History of Úbeda

History of Baeza

Legend has it that Úbeda was founded by Túbal, a descendant of Noah. The name of the city would derive from the mythical tower of King Ibiut. The first settlements in Úbeda date back to the Copper Age, on the hill currently called Cerro del Alcázar.

There are Chalcolithic, Argaric, Oretan, Iberian, Roman and Visigothic remains on the current site where the city sits. The Roman town was dependent on the Roman colony of Salaria, it was known as Úbeda la Vieja or Ubeda Vethula. The Greeks arrived in Úbeda and then the Carthaginians who were defeated by the Romans after long wars. During the Roman Empire, after the Battle of Ilipa in 206 A.C, the ancient Iberian city-state was Romanised and known as Betula or Baetula, being the center of a large scattered population.

During the Gothic era, the Vandals destroyed the entire region and its inhabitants fortified the site we know today, called Bétula Nova.

The city became important with the arrival of the Arabs, in particular under Abderramán II, who re-founded it under the name of Ubbada or Ubbadat Al-Arab, with the intention of controlling the Mozarabic pirates of Baeza.

In the eleventh century the city was the subject of dispute between the Taifa Kingdoms of Almería, Granada, Toledo and Seville. This was resolved by the conquest by the Almoravids who built the defensive walls. Thanks to its crafts and its trade it became one of the most important cities in Al-Andalus.

During the year 1091 the King of Toledo, Al-Mamún, fought against the internal rebellion of the Andalusian Moors, with Úbeda being surrendered by force at the hands of Alfonso VI. From the twelfth century, the Castilian Kings progressively increased the pressure on the Upper Guadalquivir and Úbeda was only mentioned in written sources as the scene war, when the region was the object of attacks by Alfonso VII of León, first in 1137, and later in 1147 when he seized Úbeda, Baeza and Almería. The city remained in the hands of the Castilians for ten years, until the Almohad counter-offensive forced the Castilians to withdraw in 1157.

Re-conquered and devastated by Alfonso VIII after the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa and the Battle of Úbeda, it was lost again shortly after. The city was attacked on several more occasions and its population being massacred by the Christian Crusaders in the Battle of 1212.

In 1233, Úbeda was definitively conquered by Fernando III of Castile after a long six months siege, becoming a Royal city and holder of an Archpriesthood. The conquering of Úbeda was carried out by capitulation, avoiding another massacre and allowing the coexistence of different ethnic groups such as Arab, Jewish and Christian. For more than two centuries the city actively participated in the reconquest and enjoyed broad autonomy in its local government, and was governed by a Council.

For almost three centuries, the city was a border town between the Kingdoms of Granada and Castile. This determined that the successive Castilian Kings granted numerous privileges and concessions, such as the Fuero de Cuenca, to favor the establishment of a population, made up of Castilians and Navarro-Aragonese, who remain in the face of adverse life circumstances typical of a border area. Thus it became one of the four “major cities of the re-conquest of Andalusia”.

Episodes such as the one in 1368, in which the Castilian Civil War devastated the city between Pedro I of Castile and Enrique II of Trastámara, and the subsequent looting by Pero Gil and the armies of Muhammed V of Granada, fueled the rivalry between local gangs, Traperas against Arandas first, then Cuevas against Molinas and Moyas against Padillas, staining its history with blood until the end of the fifteenth century. In fact, similar to what happened in Baeza, the walls and towers of the fortress were demolished in 1506 by Royal Order, in order to establish peace between these sides.

The province of the jurisdiction of Úbeda extended from Torres de Acún (Granada) to Santisteban del Puerto, passing through Albánchez de Úbeda, Huesa and Canena, and in the middle of the sixteenth century it also included the towns of Cabra del Santo Cristo in its jurisdictional area, Jimena, Quesada, Peal de Becerro, Sabiote and Torreperogil.

The accumulation of factors such as geographical location, consequent dominance of communication routes, its extensive and rich jurisdiction, large alfoz and presence of increasingly powerful nobility, laid the foundations throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries for the splendor of sixteenth century Úbeda. At the end of the conquest of Granada, there was an economic development of the city based on agriculture. Peace and economic development brought with it a demographic increase, reaching the city a population of 18,000 inhabitants, being one of the most populous in all of Spain. Beginning with Ruy López Dávalos, Constable of Castile with Enrique III and Beltrán de la Cueva, a favorite of Enrique IV, its nobles found high positions in the imperial administration.

After the nobility of Ubet, and the Orders of Chivalry, the next great privileged class was the clergy. The Diocese of Jaén was enormously rich, its miter was possibly one of the richest in Spain, and the Ubetense clergy had high positions in it. A group of mostly Jewish or muladíes locals prospered and would have been the seed of an incipient bourgeoisie. Especially noteworthy is the role of Francisco de los Cobos, secretary to Emperor Carlos V. With him came a taste for art in Úbeda, and as if it were a small Italian court, at the hands of the architect Andrés de Vandelvira and his followers, Úbeda was filled with palaces. His nephew, Juan Vázquez de Molina, Secretary of State of Carlos I, and his son, Felipe II, continued what had been started. In 1526 Emperor Carlos visited the city and swore to keep the privileges and favors granted to Úbeda.

The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were periods of decadence for the city, immersed in the general crisis in Spain. The lack of a protectionist policy for handicrafts, wool imports from Burgos, the rise in prices due to bad harvests, the unfair fiscal pressure for Wars, corruption, and the power of the Clergy, the inflationary process due to abundance of metals, continuous military levies, epidemics, and emigration to the Indies are some of the factors that contributed to this decline. Úbeda even lost control of the traffic of wood from oaks and pines of the Segura, in favor of Sevillian merchants. All this was decapitalizing the city, sharpening social differences. The plagues of 1585 and 1681 devastated the city, as well as the Lisbon earthquake of 1755. To top it off, the persecution of the New Christians and the expulsion of the Moriscos in 1609 was seriously regretted by the Council, due to the economic impact of losing its most valuable economic fabric.

The residents of Úbeda experienced the War of Succession with increasing intensity. Their contributions in horses, weapons, ammunition, money or troops were continuous. Such was the tax pressure and the injustice when the powerful classes were exempted, that the starving population rioted on March 19, 1706, against the collectors of the Royal rents. As a consequence of the War, Úbeda became extremely poor and the conflict increased to unknown limits. The Council had to sell its best farms to face urgent payments from militias. Undoubtedly there was a demographic recession, as the War coincided with crises of hunger and widespread disease. During these years, many towns in its territory became independent. Úbeda suffered one of the worst moments in its history, only bottoming out around 1735.

Later, with the War of Independence, during which the French remained between 1810 and 1813 in the city, hardship returned, looting and great economic damage were caused. The situation led Úbeda to a state of economic ruin, which had led to extremes such as the lack of cattle to work the fields, of seeds to plant and even of the most precise means for the subsistence of the population.

The ecclesiastical confiscations of 1820 and 1836 meant that all the convents in the city, with the exception of Santa Clara and Las Carmelitas, were expropriated and sold at public auction. This led to a total transformation of urban spaces in the city, changing the use of some of the convent buildings to house schools, barracks, prisons, etc. and, in the worst case, demolition due to the threat of ruin.

The city recovered again until the end of the nineteenth century when it began to experience a small resurgence with the improvement in technical advances, which arrived late in the city, but continued to be a rural environment hardly affected by the industrial revolution and increasingly further away from the centers of power.

Úbeda still had to suffer the effects of the Carlist Wars and the successive liberal revolution. The foundations of liberalism in Úbeda were based on the predominance in politics of large agrarian owners, and caciquism and electoral fraud were established. At the end of the nineteenth century, the petty bourgeoisie with some landowners from Ubet revived activity in the city thanks to agriculture and industry. During the 1920s, the regenerationism, whose ambitious idea was to launch Úbeda into a new Renaissance, put into practice numerous reform and improvement projects in the city.

During these years, education and basic services were extended. It was also at this time that work began on the Baeza-Utiel railway line, which would have taken the railway to Úbeda and would have been an important railway connection with Levante. The railway works, however, lasted for three decades and the line was finally abandoned around 1964, when its construction was already well advanced. At this time, the activity of General Leopoldo Saro Marín was also very prominent, that although he was not from Jaén, he was related to the province and to Úbeda by family ties. In addition to the unborn railway, the influence of General Saro facilitated the construction of the Municipal Library, the Parador de Turismo, the School of Arts and Crafts and the reconstruction of the Casa de las Torres.

Úbeda came to have a daily newspaper published in the town, La Provincia, between 1921 and 1936.

During the Spanish Civil War, violence, repression and political revenge plunged Úbeda into a long phase of depression. It began on the night of July 30 to 31, 1936, when the Republican militias took out the political prisoners who, numbering 47, were in the Partido prison, and murdered them. The post-War period is still remembered by its contemporaries as “the years of hunger”.

During the 1960s and 1970s, local industry rebounded strongly thanks to the development push, but it was insufficient to absorb the strong increase in population, driven by emigration. Slowly, what was “the Florence of Alta Andalucía” gradually reached its current position as a provincial reference; head of the region and as a center of industry and services at a regional level of growing importance.

On July 3, 2003, together with neighbouring Baeza, Úbeda was named a World Heritage Site.


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