Last modified: 2010-10-08 by eugene ipavec
Keywords: cantoria | almería | moriscos | text: arabic (white) | arabic | castle (white) | keys: 2 (white) | hands of fatima: 20 | khamsas: 20 | star: 8-pointed (green) | key (gold) | star: 8-pointed (gold) |
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image by Eugene Ipavec, 15 Apr 2009
The town of Cantoria, main settlement of the municipality of the same name, is located in the Province of Almería, Andalusia. What is usually presented as the "flag of Cantoria" ("Bandera de Cantoria") is a Morisco flag dating back to the 16th century.
The Moriscos were Spanish Muslims that converted to Catholicism after the reconquest of Spain by the Christian kings. Suspected of being covert Muslims and spies in the service of Turkey, the Moriscos were subjected to strong measures by the kings of Spain. After they had revolted in the Alpujarras in 1568-1571, most of them were sent to the Kingdom of Valencia, from which they were eventually expelled in the beginning of the 17th century.
The Morisco flag of Cantoria, captured from the Moriscos by the Regiments (Tercios) of Lorca in 1569, restored in 1856 and 1976 and kept in the Honour Hall of the Town Hall of Lorca, was exhibited during the "Regnum Murciae" exhibition, held in Murcia in April-June 2008 . The details of the flag are best seen on a video presenting the exhibition . The flag shall be subsequently shown in the Archeological Museum of Almería during the "Red: a colour in history" exhibition, to be held from 19 to 26 April 2009 . Another good photo of the flag has been published by the Cultural Association of Cantoria , along with the chronicle of the sack of Cantoria by the Tercios of Lorca.
Historical and technical details on the Morisco flag of Cantoria are found in the detailed study of the flag published by Salvador Fontenla Ballesta . The following paragraphs are directly adapted from Ballesta's study, whose references have not been repeated here.
On 12 November 1569, the troops from the town of Lorca gave their help to the neighbouring town of Oria, which was besieged by the revolted Moriscos. Once the siege lifted, they marched against Cantoria, attacked the walls defended by Moriscos with several banners, seized the first gate of the fortress and burned down the powder magazine. Threatened by Morisco reinforcements, the troops from Lorca withdrew to a place, not identified yet, called "Llanos (or "Corral") de Arboleas"; there, the riders and arquebusiers defeated the Moriscos and captured from them five banners, which were proudly brought back to Lorca. Mármol  writes that there were seven Morisco flags in the battle of Arboleas, representing Cobdar, Lijar, Albanchez, Purchena, Serón, of which five were captured by troops from Lorca. The Municipal Council of Lorca decided that the victory would be celebrated every 12 November by a procession, a mass and a festival.
The Morisco flag of Cantoria is not among the banners described by Mármol, but was definitively captured during the battle and kept as a relic in Lorca. There is a written, contemporary, description of the flag of Cantoria, in the records of the games organized by the Morisco ruler Aben Humey in Purchena: "A square flag charged with the fortress of Cantoria and writing alledgedly saying 'The force of my force is that no force can force it'," meaning that the fortress of Cantoria made Aben the strongest ruler in the neighborhood.
The Morisco flag of Cantoria, made of red fabric, is 1.50 m x 1.05 m, with twelve sharp points in the bottom (plus two now missing).
The Morisco flag of Cantoria's shape and colour recall the flags painted in the manuscripts of Songs ("Cántigas") CLV and CLXXXVII by King of Castile Alfonso X the Wise (end of 13th century) and on walls of the Alhambra of Granada (14th century). Like these flags, the Morisco flag of Cantoria was bore by a rider, the stripe with the writing being placed at hoist, when the Moorish troops from Cantoria entered Purchena. The iconographic sources confirm that the Morisco flags of that time had sharp points whose number varied from seven to twelve.
Red was the distinctive colour of the Nasrid dynasty, the last rulers of the Emirate of Granada, suppressed in 1492 by the Christian kings of Aragon and Castile. The standard of the Morisco ruler Aben Humeya was vermillion; several Morisco rulers are represented with a traditional scarlet Morisco cloak.
image by Eugene Ipavec, 15 Apr 2009
The interpretation of the writing on the upper part of the flag is not straightforward. Some authors have claimed that the text is the "shahada," "There is no god but God, Muhammad is the Messenger of God," very common in the Arabic epigraphy of the time. Pérez de Hita "translates" the writing as "The force of my force is that no force can force it," allegedly alluding to the strategic position of the fortress of Cantoria (see above). However, the writing was indeed hardly legible for the Moriscos after nearly one century of Spanish acculturation; Aben Humeya himself could not write Arabic and his Arabic signature was approximate. Fontenla proposes to read the writing as:
"(I take refuge) in God from Satan, the stoned. In the name of God the clement, the blessing of God (on Mahomet and his own)."This translation matches the writing shown on the upper part of the so-called flag of las Navas de Tolosa, indeed one of the several Granada flags captured in the second half of the 14th century and in the 15th century. It is possible that the Moriscos used red flags with various kinds of writings to preserve the Nasrid heritage and tradition. The fortress shown on the Morisco flag of Cantoria was the model of the today's coat of arms of Cantoria, adopted at the end of the 19th century. The keys represent sovereignty and authority to open and close and, more generally, loyalty. The key painted over the gate may refer to the Gate of Justice of the Alhambra of Granada, built in 1438. The hand of Fatima represents the five precepts of Islamic law and acts as a talisman protecting gates; such a symbol is sculpted on the keystone of the greater outer arch of the aforementioned Gate of Justice.
Ivan Sache, 08 Feb 2009