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History of Cañete la Real

Diputación de Málaga

History of Cañete la Real

Cañete, as Josê Solîs Romero says, "provides a good opportunity to combine history, art and nature in a single visit”.

The origin of the name can be traced back to the Arabic Hins Cannit or Qanit, which, depending on the author consulted, either means “Canit Castle” or is a reference to the canes that can still be found close to the town centre. The present-day name is derived from the aforementioned term, to which the adjective real or royal was added following an order issued by Alfonso 11th.

Though the oldest remains of human occupation in Cañete date back to the Neolithic period, it was the Phoenicians who first established a base close to the town on a hill that they named Sabora, the original settlement thus occupying a much higher position than its present-day counterpart. Later, during the Roman occupation, in the reign of Vespasian, the town was moved to one of the foothills of Monte Sabora. The aforementioned emperor was responsible for granting the settlement municipal status, and statues were erected and coins minted in its honour in Rome. The grateful inhabitants named the town Flavia Sábora, with the Arabs later renaming it Qanit.

In the 14th century, the town changed hands between the Muslims and Christians several times before its definitive conquest by the latter in 1407, whereupon it was incorporated into the Kingdom of Castile. Nearly a century of conflict took its toll on the fortress, which was almost completely destroyed. Today, however, it is the object of a painstaking restoration programme.

In the shadow of this fortress, which is a symbol of the town’s history, the village itself was born. It was inhabited by wealthy landowners, which explains why an area of manor houses, of which only the Orejica farmstead now remains, once ran across its centre. These landowners were responsible for the architectural layout that is still in evidence today between Calle Grande, the church and the Plaza de Andalucîa. The wrought iron on the balconies of the houses in the street in which the church stands bears witness to this noble heritage. The rest of the town still retains the structure given to it by the farmhands when Cañete had some 6,000 inhabitants.

Its patron saint, the Virgen del Cañosanto, has a curious history; in fact, the image of this saint did not originally belong to the town. Legend has it that it was kept in the valley between Alcalá del Valle and Olvera, with both villages professing to own it. Meanwhile, it was frequently brought in rogation to the Franciscan convent in Cañete. However, after 1600, a rumour spread that it was gradually getting heavier and that this was a sign that the Virgin did not want to leave Cañete, the upshot being that the image remained here permanently.

During the Arabic period, Cañete was considered “the granary of the Muslim kingdom”, though this was to change radically over the years. Approximately one third of the town is now covered by pine trees and holm oaks. A combination of cattle farming, woodcutting and, to a lesser degree, hunting have preserved its peculiar ecosystem. Olive trees, cereal, almond trees and sunflowers have gradually replaced leguminous crops, which required too great a workforce.