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Aracena (Municipality, Andalusia, Spain)

Last modified: 2016-12-11 by ivan sache
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Banner of Aracena - Image from the Símbolos de Huelva website, 17 August 2016

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Presentation of Aracena

The municipality of Aracena (7,900 inhabitants in 2013; 18,400 ha; municipal website) is located 110 km north-east of Huelva and 90 km of Seville.
The municipality is made of the town of Aracena and of the villages of Carboneras (129 inh.), Castañuelos (126 inh.), Corterrangel (11 inh.), Jabuguillo (188 inh.), La Umbría (251 inh.), and Valdezufre (293 inh.).

Aracena was already settled in the Age of Bronze (La Mora cave, La Umbría) and the Age of Iron (Castañuelos). The Romans initiated in the 1st century BC the establishment of small villages aimed at exploiting the mining resources and colonizing the land. Aracena could have been named for a landlord known as Aretius or Arcius.
The Muslims erected a fortress, subsequently replaced by the castle of Aracena. The Almohad tower was re-used as a church tower. The village that developed around the fortification is the origin of the modern town of Aracena. Christian chronicles list the town as Medina Arsena, Gran Clazen or Harrazen, but those names are not confirmed by any Arab source. The town was also identified to the capital of the iqlim (district) of Qartasa, part of the cora of Seville.
King of Portugal Sancho II occupied the town in 1230-1233, with the support of the knights of the Order of Malta led by Pérez Farinha. The quarrel that broke out between the king and his brother Alfonso III prompted the intervention of King of Castile Ferdinand III the Saint and his son, the subsequent king Alfonso X the Wise, who claimed the disputed territories. The so-called Algarve Conflict resulted in 1255 in the incorporation of Aracena into the Kingdom of Seville; the area was granted to the Order of Saint James - and not to the Knight Templars, as reported by a local tradition based on erroneous reports of historians in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The area remained sparsely populated until the resettlement ordered in 1291-1293 by Sancho IV. A fortress was built, as part of the "Galician strip" that protected Seville against Portuguese raids. In spite of the emigration of Asturian and Galician colonists, the resettlement was not effective until the 15th century. The town developed downhill, out of the old fortified area; half of the population of the municipality was scattered over more than 30 hamlets. Some of them subsequently became independent municipalities, while other were deserted. At the end of the 15th century, Aracena was the most populated jurisdiction in the province of Huelva.
A Royal Priorate in the 14th century, Aracena was transferred in the 17th century to the Count-Duke of Olivares. The Principality of Aracena was eventually erected for the Count of Altamira. The humanist Benito Arias Montano founded in 1597 a Latin chair, which would remain a center of culture until the end of the 19th century. Sister Maria de la Trinidad, a mystic and poet, founded in 1671 the Convent of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Aracena was transferred in 1883 from the Province of Seville to the newly established Province of Huelva.
The discovery in 1886 of the Marvels' Cave and its opening to the public in 1914 - the first in Spain - prompted the development of tourism in Aracena, under the guidance of Francisco Javier Sánchez Dalp y Calonge, Marquis of Aracena and Representative at the Parliament for 24 years. King Alfonso XIII visited the cave in 1915 and 1929. Several members of the Royal family built vacation houses near the town, which became famous for its mild summer weather. The town was proclaimed of touristic interest in 1956.

Ivan Sache, 17 August 2016

Symbols of Aracena

The banner of Aracena (photo, photo, photo, photo), adopted on 21 December 1998 by the Municipal Council, is in proportions 11 x 18, rounded at fly, crimson red with a blue castle in the center, the left tower ensigned by a yellow castle and the right tower ensigned by a purple lion. The banner is based on the proposal submitted on 19 January 1996 by Juan José Antequera. The banner shall be used only in events requiring its use, according to a special protocol.
There is a great deal of records of the use of a banner in war events against Portugal, with, unfortunately, little description of the banner's design. In the unpublished Relación de las cosas memorables de la Case Profesa de San Francisco, written at the end of the 17th century by Friar Sebastián de la Asunción and kept in the library of José María Guttiérez Ballesteros, Count of Colombí, folio 291v mentions that the militia of Aracena contributed to the seizure of Granada "with the banner of the castle". This was, possibly, a banner charged with the castle featured on the municipal seal, that is, with the towers surmounted by a castle and a lion. Due to the scarcity of medieval sources, the designer did not mind proposing a banner based on the medieval seal of the town.
Juan José Antequera also proposed a flag, which was rejected by the Municipal Council, as "Rectangular, in proportions 11 x 18, made of a blue panel with a red border, in the center the local coat of arms".
[Juan José Antequera. Principios de transmisibilidad en las heráldicas officiales de Sevilla, Córdoba y Huelva]

The coat of arms of Aracena, submitted on 17 February 2009 by the Municipal Council to the Directorate General of the Local Administration, is prescribed by a Resolution adopted on 12 March 2009 by the Directorate General of the Local Administration and published on 25 March 2009 in the official gazette of Andalusia, No. 58, p. 35 (text).
The coat of arms is described as follows:

Coat of arms: In oval shape and without crest, azure five Royal crowns ancient in pale surrounded dexter by a sword in bend sinister and sinister by a sceptre in bend the sword surrounded dexter by a castle and the sceptre surrounded sinister by a maid holding dexter branches and sinister a basket ensigned dexter by a Templar cross and sinister by a holly oak all the charges standing on a base vert. The shield divided per pale by a scroll inscribed with "Hac itur ad astra" ensigned dexter by a gate and sinister by clouds issuant from chief sinister from which emerges a right arms holding a key pointing dexterwise. The composition is completed by a bordure of artistic design.

The hand portrayed opening a door with a key recalls the support of God for the reconquest of the place.
The Latin motto, reading "Through It to Catch the Stars", recalls the elevated geographical location of the place.
The castle is of circular shape and with two lateral towers, recalling that the town was reconquerred by the Crown of Castile.
The five crowns represent the five rulers of the town: Turdetanians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, and Visigoths.
The sword pointing upwards is a symbol of justice and sovereignty, while the sceptre is a symbol of Royal dignity. The Hellenic woman recalls the Greek origin of the town. The basket is a symbol of fecundity; the branch of laurel is a symbol of fame while the branch of olive is a symbol of peace.
The holly oak is a symbol of longevity and fecundity.
The cross is an unequivocal symbol of the Order of the Temple.

Or is the colour of wealth and faith.
Argent is the colour of purity and truth.
Blue is the colour of justice.
Red is the colour of valour.
Green is the colour of hope and freedom.
Black is the colour of science.
[Municipal website]

The arms of Aracena have been used, with some variations, since 1873, first on a rounded seal that was subsequently made oval. The representations of the 19th century picture a short-haired woman, clad at half-leg, holding in the right hand a big sceptre enclosing, parallel to a sword, four crowns. The woman is flanked sinister by branches, while the sword is flanked dexter by a small castle. The whole is ensigned by a wavy scroll inscribed with an illegible motto. The scroll is ensigned by a Cross of Malta. The sceptre and the sword emerge from the scroll.
In modern, colour reproductions, the woman is represented with a third, inappropriate arm applied to the bust. The shield os oval, without crest, and bristled with other oddities unknown to heraldry. It was sometimes crowned with a pseudo-Marquis' coronet after 1917, when the title of Marquis of Aracena was granted to Francisco Javier Sánchez Dalp y Calonge.
José Andrés Vázquez dedicated a detailed study to the arms of Aracena (El escudo municipal de Aracena, Archivo Hispalense, No. 70, 1955). The arms are divided into two distinct parts. The one, on a base vert, featuring the castle, the ladder of crowns, the woman and the holly oak - but not the cross, the other showing the clouds, the arms and the gate, the two separated by the scroll. The whole orled by an artistic, unnecessary, bordure. A more elaborated version from the 1950s shows a French shield surmounted by a Royal crown open and surrounded by lambresquins. The upper quarter is covered by clouds, with an arm holding two keys, one of them pointing to the gate of a Gothic church; the lower quarter shows the sceptre and the crown surrounding the five crowns. The castle is substituted by another fortified building. The woman, now long-haired, lacks the third arm. The cross is here and the tree is concealed by the scroll and the clouds.
The design dates back at least to the 15th century. The personal collection of Mercedes Rodr&uiacute;guez-Rispa y Espinosa includes three seals of similar design. Among them, a red-waxed seal, used to stamp a document dated 1437 and captioned "Sello del Conceio de Aracena", shows a castle standing on a base, with a high, central donjon and the lateral towers ensigned dexter by a lion rampant and a castle and sinister by a crown. These seals highlight the status of Royal town of Aracena; in later versions, a Templar cross was added in chief, sometimes substituted by the Holy Cross. The Municipal Council appears to have forgotten this old design and eventually adopted a more complicated one.

On 19 January 1966, Juan José Antequera proposed a "rehabilitation" of the historical arms. The castle, the cross, the holly oak, the ladder of crowns, the sword, the sceptre and the arms holding the keys were maintained, as was the motto. The gate, redundant with the key, the clouds and the base, represented in perspective, and the woman, of little connection with the town, were considered as unnecessary. The proposed arms were "Azure five Royal crowns open in pale or filled gules surrounded dexter by a sword or hilted argent in bend sinister and sinister by a sceptre or flory argent in bend the charges surrounded dexter by a castle or port and windows gules masoned sable and sinister by a holly oak or issuant from chief sinister an arm clad argent and gules the hand proper holding a key argent in fess pointing dexterwise in base a cross trefoiled of the Temple argent charged with a cross gules. A bordure gules inscribed with the motto 'Hac itur ad astra' in letters sable. The shield surmounted by a Royal crown closed."

The arms appear to have been modelled on the oval arms designed by secrete societies, featuring initiatory symbols and obscure mottos. The oil painting of the arms, once hanging inside the Town Hall, is captioned as follows: "Of inexpugnable force, the hand opening the gates means the supernatural intervention for the triumph. The Latin writing of the scroll [reading Through It to Catch the Stars] highlights its high elevation. The classical woman, with her attributes, represents the fertility of the region. The ladder made by the sceptre, the sword and the five crowns recalls the rulers of the town. The emblem of the Knight Templars recalls the connection with the order." The motto is of indisputable occultist origin, seemingly borrowed from Virgil.
[Juan José Antequera. Principios de transmisibilidad en las heráldicas officiales de Sevilla, Córdoba y Huelva]

Ivan Sache, 17 August 2016