A guest post by the erudite, urbane, debonair, well-travelled, and ever well-refreshed, Gareth ap Siôn
The seemingly eternal history of struggle and conflict in the face of suppression of our Welsh national identity is not unique to the Cymric nation. It has been and is mirrored by the crushing of many an isolated society in this still unjust world.
This was sharply brought to mind after a recent visit to Frigiliana, a town situated in the most oriental region of the province of Málaga, which embraces the warm and beautiful Mediterranean coast of southern Spain.
Frigiliana is an intriguing place, with a wonderfully interesting history. It was the last bastion of Arab predominance in the Iberian peninsula, after a full 800 years of occupation; but, by 1485, the Reconquista, carried out by the Reyes Católicos had arrived. All other Moorish towns had, by then, been conquered and had forcibly been evacuated and re-populated with a Christian Spanish population. Since the town was so strongly fortified, a deal was brokered and, after the payment of tributes, the Moors were allowed to remain and practice their religion and way of life. They then became known as Mudejares. Peace and a productive tranquillity reigned between the two Spanish communities but, over the passing of time, the perverse side of human nature reared its ugly head, promises were forgotten and the population subjected to an ever- increasing oppression. The Moors were forced to convert to Christianity. The alternative was expulsion to Africa. Those that converted (often in appearance only!), became known as Moriscos.
The repression intensified during the reign of Phillip II. It became especially violent in 1567 when the Inquisition, through the sadistic insistence of the prime inquisitor Pedro de Deza, turned the screw tightly. The Moriscos were prohibited from carrying weapons, to talk or write in their own language, to marry ethnic Spanish, to wear traditional clothing or to practice their historic customs. Predictably, all this inspired rebellion, which was then ruthlessly and bloodily crushed. The Moriscos that did not flee were wiped out.
Despite all this, however, the genetic link was not entirely extinguished; to this day hearts in Frigiliana beat proud at the thought of their cultural heritage. The town is now officially designated ‘The town of the three cultures’ – Christian, Moorish and Jewish, and its logo intertwines the symbols of these cultures. After so much conflict, the three religions now co-exist in peace and harmony.
This first photograph is of a statue of the town logo, which combines the Christian, Moslem and Jewish symbols.
Interestingly, for historians, and for visitors such as myself, the council has erected, in obscure positions around the old part of the town, twelve ceramic wall plaques which tell the full tale of the rebellion and its repression. It is a very rewarding challenge for determined souls to track them all down (and attempt translation!) during the course of a day’s visit.
Here is the first plaque, which shows the fruitful state of the region before it was subject to siege and devastation.
Here is the translation:-
“The range of mountains that is Bentomiz is part of the constituency of the city of the Velez in the Málaga region. All this land is fertile, with many trees, and abundant, health-giving waters that bisect peaks that reach up to a sky so clear. The lightweight, sturdy and courageous population, the successors of Moorish royalty were the bravest in the kingdom of Granada. There were twenty-two villages of happy and content people, including Frigiliana.” wrote Mármol Carvajal in his “Rebelión y Castigo” (Libro Sexto Cap.XV Málaga, 1600).
The last plaque (above) shows the total post-conquest devastation. (Here is my approximate translation)
“An agonizing silence took over the hamlet of Frigiliana. There was the abandoned mountain, the dead bodies, the living voice of Martín Alguacil:- “If defending our freedom we die fighting, mother earth will receive us and though the graves be hidden, the sky will ever warm them. God does not want to say that the men of Bentomiz dared not die for their country.”
Between plaques one and twelve, which represent Frigiliana at its productive peak and then of the sorry state after all light was extinguished, are ten others which re-stage its swift downfall. These are shown below, listed A – K; to pause, just hold cursor over image:
These plaques tell their own story without real need of further translations. (Very difficult, anyway, considering the medieval Spanish used!)
Sadly, and to anyone with but a minimal knowledge of Welsh history, there are glaringly obvious parallels to Wales as it was before and after the essential, proud, but ultimately unsuccessful Llywelyn and Glyndŵr rebellions. This is well-illustrated in the Welsh bardic poetry of the time.
The immortal Gruffudd ab yr Ynad Coch wrote an elegy to Llywelyn after his death and the conquest of Wales in 1282, which mirrors the sentiments of the Frigiliana plaques, especially the last one.
Here is a portion of it :-
Poni welwch chwi hynt y gwynt a’r glaw?
Poni welwch chwi’r deri’n ymdaraw?
Poni welwch chwi’r môr yn merwinaw’r tir?
Poni welwch chwi’r gwir yn ymgweiriaw?
Poni welwch chwi’r haul yn hwyliaw’r awyr?
Poni welwch chwi’r syr wedi’r syrthiaw?
Poni chredwch chwi i Dduw, ddyniadon ynfyd?
Poni welwch chwi’r byd wedi’r bydiaw?
Och hyd atat ti Dduw na ddaw – môr dros dir!
Na beth y’n geidr i ohiriaw?
Do you not see the path of the wind and the rain?
Do you not see the oak trees in turmoil?
Cold my heart in a fearful breast
Thou great Creator of the world,
Why are not thy red lightnings hurled?
Will not the sea at thy command swallow up this guilty land?
Why are we left to mourn in vain,
The guardian of our country slain?
Following that, there is nothing else that could be said, is there?
Jac writes: I have taken issue with Gareth over what he describes as the “glaringly obvious parallels to Wales”. The Moors that attract his sympathy were themselves conquerors and invaders; the Reconquista was the native Spanish reclaiming their land. (The clue is in Reconquista.) But then, this is the kind of error – ‘The white man is always in the wrong’ – into which socialism, alas, beguiles otherwise sound and sensible Welsh partiots.