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Zahara de la Sierra (Municipality, Andalusia, Spain)

Last modified: 2017-02-11 by ivan sache
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Flag of Zahara de la Sierra - Image from the Símbolos de Cadíz website, 1 April 2014

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Presentation of Zahara de la Sierra

The municipality of Zahara de la Sierra (1,471 inhabitants in 2013; 7,248 ha; municipal website) is located in the Sierra de Grazalema, 125 km north-east of Cádiz.

Zahara is of unknown etymology. Hermenegildo Cuenca believes that the town's name means "a flower", refering to orange flowers (azahar) and to the former name of the town, Zahara de los Membrillos ("of the quince trees"). Luis de Igartuburu also refers to the orange flowers. Levy-Provencal claims that the town was named for Al-Zahara, either Muhammad's fifth daughter or the favorite of Abd-al-Rahman III (912-961), Caliph of Córdoba, who built for her in Córdoba the palace of Medina Azahara. Fˇlix Hernández believes that Zahara was derived from zafra, "a rock". Miguel Asín Palacios translates Zahara as "shining", while Luis de Eguilaz proposes "magic".

Ancient authors claim that Zahara was originally a Celtiberian village, colonized by the Romans who renamed it Lastigi - listed by Pliny as part of the judicial district of Gades (Cádiz). There is no firm evidence of this identification.
Remains of a Roman necropolis, excvated in Zahara, are kept in the Cádiz Archeological Museum. Some historians believe that the Zahara Old Bridge, built over river Guadalete on the old road to Olvera at the limit with Algodonales, is also of Roman origin. A smaller brdige, located near the source of river Bocaleones, is more probably of genuine Roman origin. A necropolis composed of 18 stone tombs, dated from the 6th-7th centuries, was found in 1906 on the Algamazón hill. Two engraved marble flagstones were excavated on the same place.

The town and fortress of Zahara were mentioned for the first time in 1282, when King Alfonso X the Wise sought support by Aben Yusef, Sultan of Morocco, against his revolted son, the future king Sancho IV the Brave. The two rulers met in Zahara, then a border town of the Nasrid kingdom, part of the cora of Ronda. The meeting was held on the town's esplanade, under a canopy of gilded silk manufactured in Bagdad.
Zahara was seized on 1 October 1407 by Infant Ferdinand de Antequera, tutor of King John II and future King Ferdinand I of Aragón. The Infant held the sword of King Ferdinand the Saint and was assisted by the best knights of the court, includeding Morón and Montellano. The Christians bombed Zahara, to no avail; the town was eventually seized by Alonso "El Escalante", who climbed (escalar) the walls and obtained by surprise the surrender of the Moorish garrison.
The Moors attempted to reconquer Zahara in 1410, while Captain Alonso Fernández de Melgarejo and most of the garrison fought on the border. The fortress was seized by treachery. Ferdinand headed back to Zahara, burned the town and the church and slaughtered all its inhabitants except seven who had hidden in the castle. The Captain was sacked and replaced by his brother Garci Fernández.

Zahara was transferred in 1477 to Marshal Fernando Arias de Saavedra. To increase his domains, the lord attacked Bornos, Jerez and Arcos, then Royal towns, and set up a truce with the king of Granada. His son, known as the Young Marshal, attempted to preserve his rule but was expelled from Zahara by the Nasrids, who seized the fortress by treachery during the night of 28 December 1481. This event was used as a pretext for the intiation of the campaign that would end with the fall of Granada and the definitive expelling of the Moors from Spain. The manuscript by Friar Antonio de Agápida recalls the event as follows:

Ow! Granada, Ow! Ow!
The time of your desolation is coming!
The ruins of Zahara fell down to our heads!
My heart tells me that the end of our empire is close!
You have burned down the peace and started the war of extermination!
Ow! you, Granada! Your fall is close, in your palaces nothing will leave but desolation!
Your strong defenders will flll under the sword, your children and your maids will be sent to captivity!
Don't forget that Zahara is the image of what you will be soon!

The fall of Zahara had indeed increased awareness of the Catholic Monarchs about the threat represented by a moving border. Moreovoer, the fortress was of strategic importance for the two parties, as a watch post and the base for the organisation of border raids.
The Count of Cifuentes attempted in September 1483 to seize Zahara, to no avail. In October, Rodrigo Ponce de León obtained the surrender of the fortress after a short assault. Neither women nor children were found in the captured town, indicating that Zahara was only a border fortress. The defendors were allowed to move back to Africa with their arms and personal goods. Rodrigo Ponce de León was made Marquis of Zahara on 16 August 1484 by the Catholic Monarchs; a garrison of 150 soldiers was maintained in the fortress.

Ivan Sache, 30 March 2014

Symbols of Zahara de la Sierra

The flag (photo) and arms of Zahara de la Sierra, aubmitted on 22 March 2011 by the Municipal Council to the Directorate General of the Local Administration, is prescribed by a Decree adopted on 24 March 2011 by the Directorate General of the Local Administration and published on 7 April 2011 in the official gazette of Andalusia, No. 69, pp. 19-20 (text).
The symbols are described as follows:

Flag: Garnet red panel, rectangular, in proportions 2:3. In the center the municipal coat of arms.
Coat of arms: Argent a tower proper with a ladder or at its right (at the viewer's point of view) ensigned with a lion gules holding a sword or dexter and accosted sinister to the tower. The shield surmounted by a Ducal coronet.

The flag recalls the historical banner of Zahara, kept in the Town Hall for more than 500 years, made of garnet red silk.
The arms are a "rehabilitation" of the arms granted in 1483 to the conqueror of the town, Rodrigo Ponce de León. The shield represents Rodrigo Ponce de León and his legendary climbing of the wall using a ladder [Municipal website].
Luis de Igartuburu (1847), Rodrigo Méndez Silva (1675) and Antonio Moya (1756) confirm that the first arms of the town were those of the lords of Ponce de León, displaying a lion purpure crowned or on argent in the first quarter and four pallets gules on or in the second quarter. The pallets are erroneously denoted as bars in an anonymous source from the 18th century. To avoid confusion with the arms of Grazalema, Ubrique, Benacoaz and Villaluenga, the town adopted a different coat of arms, which can be seen on the fa¨ade of the Town Hall and a cabinet from the 18th century [José Antonio Delgado y Orellana. Heráldica Municipal de la Provincia de Cádiz].

Klaus-Michael Schneider & Ivan Sache, 4 May 2014