Today we will travel to the southeast of Spain to the province of Alicante to a small village in the hills named Polop de la Marina or simply Polop. It belongs to the Marina Baixa comarca (administrative subdivision in Spain) comprising of Benidorm, Benimantell, Callosa d’en Sarria, Finestrat, Guadalest and La Nucia municipalities.
The village of Polop has somewhat a peculiar name. Its origins are most probably either Greek or Latin. In Latin, polus means north, which makes sense as the village is located to the north of the coast. In Greek, polis means city and Apolo is the name of one of the gods in Greek mythology. The city might have been called Apolopolis or the city of Apolo. But why would a small village have such a big name? Let us try to figure it out.
A bit of history
In the Middle Ages, Polop has played an important strategic role for the entire region as a medieval defense fortification and a capital of the feudal barony (Barony of Polop). The barony has been created in 1268 by King James I of Aragon. Its vast territories have extended from the rivers Guadalest and Algar to the municipality of Villajoyosa with Benidorm and Albir bordering it on the coast. Callosa and Guadelst were the inland borders of the barony. The land was a gift to Doña Berenguela Alfonso of Castille and Leon, a distant relative and a lover of the King. Up until the 15th century, the Barony of Polop was in the arms of the crown princes of Aragon. Then, in 1430 it was bestowed to the Fajardo Mendoza family who have held it until mid-19th century until the complete abolishment of the feudal system.
Cid was here
According to a local legend Cid Campeador (El Cid, his real name was Rodrigo Diaz Vivar), a famous military leader in the 11th century Spain, was in the area when he learns that there´s a cave full of treasures belonging to al-Mundzir, the emir of Denia. El Cid has sieged the castle and when it surrendered in a few days, has taken all of the treasures. “The Cave of Cid” can be found just under the ruins of the castle.
Until the 16th century, the population of Polop and its surroundings had been predominantly Moorish. And it was here, in the picturesque village of Polop where one of the most tragic events in the history of moors in Spain took place. It all started with a revolt in the Kingdom of Valencia and Mallorca by the artisan guilds (Germanías or Brotherhoods) during the rule of King Charles V. It was an anti-monarchist, anti-feudal movement and the rebels were also very hostile towards the local Muslim peasant population. Peasants from the villages surrounding Polop have locked themselves in the castle in hopes of finding shelter. The rebels have lured them out promising to spare their lives if they baptized into Christianity. About 800 moors have agreed to convert; however soon after their baptism, they were all beheaded. The rebellion was soon crushed, its leaders executed but it was too late for the Barony of Polop. The whole area was depopulated and it would take decades until life would come back here.
Things to see
When in Polop, do visit the old castle ruins (12th century) and the ancient cemetery. The climb starts in the old town just above St. Paul’s Church (Iglesia de San Pedro Apóstol), which you cannot miss as the church’s bell tower is the most visible landmark in town. The climb coincides with the Via Crucis, also known as the Way of the Cross, and typically found in most valencian towns and leading to the Calvary as the highest elevation point in town.
The cemetery was working until mid-20th century until it was transferred due to a growing population. In 2013, the town hall has restored the ancient cemetery according to the memoirs of the famous Spanish writer Gabriel Miro. The writer has visited Polop in 1921 and was so inspired by its cemetery that he wrote about it in his essay “Years and leagues” (1928) and in an article “Orchard of the crosses”, the latter won him a literary award.
Near the town hall, there is another interesting landmark worth visiting. It is a small square called Plaza de los Chorros with fresh spring water. There’s a wall decorated with stone and ceramic coats of arms representing the province’s municipalities. There are 221 outlets in the wall with fresh running water originating from two springs: Sirer and Terrer located in the Gulapdar ravine. This little square emphasizes the important role of Polop as the ´´oasis´´ of the Costa Blanca. For centuries (including during the Arab rule) this little village has been supplying Benidorm, Alfas del Pi and its surroundings with water until the construction of the Lower Algar Channel (Canal Bajo de Algar) in mid-20th century. Nevertheless, up until today both locals and tourists fill their bottles with fresh spring water at the Plaza.