Thursday, June 17, 2010

a History of Mojácar

Mojácar comes from the Arab name ‘Muxacra’, which comes from the Roman name ‘Mons Sacra’. This ‘sacred mountain’ refers to a pyramid shaped hill which is just below the current site of the town. The hill, now known as ‘Old Mojácar’, has an Arab water deposit on its summit, innumerable ruins on its approaches, bronze age remnants about its feet and the dry river ‘Aguas’ to its rear. Whether it is in fact the old settlement of Mojácar is perhaps unlikely, as the current location is sited on the front of a range of mountains called the Sierra Filabres which extend way into the interior – a much more defensible site with available water and retreat routes. The town overlooks the Mediterranean at around 400 Metres above sea level and a kilometre inland – making for good defence from corsairs. Settlement here can be traced back to the beginning of history, and include Phoenicians, Greeks, Trojans and the Icini (the original ‘Beaker People’).
Mojácar was a fortified town in the Moorish era, and fell to the Christian Kings – Isabel and Ferdinand – in 1488. Everyone was promptly slaughtered. Or left in peace, if you believe the plaque located at the ‘Moorish fountain’ (built in 1930 with channelled water from a fountain behind the town). The town regained its strength during the following centuries, after being re-populated with Christians from nearby Lorca, and became the local capital during the following centuries. The town, according to a 1912 encyclopaedia, had a ‘castillo inmutable’, which means an un-knockdownable castle, and a population for the 1910 census of 6,000 souls. By 1960, the population has dwindled to 600, and consideration was underway to absorb Mojácar into the municipality of Carboneras. Worse still, somebody had knocked down the castle.
The Civil War had undoubtedly taken its toll, Mojácar being enthusiastically ‘Red’, and many had been obliged to take off for foreign climes after the Nationalist victory. The water table had also fallen after strip farming practices in the hills had removed all the vegetation. By the early sixties, there was some tomato plantations on the beach, and little else.
Mining in the Bédar hills had been re-introduced by the British in the late 19th century – mainly iron and copper – and some small industry had made its way seawards, with a rail-head in next door Garrucha, and heavy strip mining further along in Cuevas. A small community of Europeans had settled locally, and Garrucha – essentially the only way in or out, as there was no roads in to the area – became the foreigners’ capital. By 1930, there were even Dutch, German and British consuls in the port town.
Mojácar passed much of this by, although in 1915, a British citizen in Garrucha bought and piped much of Mojácar’s fresh water over to Garrucha, where he sold it to the townsfolk. Mojácar’s main claim to history during this period was the birth on December 5th 1901 of José Guirao Zamora to a local ‘loose woman’ in the small and nearby farming hamlet of Campamento. The father was a local gad-about and future solid citizen, sewing his wild oats. The child was taken to Chicago by the mother, and adopted by the Disney family. You’ll know him as Walt. Well, so the story goes. Another story, perhaps with more bases in fact, was the departure of Pascual Artero from Aguas Enmedio (another local hamlet) in the 1930s to the Pacific island of Guam, where he provisioned the American army during the Second World War and inherited the nickname of ‘The King of Guam’. Luis Siret, a Belgian archaeologist operating in the area during the twenties, is credited with ‘discovering’ the local totem – the Indalo – amongst prehistoric drawings in a cave in Vélez Blanco. The name comes from the first bishop of Alméria, Indalecio. The totem however – a stick figure holding a serpent over his head – can be traced back in Mojácar at least as far back as the sixteenth century, and it was known as the ‘hombrecillo mojaquero’. It’s probably a fertility goddess, but who knows.
In the early sixties, the provincial ‘Gobernador Civil’ promoted a local man, Jacinto Alarcón, to be mayor. Jacinto managed, with nothing short of genius, to turn the town’s fortunes around. A group of artists (including Canton Checa, Jose Luis Perceval and Rafael Lorente) had ‘discovered’ Mojácar – a brown cubist village in ruins as the 1954 ‘Sierra Maldita’ melodramatic film shows – and founded an art movement named after the Indalo, calling themselves the ‘Indalianos’. Jacinto encouraged their activities, and hit on the idea of giving away land or ruins to those who were prepared to come and repair or build. By the end of this project, around 1965, many well known characters and wealthy people had taken up the offer, including bullfighter Antonio Bienvenida, diplomat Sir Michael Adeane, actor Charles Baxter and concert pianist Enrique Arias. Soon, others followed, and with prices to laugh at, Mojácar had become a small but well-known bohemian colony by the end of the decade. Future property handouts to various soon-to-be senior socialist politicians, like Julio Feo, Jose Bobadilla and Alfonso Guerra (later vice president of Spain) helped the town’s fortunes.
The crash of two American nuclear armed planes over nearby Palomares in January 1966 brought Manuel Fraga Irribarne, the then tourist minister, to Mojácar, where Jacinto persuaded him to build a Parador hotel and to dub the (by this time painted) town with the ‘White City of the Year’ prize for 1966. A never heard of before or since award. Greed and poor planning by those who followed Jacinto brought the tour operator Horizon to the town, and poor quality hotels, cheap package tourists and get rich quick apartments soon helped Mojácar’s growth while trashing her international status.
Today, Mojácar has around 8,000 full time inhabitants, with perhaps another 15,000 summer visitors. The village remains attractive, with narrow ‘Moorish’ streets, stunning views and cubist architecture: while the beach has expanded into the main business of the community, and stretches as a solid line of hotels and apartment blocks from Garrucha to well past the Hotel Indalo, with new projects being built at Macenas. Some basic infrastructure is now going in, like a ring-road behind the beach urbanisations (well, one day) and some parking for the village. Desultory talk of a theatre (the old one was demolished in the ‘seventies), and a cinema (ditto) may bring culture back to the town. Meanwhile, an art museum and a public sports centre and swimming pool have been completed but remain tantalisingly unopened.
While poor politics (and indifference in civic affairs from the foreigners) has complicated Mojácar’s appeal, the beach, weather, location and social life remain attractive.
English is the most spoken language of Mojácar today, followed by ‘mojaquero’ (an impenetrable form of Spanish). The local school is about 50% foreign. Finding work as a foreigner is hard, much beyond house-cleaning and bar work, although many set up their own businesses. Spaniards don’t generally patronize foreign business, and rarely employ foreigners. It’s best to live here on income from abroad. There are many ex-pat clubs, theatre groups and associations here, and making friends is easy. There is not much inter-cultural strife, and the warm weather and easy going lifestyle soon soothe away any anxieties.


Mark Beasley said...

Thanks for that, Lenox. Do I detect a compilation of your previous (excellent) work? Certainly, I'm sure I've ripped some of this off before for my own modest blog (which you read, commented on, and were decent enough not to accuse me of plagiarism). So, next time we're over, can we buy you (and your good lady) lunch or dinner? My wife remembers you from the 70s, we always read your stuff, and feel like we know you! Regards. Mark Beasley -

Lenox said...

Hi Mark - yes, thanks for your kind words - this comes from an old piece I found on the original 'Entertainer Online' from about 2002 (there's a useful page called which shows old stored webpages).