Historical summary : Novelda, descubre una ciudad sorprendente

Historical summary

 Novelda, located in the middle basin of the Vinalopó River, has been an area of transit and a natural way of communication between the Spanish midland plains, the southeast and the Mediterranean coastline since pre-historic times.

This, together with its wealth of agricultural and stock farming resources, has been a determining factor in human settlement and the convergence and development of different cultures throughout different historical periods.

Going back to the pre-historic age, the earliest known human settlement in Novelda occurred during the Neolithic Age.

Evidence of settlement at this time has been found in the partida de Ledua, with a magnificent vessel that can be dated to 4,200-3,000 BC.

Occupation of the plain was consolidated during the 3rd millennium BC, but the depth of the finds are difficult to detect due to constant rotation of the land. We only know of one find, located at the height of today’s Sirera y Dara street.

The district of Novelda features a number of caves where archaeological remains have been found. These include the Cueva de los Misterios and the Cueva del Mediodía, in La Mola, where a number of burial sites were found where the dead were buried with the tools they used in life and which later formed their funeral belongings.

There were no fortified towns in the higher reaches of the Novelda district, but an Iberian population has been detected on the plain, more specifically in the area of the Campet, formed by the terraces of Vinalopó River that spread left and right between the districts of Monforte, Novelda and Aspe.

In the wake of the Roman conquest of the Iberian peninsula and subsequent reorganisation of the land ordered by Augustus, these farms became country towns, as the land began to be better used for agricultural and fishing purposes. Also fundamental in its development was the fact it was close to communication paths, with Novelda district under the direct influence of the Via Augusta, one of the branches of which, as show in Roman sources, passed through the Vinalopó valleys.

There have been many findings of clear sigillata ceramics and those from the south of France and Spain, scrolled lucernes, olpes, small jars, amphorae, coins and fibulas. They all date back to the 1st – 5th century A.D.

The population began to decline in the late Roman period and was located on medium-sized hills that provided a good overview of the land. This was also the time of the settlement found in Zambo, where clear sealed soil ceramics, amphorae and coins put the site at between the mid-4th and late-6th centuries A.D.

Little of interest happened in the Novelda area during the Visigoth-Byzantine period but then, beginning in the mid-9th century, in the Emiral period of the Islamic era, we again find the presence of an Islamicised community, as deduced from ceramic material found on the Zambo plain.

Beginning in the mid-11th century, control was taken of a small rural community located on the south-east plain of La Mola, a place where a magnificent castle would be built in the third-quarter of the 12th century, in the Almohad age.

With the conquest of these lands, La Mola and Novelda became part of the Alicante Alfoz, according to the privilege that Alfonso X, known as Alfonso the Wise, gave the City of Alicante in 1252. However, it soon returned to the Crown and Jofre de Loaysa (at the time Lord of Petrer, Jumilla and Bañeres) was named governor of the castle at the end of the same decade.

Dynastic disputes in the Castilian kingdom stoked Aragonese pretensions to the ancient Kingdom of Murcia, which included the southern lands of the current region of Alicante, which led to the siege of many cities, fortresses and towns by Aragonese troops under King Jaime II from 1296 to 1300.

Having conquered Murcia, the rights of the Infante Don Fernando de la Cerda were again claimed and an agreement and pact finally reached (Torrellas-Elche, 1304-1305) which definitively set out the territorial limits between Castile and the Catalan-Aragonese Crown. The southern lands between the Vinalopó River and Baix Segura (Orihuela) became part of the Kingdom of Valencia, which in turn, as we know, form part of the Aragonese Crown.

During the 14th century, the nucleus of the La Mola Christian population was consolidated against the Saracen settlement of Novelda, where the populace was devoted mainly to agricultural and fishing tasks and was continuing to develop its culture through Moorish quarters and the mosque, with Moslem doctors and cadis among other public office-holders. The lands belonged to the feudal estate of the Infante Don Fernando, who regularly designated the governors of La Mola castle.

In the second-quarter of the 14th century, battles again broke out between the Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon over sovereignty of these lands during the War of the Two Pedros (1356-1366). In 1363, the troops of Pedro I of Castile conquered the lands, which converted to the Crown following the death of the Infante Don Fernando; however, they were taken again by the Aragonese troops. Following these advances, Pedro IV, Pedro the Ceremonious, gave La Mola Castle to Bertran du Glesqui in 1366. A year later it passed to Sir Hugo de Calviley, while Novelda was given to Mateo de Gournay, both having come to the Iberian peninsula at the head of the White Companies.

In 1378, the King gave the fortress to his wife, Sibila de Fortia, conceding her civil and criminal jurisdiction. It was to be Dona Violante de Bar who in 1393 sold Novelda and La Mola to Don Pedro Maza de lIzana, Admiral of Aragon and Lord of Mogente. The Barony of Novelda was created in 1449 and comprised Romana, Monovar and Chinorla.

 The town of Novelda increased its population of old Christians over the Moorish majority, who were forced to be baptised from 1565 on. Finally expulsed in 1609, the town was left practically depleted when more than 300 families left.

The 17th century saw a number of epidemics, droughts and poor harvests, and at the end of the century there was a recovery of the population, which grew more than 200% following consolidated improvements in agriculture and stockfarming, the economic bases of the population.

The people not only worked the land and raised livestock activity, they also began to develop an important crafts and industry work. More than 2,000 women and girls from a population of 7,587, according to the geographer Cabanilles.

With the abolition of the feudal estates in 1837 and subsequent sale of Church lands, a growing farming and trade-based bourgeoisie began to form, which led to a population of around 8,000 inhabitants by 1879.

This meant that a bourgeois trade developed which, along with its Catalan counterpart of the beginning of the 20th century, would bring to the people of Novelda the architectural and ornamental styles known as Modernism. A significant number of houses were built in this style in the middle of the city, which had experienced notable growth since the mid-18th century. At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th were built the Casino, in town, and Saint Mary Magdalene’s Sanctuary, at La Mola plain, finished in the 1940’s.