Totana is a delightful small town in the south of Murcia Province at the foot of the superb Sierra Espuña Park. Today it has a population slightly in excess of 30,000, compared to not many over 18,000 in 1981.
Putting to one side the attractions of the present day town and the magnificent surrounding landscape, Totana’s human history goes back many thousands of years. As Totana’s Tourist Council explains on its internet site, remains from the Old Stone Age, (the Palaeolithic Era ending 10,000 or so years ago), have been found in various places in the Totana Municipality, including the Cueva de la Moneda and Rincon de Santa Leocadia. The Neolithic Age, beginning around 3000 BC has similarly bequeathed identified remains, including an axe, since placed in Almeria Museum and a burial chamber at Los Blanquizares.
To us, however, the most significant, indeed quite astounding, “prehistoric” remains come from the so-called Argaric Peoples. This is the time when, in the Bronze Age, metal began to replace stone for tools and weapons. The centre of this particular culture was located at El Argar (hence the name), near Almeria and it subsequently spread to the north and west in the second millennium BC. Many historians regard the Argaric people as the first “Iberians”. Believe it or not, the Totana area provides one of the Argaric people’s major settlements, the remains of which are still very visible today at a location called La Bastida. The site now has a purpose built interpretation centre built nearby and the Town Hall frequently offer guided tours to the remarkable remains which you should take advantage of if at all possible. Beyond this, it is worth mentioning that the Archaeological Museums in Lorca and Murcia contain other Bronze and Iron Age remains discovered in the area.
Passing on to Roman times, as you might expect, when four Emperors were of Spanish origin (Trajan, Hadrian – the of wall fame, – Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius), much evidence of Roman activity has also been uncovered in Totana, although you will be hard pressed to find any remains to view in-situ today. Finds have been catalogued of pots, mosaics, amphorae, coins, walls and much more, including the remains of a Roman building in Calle General Varela (across the rambla de la Santa from the Parque Municipal). Another author talks of Roman baths formed by rectangular basins, which were identified at the beginning of the 20th Century in Totana, a Roman wall in Calle Torreones (a little to the south of the main town square) and evidence of Roman lead smelting in Calle Don Luis (in the northwest of the town).
From the late 4th or early 5th Century AD, when Rome’s power waned, we have what is as close as we are likely to reach to Britain’s Dark Ages, when relatively little is known. There are some suggestions that Totana did feature in the very early years of the Moorish invasion of Spain at the beginning of the 8th Century, but hard evidence seems in short supply. Although three almost complete pots, now in Lorca’s Archaeological Museum, found in Totana, have been dated to the 11th and 12th Centuries, and there is reference to “Tawtana” in an Arab text of the 11th Century, the focus of attention in the area at this time in history, was undoubtedly on the fortified settlement of Aledo higher up in the Sierra Espuña. Hereabouts was a frontier zone in the increasing conflict between the Christians and Moors as the Reconquista began to develop. It was only slowly, and with encouragement from the religious-military Order of Santiago (which was, for many years, the effective local government in the area) through land grants to new Christian settlers, who promised to remain for at least ten years, that the focus of population began to shift from Aledo and down into the valley below. Even so, until the beginning of the 16th Century, it was possible to describe Totana as no more than a stopping point for travellers, with its hostelry and toll!
However, with the added security which came from the end of Moorish rule throughout the Iberian Peninsula with the fall of Granada in 1492 to the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabel, the population of Totana began to grow – 150 in 1526, 600 in 1606 (mainly in the present barrio de Sevilla on the western side of the rambla de la Santa which bisects the town, and with the Barrio de Triana on the eastern side developing thereafter), over 1000 at the beginning of the 18th Century and considerably more than 2000 by mid-18th Century according to one source. Certainly, the general view appears to be that it was from the second half of the 16th Century that the present form of the central areas of Totana began to take shape. Even so, it was not all plain sailing. Thus, after Ferdinand and Isabel, the Spanish throne went to Charles (or Carlos) I. Charles was French educated and, as Emperor Charles V, had wider European responsibilities. In fact, it is said that he only spent 16 of his 40 years on the Spanish throne actually in the country. It is perhaps not surprising that one of the first things he had to contend with in Spain was a Civil War. Over 200 Totaneros are reputed to have joined the rebels against Charles in August 1520, taking over the castle in Aledo where the inhabitants were loyal to the King. The day of reckoning, however, was not too far away and the rebellion was eventually put down. Nevertheless, it cannot have been conducive to Totana’s early development.
The early 19th Century similarly saw checks to the town’s progress. There was an epidemic of Yellow Fever in 1810 and then the War of Independence between 1808 and 1813. Totana’s population fell from 10,020 in 1810 to 5,222 in 1813. The War of Independence arose when a certain Napoleon Bonaparte placed his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne. Whilst the French troops never seem to have reached Totana (although they occupied Caravaca de la Cruz), the threat was sufficiently close and real for trenches to be dug around the town and for the town council, women, children and the elderly to take refuge in the castle at Aledo. For much of the remainder of the 19th Century, Totana seems mainly to have experienced growth, especially in agriculture and it was at this time that the huertos (or orchards) began to be developed to the north of the town on the lower slopes of the Sierra Espuña, together with some interesting large houses there.
The 20th Century likewise seems to have started off reasonably well, with Totana being granted the title of “ciudad” (town or city) by King Alfonso XIII in 1918, but then, of course, came the horrors of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Thereafter, in the 1950s, many people left the area to seek work elsewhere, with Germany and France particularly favoured and it was only subsequently that the town began again to move quickly forward with new areas of construction resulting in the Totana which we see today. Let us hope that the present prosperity continues but without destroying the rich heritage which still remains of several thousand years of history.
Part taken from “Exploring Murcia – A Guide to Totana, Alhama de Murcia, Aledo, Pliego and the Sierra Espuña”, by Clive and Rosie Palmer which is available from www.lulu.com, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org