Painted tiles in the village of Juzcar, malaga, Spain

History of Juzcar

The Serranía de Ronda was extensively populated by neolithic and then bronze age people and Juzcar is no exception. A stone structure that could have been a defensive tower on the boundary between Juzcar and Farajan, is proof of ancient peoples living and working in the district. Very little evidence of their activities has been found, though the area has not been excavated to any great extent.

In Roman times, whilst Acinipo and Arunda were thriving, we believe the area around Juzcar was mostly unoccupied but may have possessed a local iron mine. In fact the name Juzcar, terminating in -ar is highly suggestive that Arab invaders in 711 AD encountered either Romanised Iberians or Visigothic people who would have adopted Roman customs.

The Berber settlers typically kept the pre-existing name when they established their new settlements. Thus Juzcar may have been a Roman mine with attached villa, that by the early 8th century could have been a small hamlet. Historically, we know that many of the villages of the Serranía were considered to be Mozarab villages. Mozarabs were Christians who adopted the Arab language as their own, and some of the customs of their Muslim neighbours, but never converted to the Islamic faith.

These people were tolerated, but never truly accepted, and were often removed from their homes in the village and forced to live further away on the outskirts or even in the countryside, and it is from this community that the Christian rebel Omar ibn Hafsun (also known as Omar ben Hafsun) is believed to have been descended.

Omar ibn Hafsun’s was a rebel during the reign of the Caliphate at Córdoba who at his height controlled a significant amount of territory in Andalusia. He is believed to have been born in 850AD on an outlying farm or defensive hamlet known as Torrichela which may have been located a few kilometres north of Juzcar, however his story is very confused, and some think he was actually born further away at the coast. What is certain is that the good people of Juzcar and Parauta claim him as their own.

juzcar-omaribnhafsunAfter Omar ibn Hafsun’s death in 917 AD, his kingdom centred at Bobastro in central Málaga province was administered by his sons, but eventually fell to the Caliphate’s forces in 928 AD. Juzcar and most other Mozarab strongholds found it increasingly difficult to remain Christian after this time, and almost impossible 100 years later when the Almoravid and Almohad empires invaded Al-Andalus, all Mozarabs being required to convert to Islam or face the consequences. In those days, the consequences could simply be higher taxes and restrictive practices, or in some cases being arrested on trumped up charges and executed or sold into slavery.

Prior to the Christian conquest Juzcar was known for it’s silk which was hand made by local artisans, some of whom were Jewish and lived as free men. Jews were generally accepted in Islamic Spain, though their lives weren’t always comfortable. Juzcar’s Christian population was small, and consisted almost exclusively to be slaves.

Around the time of the Christian reconquest in 1485, Juzcar and this valley was Moorish and Islamic, but was quickly evacuated as Moors were compelled to leave the area to make way for Christian settlers from the north, and nothing of Juzcar’s Moorish past survives. Some historians relate that Juzcar was selected by the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella to be a slave village. In essence the entire population would be rounded up and sent to work as slaves in the royal factories.

Santa Catalina Church at Sunrise
Santa Catalina Church at Sunrise

The neighbouring village of Moclon was spared this calamity, allowing many muslims, known as Moriscos, to stay and attempt to rebuild their lives. Though few were allowed to remain in their own homes as these were allocated to soldiers and supporters of the Catholic monarchs as spoils of war. Sadly these people were pressured to become Christian, and during the inquisition several people from the Genal Valley, including families in Moclon were fined or imprisoned for secretly practising Islam.

Juzcar’s church of Santa Catalina of Siena was built in 1505 in the village square, containing only a single nave, and supposedly on the location of the village mosque that had been destroyed. Moclon’s church was built several years later in 1531, largely owing to Moclon retaining it’s Muslim population. However the times were not peaceful, and in 1568 a Morisco uprising brought war and carnage to Andalucía, and Moclon was not spared. So devastating was the rebellion that hundreds of thousands of Moriscos were forcibly removed from Spain to North Africa.

A legend hailing from Moclon, tells of a bandit Morisco named El Tarajillo who refused to leave and was forced into the mountains for safety or face arrest. To survive he would steal from the rich and give to the poor, an Andalucian Robin Hood, but the story is alas only a legend, believed to have been based on the history of the young Omar ibn Hafsun who was indeed a thief until the age of 19 when he was forced to flee to Morocco after accidentally murdering a noble he was trying to rob. This was of course long before he became king of the Mozarab rebellion, but note the similarity of the names, El Tarajillo, and ibn Hafsun’s bithplace Torrichela. Today there is a pass in the mountains known as the Paso de Tarajillo.

The church in Juzcar has been rebuilt several times, first to increase it’s size when the nearby Moclon village was abandoned in the early 1600s, and then again after Spain’s civil war. Anarchists, communists, and republicans during the civil war would attack church property because the nationalists under Franco were staunch Catholics. The Mudejar style belfry is original, as is part of the arch supporting the tower.

Behind the church, and very much within the village proper, lies the cemetery, a white washed maze of above ground crypts with Christian arches, and towers reminiscent of medieval castles. It sounds strange, but the cemetery in Juzcar is actually one of the most interesting I’ve seen anywhere, and if these things don’t upset you it is well worth a look.

Tin Factory Juzcar
Tin Factory Juzcar

Further away from the village, in the valley below where the Genal River passes, you’ll find the ruined buildings of an old tin mine that was established at Moclon in the 18th century. Back in those days Germany produced the world’s best tin, and in a tale worthy of the best James Bond story, Spanish spies recruited two Swiss engineers named Pedro Menrón and Emerico Dupasquier, and then smuggled them out of Germany in wine barrels to prevent them being arrested.

Knowledge was jealously protected in those days and the German engineers would likely have been executed if they’d been discovered. The tale doesn’t improve, on entering Spain they were whisked to the factory located on a farm outside Juzcar, and given a laboratory and lodgings behind secret doors to prevent word of their presence leaking to German assassins who were on the lookout for the engineers.

Building the tin factory started in 1726, and by 1730 was in full production under the direct control of the king and queen of Spain. On a stone pediment near the factory entrance you can still discern the words “La nunca vista en España REAL FABRICA DE HOJA DE LATA Y SUS ADHERENTES, reinando los siempre invictos monarcas y Católicos Reyes don Felipe V y doña Isabel de Farnesio”. Roughly translated this means “The Never-Before-Seen in Spain Royal Factory For the Manufacture of Tin Sheeting and its By-Products, in the Reign of the Unvanquished Catholic Monarchs Don Felipe V and Doña Isabel de Farnesio”.

The invasion and occupation of Spain in the early 1800s by Napoleonic France changed the Serranía, this once subdued mountain region became a hotbed of rebellion in the struggle for Spanish independence, with many of the villages including Juzcar becoming relatively safe havens for rebels. This wasn’t just a war between France and Spain, it was also a war between afrancesados (Spanish Francophiles) and nationalists.

During May of 1810 the villagers of the Serranía including from Juzcar, but known simply by the pejorative ‘Serranos’, translated as mountain people, attacked and looted Ronda whilst the bulk of the French forces were engaged elsewhere. For this and other actions during the Peninsula War Juzcar was granted the title “Villa muy noble y fidelísima” by the restored Spanish monarchy in 1814.

The remainder of the 19th century, and early 20th century until Franco’s defeat of the republicans were troubled times in Spain. Politically the country struggled to establish a stable government, and civil disobedience or outright rebellion were common. Juzcar’s fortunes waned as the tin factory went into bankruptcy and workers left the village for Ronda or the larger cities. The 1960s saw the final death knell when Juzcar’s remaining flour mills were shutdown for good.

Today Juzcar is little more than a hamlet, with most employment being seasonal in the agriculture industry. However the village is making strides to reinvent itself as a nature tourism destination for the Alto Genal. To stay in the village and discover its history for yourself, make a reservation at the Hotel Bandolero in the village.