Antequera, together with Úbeda y Baeza (Jaên), is the Andalucian city that has the most important collection of artistic heritage and historic traditions.
Antequera has a history that goes back more than a millennium. Settlements from the Bronze Age can be found within the municipality limits. The dolmens of Menga, Viera, and Romeral, which are first class funeral constructions, are good examples of such. It is also believed that there have been Iberians, Tartars, Phoenicians and Carthaginians in the area at some time or other. As for the Carthaginians, some traces of their civilisation have been found in Cerro Leon, where the battle between the Carthaginians of Asdrubal and the Roman legions took place. Later on the Arabs baptised the city as Medina Antecaria. After the conquest of Seville and Jaen, Antequera acquired a huge strategic value and began to gain importance as a military fortress situated on the frontier. In 1410 it was conquered by Prince Don Fernando, who name appeared in the history books as Don Fernando of Antequera.
The 19th century was terrible for the city, which was weakened by the Napoleanic invasion and the outbreaks of Yellow fever (1804). It was not to recover until 1830 thanks to the appearance of a bourgeois class that encouraged expansion and the industrialisation of the textile sector, although this did suffer a crisis at the beginning of the 20th century.
Its urban layout is a result of what was projected in 1492, the year in which a large number of people arrived at the city as a result of the repopulating of the lands that were conquered. Up to that moment the city had grown rather disorderly. However, with the new social structure made up of agricultural workers, farmers, gentlemen and nobles this began to change. There were two different kinds of property; the large estates that belonged to the nobles and the small ones that the workers lived on and exploited. The new layout of the city began from this moment on. The architecture of the city with its civil and religious projects, the palaces of the nobles and their families were all to be built. This continued up until the 19th century when the new bourgeois class end up adopting the way of life and values of the nobles. The agricultural sector benefited from this greatly, but the industrial activity started to decline.
Nowadays Antequera presents itself to the visitor as a modern city, in which the past history and modernity and progress blend together in one single image and mentality. It is a city that invites the visitor to stroll around. Whichever of the routes taken will invite such activity. It would be impossible to see Antequera in just one day. In his book, “ Guia Artistica de Antequera”, written by the historian and ex mayor of the city Mr. Jesus Romero, he details 43 monuments that he considers as of interest for visitors. 25 of these are churches, convents, or buildings annexed to one or the other or some other religious order. Over half the heritage belonging to the church of Malaga is found in Antequera.
Therefore, in Antequera it is possible to go from a visit to the oldest church in the city; the San Franciso, which is pure gothic style, founded by a Royal Patent issued in 1550 by the Catholic Kings to what is,without doubt,the jewel in the crown of the Rennaisance era in all of Antequera; la Real Colegiata de Santa Marîa la Mayor, which was built partly with the sillares of Rome of Singilia Barba whose remains are found only a few kilometres from the city.
At the foot of the Arab castle visitors can access the Colegiata by passing through the Arco de los Gigantes. This arched gateway is adorned with Roman remains that were dug up during the Renaissance period of Antequra . According to the declaration made by the Town Authority in May 1585 this was done “so that everyone who ever visited the city would be able to see it well from all angles”. Once through the gateway, visitors can contemplate the tower of the Iglesia de San Sebastian, which is finished off by an angled roof and a weather vane.
The Iglesia del Carmen began its construction at the end of the 16th century. It has been designated the title of Historic and Artistic Monument and has a temple with three altarpieces: the central one is one of the finest examples of Baroque 18th century architecture. From the church square, as is true from other vantage points as well, one of the most emblematic natural phenomenon can be seen sitting in the fertile valley of La Vega: la Peña de los Enamorados ("The lovers rock").
The city also possesses lots of other hidden “treasures” that do not always appear in the tour guides and which are only discovered with a little effort and without haste. The many inner courtyards, which have been inherited from the Roman and Arab cultures, are an example of this. They still maintain their original rectangular shape which is characteristic of the Moors. The city hides a lot more secrets as well as this and that do not usually appear in the guidebooks. However, it is possible to reach them with a little determination and need. We are talking about the inner courtyards. Inherited from the Roma period they own their rectangular layout to the Arabs. The love of water and flowers of all types, gives the locals a special relationship with this extremely “precious” sustance. These inner “worlds” have ended up having their own personality
To the south of the city, hidden venid the mountains that also give it life, the same folding cataclysm of the sea bed that wiped out the dinosaurs, gave birth to some of the most impressive carstic formations in Europe: The Torcal of Antequera. The best part of the buildings that exist today in the Town of Antequera are built with htis stone.
With all this in mind, it is said that a true autobiography of the city of Antequera would have three distinct parts; firstly the artistic view, which is nothing more than the culmination of its history, which has its contemporary version in expositions of painters like Cristobal Torcal, who has his own gallery in the Municipal museum (Palacio de Najera). In this museum visitors can see some objects of incalculable value like the Efebo (the Roman version of the Greek original from the 5th century before Christ. Secondly, there is the witness of Mother Nature, whose work of art par excellence can be seen in el Torcal. Finally, the autobiography would be incomplete without the voice of the day day comings and goings of the inhabitants of Antequera best describe Antequera, a city situated at the heart of Andalucia, which maybe represents and balances the different “Andalucias” that exist according to Ortega and Gasset.
The existence of so much cultural heritage and wealth has led Antequera to be innovative as far protecting it all is concerned. It elaborated a Special Development Plan for the Historic Quarter of the city so that its growth and modification would take place in a ordered way and in agreement with the Plans of 1990 and 1994, which set limits to the growth that could occur on the periphery.
The agricultural way of life in Antequera goes back to the 3rd century before Christ. This is something that allows the city to be very self sufficient and inward-looking in the sense that they do not need too much from outside their own municipality. Of late the service industry sector is experiencing quite a lot of growth as well as tourism, which also creates a need for more services. So the traditional agricultural activity continues along with the small manufacturers in the area along side the services industry.