of the Plaza Alta, they played at struggling against the wind, to see who could do it best. Almost always, they were defeated, dragged helplessly. The wild hedge mustard use to grow in the old mansions of the courtesans of Per Afán, and the alley dogs and mountain cats took possession of every corner. Today, all that has been renovated. But he liked most that old Alcalá, of fifteen thousand inhabitants, that Alcalá of the nuns of the Order of St Claire, of the Beaterio, of the quiet and mysterious passages.
Published by Andrés Moreno Camacho
Translated by Bob Lloyd
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