Although we sit on an unbroken chain that extends back through time to prehistory, perhaps the best-known period was when our Arab brethren ruled the land. Then, although oases of peace, in which learning and the arts flourished, were sweet, the days were punctuated by war. The struggle between Christian and Muslim forces had been long and was far from being resolved. Strength of arms was the only measure that brought any lasting meaning.
During medieval times, Montefrío was part of the northwest border of the Muslim kingdom of Granada. With the Christians settled in Alcala la Real to the north, the clash of arms was frequent and continual harassment took place between the two cultures trying to scrape a living from the soil. The small town of Montefrío was protected by its strong castle and heavily armed defenders.
Of the castle, only the walls remain today. However, back in the 12th and 13th centuries, the castle was impregnable and, being high on a promontory with a 360º view, it was a defensive stronghold that was very difficult to attack. This impregnable fortress was one of the principal keys to the kingdom of Granada and, like a spider waiting in its web, it was at the centre of an intricate network of watchtowers positioned throughout the countryside and which allowed communication between Montefrío and surrounding settlements such as Íllora and Moclín. The well-chosen strategic position of these towers also controlled all the roads that between la Vega de Granada and the Christian zone.
The Abencerrajes, settled in Montefrío, were a strong tribe that dominated much of the territory within the kingdom of Granada. On many occasions, and especially when agreement in political ideals was not possible, their position towards the Arabic ruler of Granada was one of rebellion and sometimes they sided with the Christians against the Arabic rulers.
Everything came to a head when Aben Osmyn al-Anaf (1445-1453 and known as the lame), ruling under the name of Muhammad X, was on the throne of Granada. The Abencerrajes were unhappy by his tyrannical form of government so they crossed the border of Montefrío towards Alcalá la Real with the brother of Muhammed, prince Ismâ’îl Aben Hismael. Under the auspices of the Christians the prince, as Aben Ismael III, was proclaimed king of Granada, eighteenth King of the dynasty of the Nazaríes. His court was based in the fortress of Montefrío.
Muhammad considered Ismâ’îl to be an insignificant rival and, while his attention was on another front, with the support of the Christians and from his little kingdom of Montefrío, Ismâ’îl prepared for war. In 1453 the Abencerrajes, with the help of the Christians, arrived at the walls of Granada and through intrigue and malice, managed to displace Muhammad. Ismâ’îl appeared in Granada to the acclamation of his people and was proclaimed king. Because of his relationship with the Christians, his reign was prosperous and happy until his death in 1465. He was succeeded by his son Muley-Hacen (Boabdil), the last ruler of Arabic Spain and altogether another story.
Montefrío is a typical white-washed town that boasts one of the most spectacular townscape views. The Muslim castle and the Christian church, now achieving an intimate and interdependent relationship, sit on the skyline presiding over endless fields of olive trees, the fruit of which produces one of the most sought-after virgin olive oils of Andalusia.
A visit to this little Andalusian town should be on everyone’s bucket list.