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Niebla (Municipality, Andalusia, Spain)

Last modified: 2016-12-20 by ivan sache
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Flag of Niebla - Image after the Símbolos de Huelva website, 2 September 2016


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Presentation of Niebla

The municipality of Niebla (3,999 inhabitants in 2015; 22,362 ha) is located 30 km north-east of Huelva.

Niebla was established as a fortified citadel surrounded by scattered huts in the beginning of the 1st millennium BC. The emergence of the town was connected to the transport of silver and copper extracted from the Andévalo mines to the port of Huelva. The surrounding wall was rebuilt by the Tartessians in the 8th-7th century in eastern style, using Cyclopean masonry. In the 5th-4th century BC, a new wall, equipped with pillboxes, was built, highlighting the Phoenician influence in the area. An urban elite appeared, which diversified its sources of income to trade and agriculture. Niebla would remain in the Phoenician-Carthaginian sphere until the Roman conquest.

During the Roman rule, Niebla, known as Ilipia, was a wealthy town in the westernmost part of Hispania Baetica, minting its own coins and acting as a significant mansio located on the road that connected the lower valley of Guadiana to Hispalis (Seville). The ford used to cross river Tinto was soon replaced by a stone bridge; revamped several times, the bridge still keeps a few elements revealing its Roman origin. Whatever the local tradition says, the Roman town was not organized in a grid pattern that would have been preserved during the Moorish occupation and after the Christian reconquest. The fortified town was limited to the north-western part of the plateau where the town is located. The Roman erected two new walls between the Republican period and the 2nd century. Entrance was permitted by a monumental gate, subsequently suppressed by the Almohads. In the 4th century, the Diocletian reforms boosted the development of agriculture; several rural villae were established out of the walls of Niebla, which lost its prominence. During the Visigothic period (6th-7th century), Niebla, then known as Elepia, was the seat of a bishopric. Paleochristian funerary stoned confirm that the main source of power for the local nobility was agriculture.

The Muslim conquest made of Niebla, then known as Lebia, a military stronghold, surrounded by walls that were proclaimed a National Monument in 1945. The walls, of 2 km in perimeter and 2.20 m in width, surround an area of 16 ha; the fortification is defended by 47 quadrangular towers, except two octagonal towers at the eastern angles of the wall. Access to the town was granted by five towered gates, the most significant being located on the roads to Seville and Huelva.
King Alfonso X the Wise conquered Niebla from its last ruler, Ibn-Mahfoz, in 1262, after a nine-month siege. Henry II granted the town in 1368 to Juan Alonso Pérez de Guzmán, made Count of Niebla in 1371. In the next century, the 4th Count of Niebla revamped the St. Mary church, formerly the mosque, erected new churches and rebuilt the fortifications of the town. Enrique de Guzmán rebuilt a brand new alc‡zar at the northernmost point of the town; the most important fortification erected in Andalusia in the 15th century, the building highlighted the power and the wealth of the Counts of Niebla. The donjon, damaged in 1755 by the Lisbon earthquake and in 1811 by the French troops, was the second highest in Andalusia after the Seville Giralda.
The town declined in the 16th-17th century, being nearly depopulated.
[Juan M. Campos Carrasco. El conjunto histórico-artístico de Niebla. Revista PH 2015, 88, 62-73]

Ivan Sache, 2 September 2016


Symbols of Niebla

The flag of Niebla was approved on 28 April 1981 by the Municipal Council. The flag, which does not appear to have been officially registered, is described as follows:

Flag: In proportions 11 x18, ending at fly with tree rounded-off stripes. A crimson panel, charged with an image of the Blessed Virgin proper, sat, clad with an emerald green cloak and a red dress, the dexter hand raised holding an open pomegranate. On her chest, sitting on his mother's left leg, the blessing Child, clad with a red cloak and a white dress. The two with red shoes, crowned by an open crown inside a nimb. A bordure compony Castile and León.

The flag in actual use (photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo) is rectangular, without the prescribed rounded-off tails. The Virgin and the Child lack the nimb. The cloak of the Virgin is blue instead of emerald green.

The flag orignally prescribed is a replica of the banner offered to the town in 1263 by Alfonso X. A copy of the banner was published on 2 August 1969 in the newspaper ABC (Seville), illustrating a report of the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the County of Niebla.
The "rehabilitation" of the banner was supported by a memoir submitted on 30 December 1977 by Vicente de Cadenas y Vicent, King Chronicler of Arms. The heraldist quotes Antonio Delgado (Bosquejo histórico de Niebla, manuscript registered in 1891 in the library of the Royal Academy of History), who wrote that Niebla used a banner with the image of the Virgin. Juan José Antequera found detailed descriptions of the banner in municipal inventories form the 19th century.
The unusual shape of the banner is described by Fernán Mexía (Nobilario vero, Seville, 1485) as proper to the banners used by a lord commanding at least 100 knights, by a town part of the Royal domain, and by the military orders of St. James, Calatrava, and Alcántara. Alonso de Cartagena, Bishop of Burgos (Doctrinal de Caualleros, 15th century) confirms that such a banner is called cabdal (modern form, caudal) because it is proper to a commander (cabdillo; modern form, caudillo).
In Cadenas' proposal of "rehabilitation" of the banner, the Virgin holds an orb, as commonly represented in the medieval Marian iconography. Antequera points out, however, that the Virgin should hold here a pomegranate, rather, the attribute of Nuestra Se–ora de la Granada. The first parish established in Niebla after the Christian reconquest, as well as the mosque transformed into a church, were dedicated to Nuestra Señora de la Granada. An illumination shown in Alfonso X's Cantigás features a similar banner hold by the Christians, the Virgin holding here a heart. Cantigá No. 292 recalls the devotion of Ferdinand III, Alfonso's father, to the Virgin, stating that he used to place an image of the Virgin in the mosque of all reconquerred towns.

The coat of arms of Niebla was approved on 26 December 1996 by the Municipal Council. The coat of arms, which does not appear to have been officially registered, is described as follows:

Coat of arms: Azure two caldrons in pale chequy or and gules with seven snake's heads vert langued gules issuant from each handle. A border of Castile and León. Arms of the Guzmán, Counts of Niebla. The shield surmounted by a Royal crown closed.

The official documents of Niebla have been stamped for long with the arms of the Counts of Niebla, from the Guzmán lineage. The field features the original arms of the Guzmán, while the bordure recalls that the County of Niebla was established after the marriage of Juan Alonso Pérez de Guzmán with Beatriz Enréquez of Castile, in 1371. A Count's coronet was added above the shield in 1996. So was a scroll inscribed with "Condado de Niebla" in the early 1980s. These arms appear in numerous written sources and are engraved on the donjon of the Guzmán alcázar.

After the suppression of the feudal system, the Municipal Council of Niebla used the private arms of the Guzmán instead of their arms as the Counts of Niebla. Piferrer reports the arms as "Per fess, 1. Argent a castle proper ensigned by an armoured knight issuant throwing down from the dexter hand a dagger, 2. The arms of the Guzmán with the two caldrons in fess. The bordure is made of eight pieces, four gules with a tower (instead of a castle) or and four argent with a lion rampant purpure. The shield surmounted by a scroll inscribed with 'Praeffere patrium liberis parentem decet'."

Vicente de Cadenas y Vincent proposed on 31 October 1983 a reorganization of these arms, which had been rarely used by the Municipal Council. The heraldist set up different proposals:
- Per pale, 1. A fortified town the church's tower ensigned by a falcon, 2. Quarterly per saltire, 1. and 4. The Guzmán caldrons, 2. and 3. Five ermine spots in saltire. A bordure of Castile and León.
- A fortified town the church's tower ensigned by a falcon surrounded by two artillery bombs.
The falcon (neblí) makes the arms canting, while the bombs recall that gun powder was used for the first time in Spain during the siege of Niebla.
Cadenas' second proposal is, undoubtedly, derived from the arms of the town reported in Tomás López' Relaciones in the last third of the 18th century: "The arms of Niebla are made of a field celestial blue, placed on an octagonal shield [...] The hieroglyphs are: in the background, river Tinto, the walls and towers, the castle and fortress with its two higher towers, on the highest one, which is higher than the Giralda in Seville, stands a neblí, which is a prey bird of the colour of the owl, but in a lighter shade."

Juan José Antequera proposed on 22 October 1994 a "rehabilitation" of the old seal, described as "Round, of wax, the name of the town inscribed in the bordure, three waves surmounted by an eight-arched bridge, itself surmounted by a wall with three towers, each with a gate, surmounted by a castle issuant, the lower towers ensigned by four caldrons chequy 2 and 2 according to the circular line of the seal, which could match on the shield the chief's cantons."
A reproduction of such a seal is found in the manuscript Extractos de las rentas de la Casa y Estados de Medina-Sidonia (1762, illuminated in 1764, kept in the Huelva Provincial Archives). Antequera proposed a coat of arms derived from the seal, described as follows:

Coat of arms: Azure on waves argent an eight-arched bridge or masoned sable surmounted by a three-towered wall argent masoned sable port and windows gules the donjon surrounded by two caldrons chequy or and gules with seven snake's heads vert on each handle.

The Municipal Council found the proposal interesting, but asked the designer to submit a counter-proposal better highlighting the arms of the Guzmán as the Counts of Niebla, which was done and eventually adopted on 26 December 1996.
[Juan José Antequera. Principios de transmisibilidad en las heráldicas officiales de Sevilla, Córdoba y Huelva]

Ivan Sache, 2 September 2016