The first precedent of a regionalization of the area dates back to the beginning of the Christian rule. Las Siete Villas (The Seven Villages) first appeared as a demarcation after they were incorporated under the jurisdiction of Granada on May 25, 1492, being Crown property during the 16th and the 17th centuries1 . Montefrío, Íllora, Moclín, Colomera, Iznalloz, Montejícar and Guadahortuna are the names of Las Siete Villas (The Seven Villages).

In the 18th century the legal jurisdiction of Las Villas (The Villages) was established, along with other villages. Over the second half of the 19th century, many of these villages became towns2 .

 

COMMON FEATURES OF LAS SIETE VILLAS (THE SEVEN VILLAGES)

 

Granada´s breadbasket and pantry

By the end of the Middle Ages, the cereal vocation of the region was very much determined by the economic function assigned by the powers on which it depended. The Catholic Monarchs chose Las Siete Villas (The Seven Villages) to guarantee the cereal supply of the capital.

 

mapa 1 actividades economicas siglo xvi
Economic activities by the end of the 16th century
Source: Atlas de la Historia del Territorio de Andalucía (Atlas of the History of the Andalusian Territory). Instituto de Estadísitca y Cartografía de Andalucía (Institute for Statistics and Cartography of Andalucía)

 

The obligation to sell their products (wheat, oil, meat) exclusively to Granada was still in force during the 17th century (HENRÍQUEZ DE JORQUERA, 1987).
When the Caholic Monarchs´ rule came to an end, the local government of Granada tried to avoid at all costs that the bread cereal from Las Siete Villas (The Seven Villages) went beyond the boundaries of Granada (PEINADO, 1989). Therefore, the organization of the cereal supply was a predominant task: rules were set in order to regulate cereal production and trade, and to control the production resources.
Sometimes, farmers did not comply with that imposed and very only outlet for their harvests. Moreover, excessive control led to several attempts at independence during the 16th century.
Its relevant economic role favored the enrichment of the area, because it implied special consideration from the institutions, translated into a large amount of aid (turned into income for the region) and tax exemptions.

The lands of pan llevar (bread to go)

Cereal crops, basic foodstuff at the time, were predominant in Andalusian agriculture of the Modern Era, especially in the Montes de Granada region.

 

mapa 2 cultivos edad moderna 2

Modern Era crops. Dry land crops, irrigated crops and regional contrasts
Source: Atlas de la Historia del Territorio de Andalucía (Atlas of the History of the Andalusian Territory). Instituto de Estadística y Cartografía de Andalucía (Institute for Statistics and Cartography of Andalucía).

 

Here agriculture was essentially oriented towards cereal monoculture, which took up, almost exclusively, all dry land and most of the scarce irrigated land, prior to horticultural and forage crops, vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees.

 

mapa 5 realengos y senorios siglo xviiiLarge agricultural holdings in the Modern Era
Source: Atlas de la Historia del Territorio de Andalucía (Atlas of the History of the Andalusian Territory). Instituto de Estadística y Cartografía de Andalucía (Institute for Statistics and Cartography of Andalucía).


Land in the limestone mountain ranges, lacking cultivation conditions, was used for livestock farming and secondary forestry activities.
From the very first moment, extensive cereal production prompted an unavoidable plowing process, already regarded in repopulation plans as necessary in order to cultivate as much land as possible.
During the 19th century, the disentailment process emphasized the plowing-policy so as to incorporate more land in cereal cultivation, which resulted in a population increase due to the arrival of settlers and farmhands. Until the 1960s, population kept growing. In the long term, this produced intense soil erosion, because bad quality land was abandoned and it turned into wasteland. Pastures and holm-oak groves were limited too, with the consequent decadence of livestock farming.
Today, the decline of cereal has given way to an increase of olive groves. The primary sector is the lifeblood of the region´s economy, where the Usable Agricultural Area (U.A.A) is more than 90% of the total. The property structure remains uneven, whose land-ownership still based on large estates.

Ovens, mills and public granaries

Apart from the ovens and mills from the Andalusi era, all along this period many more were built. The requirements for the Council authorization were simple: making an official request and that the concession did not cause harm to a third party (CASTRO, 2004).
Public granaries were created too, as a basic means of supply control. The alhóndigas (public granaries) were the bodies responsible for the control of cereal availability, distribution and prices. Its cost determined the prices of flour and bread. On certain occasions, bad harvests or natural disasters resulted in a price increase.

The churches of Las Villas (The Villages)

The historical and economic singularity of Las Siete Villas (The Seven Villages) led to religious architecture of high artistic quality. There are some remarkable churches, different from the temples in the rest of the province. Their construction began in the mid-sixteenth century, having substantial funds usually provided by the parishioners and the Contaduría (Treasurer´s).
Diego de Siloé designed the layout of these churches, which makes them different from others. Monumentality and high architectural quality are their main common feature. They stand out for their spaciousness, elegance and balance between Gothic, Renaissance and Mudejar forms.

 

iglesia montefrio

Church of La Villa or Old Church of Santa María of Montefrío
Source: Daniel Sebastián Cueto

Repopulation and land distribution3

The Crown fostered fast repopulation of Las Siete Villas (The Seven Villages), resulting in a set of Castilian villages thanks to repopulation plans, privileges and franchises, being thus incorporated under the jurisdiction of noblemen and cities that always wanted to benefit from them.
Regarding land distribution, one share was given to the people (consisting of Mudejars and Castilians), other one was for parishes and hospitals, and a third one was conferred at royal discretion based on military reasons.
The Crown also seized the ovens and mills of the region, essential in cereal processing, which distributed at its discretion after the conquer.
The creation of feudal latifundia was inevitable, and it spread over the years. In a strongly hierarchical society, the members of Granada´s oligarchy, territorially and politically ambitious, accumulated more and more land.

Territorial and demographic reorganization

The Catholic Monarchs performed this task from the very first moment. The border towns were immediately occupied. Both the ones under royal rule and those given to the noblemen were transformed, becoming secondary centers under the authority of Granada (MALPICA & MARTÍN, 2007).
Despite the changes demanded by Castilian society, there was no radical transformation. Scarce new towns were founded and action was taken only on Nasrid centers by developing a building program intended to create a new demographic pole, which implied a decrease in the importance of the fortified area and the growth of the town beyond its walls.
In early repopulated villages (Colomera, Moclín), residents settled around the stronghold, while in belatedly repopulated places (Montejícar, Guadahortuna,) Castilian urban planning prevailed.

 

vista moclin
Panoramic view of Moclín, where the new residents settled around the stronghold
Source: Town Council of Moclín

At the same time, rural settlements decreased. Many of the old alquerías (farmsteads) disappeared, and others became cortijos (homesteads).

During the 18th and 19th centuries, alongside the original cores and the settlements in the lower areas characteristic of Castilian repopulation, there was a general enlargement of the urban layout..

1 REALENGO Guadahortuna, Montefrío and Montejícar were originally feudal estates (BEAS, MATEOS and ARJONA, 2008).

2 TOWNS In 1834, Spain was first divided into legal jurisdictions, regrouping towns according to their provincial boundaries. In 1868, the province of Granada was divided into 13 legal jurisdictions. Within the region, the legal jurisdiction of Íznalloz was created and it included 23 towns; so was the legal jurisdiction of Montefrío, which included 7 towns. Further reforms modifying the number of towns and jurisdictions were implemented. Today, the Montes de Granada region is divided into subregions..

3 LANDS DISTRIBUTION Studies on the Catholic Monarchs´ repopulation of the Kingdom of Granada share a fundamental source: The Libros de Repartimiento (Books of Distribution). Their analysis offers relevant information about the social structure, organized in terms of land property, and the economic activity, mainly rural (PEINADO, 1981).