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The Fortified History of Arcos de la Fronterra

Saturday, December 18, 2010

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Arcos de la Frontera has a truly long and remarkable history. It is believed to be founded by King Briga, Noah`s grandson, at around 2000 B.C. The Romans were the first to notice Arcos`s natural fortress. It is located on a cliff and a wide river lies at the bottom of the cliff. The Visigoths later ruled Arcos up until the Muslim era began. It was near Arcos that the last Visigoth king Don Rodrigo was defeated in the Battle of Guadalete in 711AD, when the town was taken by Tariq Ibn Zayid`s army.

The Muslim era is considered to be the most important in the history of Arcos de la Frontera. The town was given an Arabic name of “Medina Ar-Kosch.” It was incorporated to the Taifa of Cordoba in the 11th century. During this era, Arcos was considered to be one of Europe`s most important intellectual centers.

Following the fall of Seville, Arocs occupied a politically strategic area bordering Christian and Muslim dominions, hence its suffix “de la Frontera.” In 1250, Fernindad III (the king of Leon and Castile) took the town from the Taifa of Cordoba and changed its name Arcos de la Frontera. Fourteen years later, the Muslim inhabitants of Arcos were all expelled under Alfonso X`s rule and was redistributed to 50 Spanish noble families. This pattern of delayed expulsion after conquest was repeated throughout the Christian conquest of Andalucia. The main mosque of Arcos was converted to a church, which is today known as the Church of Santa Maria. Inside the church, the fine Renaissance high alter – carved in wood – covers up a Muslim prayer niche surviving from the older mosque. Directly outside the church is the Cabildo Square, which was probably the old mosque`s courtyard. This site is still visited by Muslim Sufi pilgrims.

The architecture in Arcos de la Frontera is heavily influenced by Muslim architecture. This is evident in the 11th century Moorish castle, which still stands to this day. In the period of 1482 to 1492, this castle was used by Ferdinand and Isabel where strategy meetings to invade what was left of the Kingdom of Granada were held.

Today, Arcos de la Frontera is considered to be one of the most important resorts in the Andalucian white hill towns area and is frequently visited by tourists and pilgrims alike.


  • [1] Menocal, Maria Rosa, Ornament of the World, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2002.

  • Keywords: Spain, Andalucia, Arcos, Arcos de la Fronterra

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