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Abanilla (Municipality, Region of Murcia, Spain)

Last modified: 2019-09-16 by ivan sache
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Flag of Abanilla - Image by Ivan Sache, 22 April 2015

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Presentation of Abanilla

The municipality of Abanilla (6,435 inhabitants in 2014; 23,562 ha; municipal website) is located in the east of the Region of Murcia, on the border with the Valencian Community (Province of Alicante), 30 km of Murcia and 40 km of Elche.

Abanilla is known to paleontologists by the site of Quibas, located in an abandoned quarry of the south-eastern flank of Sierra de Quibas. Dated to the Lower Pleistocene (1.3 - 1 million years ago), the site has yielded remains of more than 60 species of reptiles, mammalians, amphibians and birds.
The Iberians established in the 6th-5th century BC a series of settlements in Mafraque, Azud de El Partidor, El Olivar and Lugar Alto, where several fragments of pottery and iron arrowheads were found. Remains of a Roman villa discovered in 1957 in Sahués are shown in the Murcia Archeology Museum.

The Arab geographer Al-Idrisi (12th century) mentioned Albanyala, Albayada or Banyaliya, as a center of production of wonderful textiles. At the same time, the Moors erected a fort on Lugar Alto (lit. the High Place), probably on the ruins of a Roman tower; the fortress, of oval shape, was c. 100 m x 75 m. Christian sources from the end of the Muslim domination mention the "castielo de Hauhaniella" and the "castro de Fabanella", as a dependence of Orihuela.
Abanilla was granted in 1264 by Alfonso X to the Aragonese knight Guillén de Rocafull, as a reward for his support during the Mudéjar uprising; the transfer was effective in 1304 only. Continuously disputed between Castile and Aragón all along the 14th century, Abanilla was eventually granted in 1462 to the Order of Calatrava.
Following the conversion to the Christian religion of most Mudejares, the Catholic Monarchs granted in 1501 the status of villa to Abanilla, while the gothic St. Benedict church was substituted to the mosque. The expelling of the Moriscos in the early 17th century caused the demographical and economical decline of the town, which re-emerged in the 18th century.

Ivan Sache, 22 April 2015

Flag of Abanilla

The flag of Abanilla (photo, photo, photo) is prescribed by Decree No. 6, adopted on 28 January 1999 by the Government of the Region of Murcia and published on 5 February 1999 in the official gazette of the Region of Murcia, No. 29, p. 1,363 (text).
The flag is described as follows:

Flag: Made of four quarters, in proportions 2;3. The upper left rectangle is charged with the red and yellow bars from the flag of Aragón. The lower right rectangle is claret red (purplish), representing the Kingdom of Murcia. The upper left and right rectangles are white, representing the Order of Calatrava and the lords of Rocafull, and the government of Orihuela, respectively. At the confluence of the four rectangles is placed the coat of arms of Abanilla, surmounted by the crown representative of a town.

Ivan Sache, 22 April 2015

Controversy on the flag of Abanilla

The long story of the controversial adoption of the flag and of the unsuccessful struggle to change the symbols was recapitulated in 2010 by the main leaders of the opposition campaign, Juan Manuel San Nicolás Sánchez and Eugenio Marco Tristán (Historia de Abanilla blog, 4 October 2010).

The arms of Luis de Bourbon, once the Commander of Abanilla, were used in the beginning of the 20th century as the municipal arms. A painted coat of arms is kept in the Town Hall; other representations of these arms are found on the program of the 1917 Town's Festival and in the newspaper El Liberal de Murcia. On banknotes released in March 1937 by the municipality, a modified version of the coat of arms was used: the Cross of the Holy Sepulchre was substituted by the Communist hammer and sickle, the Infante's crown was substituted by the 2nd Republic's mural crown, and the Collar of the Golden Fleece was substituted by laurel wreaths.
In the 1940s, the municipality used either the arms of Ferdinand VI or Luis de Bourbon, as sculpted on the facade of the Town Hall. These arms are shown on various official documents, on the seats of the Council Room and at the foot of the Holy Cross.

The program of the 1996 Town's Festival includes an article by the historian Serafín Alonso Navarro, who explained that the Royal arms were not the proper arms of the municipality but were used instead, probably because of their profusion in colors and Spanish symbols. In the 16th century, Abanilla used as municipal arms the Cross of Calatrava, inscribed with "FAVANIELLA" and a Duke's coronet. The program of the 1997 Town's Festival includes a variant of the previously used arms. The Royal crown was substituted by an Infante's coronet, the Golden Fleece was removed, and two Crosses of Calatrava were added as crown's ornament. This "mutant" design, of unknown origin, was not approved according to the official process.

In February 1996, the municipality consulted J. Torres Fontes, A.L. Molina Molina, S. Alonso Navarro and L. Lisón Hernández on the opportunity to design a flag "charged with the coat of arms in use", that is, the "mutant" design. Torres Fontes and Molina Molina did not object, while Lisón Hernández answered on 28 February 1996 that the use of the coat of arms of the Bourbon dynasty was not suitable and that the coat of arms used in the past in Abanilla should be researched and used as a base for the design of the flag.

S. Alonso Navarro, a member of the Royal Academy of Arts and a corresponding member of the Royal Academy of History, was commissioned to design the flag. On 6 June 1996, the municipal majority group (PP) proposed to adopt the flag, while the opposition group (PSOE) tabled an alternative motion, claiming that before designing the flag, it was necessary to localize the historical coat of arms of the municipality, since the one in incorrect use is indeed a Royal coat of arms. After the debate, the PSOE group withdrew its motion and the flag was unanimously adopted, without changing the coat of arms.
The supporting memoir presented by S. Alonso Navarro stated that "Due to the lack of direct evidence of the existence of an old flag, the reference should be the coat of arms in actual use, whose legitimacy and customary use appear to be natural in Abanilla, thus justifying its genuineness". A motion tabled on 5 September 1996, requiring research on the localization of the historical arms of the municipality, was turned down.

The flag designed according to S. Alonso Navarro's memoir was unanimously adopted on 14 October 1996, which initiated the process of official adoption. The relevant documentation was forwarded on 18 November 1996 to the administration of the Region of Murcia. On 24 January 1997, the Royal Academy "Alfonso X the Wise" of Murcia turned down the proposal, since it uses the Royal colours, the Aragonese pallets etc. Informed of the rejection on 7 February 1997, the municipality required on 10 February 1997 help from the Royal Academy to improve the memoir and to design a more suitable flag proposal, based on S. Alonso Navarro's offer. The request was turned down on 19 February 1997, the Academy answering that it could not be "judge and party", that is involved both in studies and proposals.
A municipal commission validated on 3 March 1997 the proposed symbols. Forwarded on 20 March 1997 to the regional administration, the document was returned on 8 April 1997 since it had not been approved by the Municipal Council. Eventually approved on 5 June 1997, the document was forwarded again on 12 June 1997 to the regional administration, which requested the public display of the proposed symbols, achieved on 16 December 1997 (Official gazette of the Region of Murcia, No. 297).
Decree No. 6, prescribing the flag of Abanilla, was published on 5 February 1999 in the official gazette of the Region of Murcia, No. 29.

On 2 April 1999, La Opinión de Murcia published a letter to the editor by E. Marco, stating that a document of the Council of Abanilla, dated 6 October 1573 and kept in the Provincial Archives (Protocol No. 9,085, Folio No. 175) says that "the Council used a flag made of green and blue taffeta".
In the book Símbolos Municipales de la Región de Murcia, published in April 1999 by the Regional Assembly, L. Lisón Hernández analyzes the incorrect coat of arms of Abanilla, which features the Royal arms of Ferdinand VI or of Infante Luis, evidently committing an historical anachronism. However, documents of the 16th century are sealed with a stamp featuring a rounded-off coat of arms charged with the Cross of Calatrava and the caption "FAVANILLA". Such documents are kept in the Municipal Archives, of Murcia, as published by the same author in Miscelánea Medieval Murciana (1992). Accordingly, "Abanilla should swiftly adopt a new coat of arms based on its history and aforementioned old symbols".

A group of people started in May 1999 to research the old symbols of Abanilla in the national and regional archives. Abanilla appears to have used the Bourbon arms since 1936, without any official authorization, which makes their use faked and unjustified. S. Alonso Navarro omitted to mention the old coat of arms and flag of Abanilla, which he had, however, mentioned in the 1996 program of the Town's Festival. Accordingly, the proposal was deemed concocted and spurious, ignoring the recommendations of the Royal Academy.
During the session of the Municipal Council held on 15 November 1999, the leader of the PSOE group required the revision of the flag design to correct the errors committed by S. Alonso Navarro. On 17 January 2000, the PSOE group tabled a motion requiring the revision of the flag, pointing out the errors to be corrected; the PP group asked for the motion's withdrawal, arguing that the proposal had been unanimously adopted by the previous legislature and promising to contact S. Alonso Navarro to discuss the case. Tabled a second time on 20 March 2000, the PSOE motion was turned down. The Mayor declared that "the coat of arms of Abanilla shall not be changed as long as I am the Mayor, since it has been used for more than 200 years".

Juan Manuel San Nicolás Sánchez tabled on 12 March 2001 to the Regional Government an Extraordinary Appeal for Revision, requiring the correction of the blatant errors in the flag and the nullification of its approval in spite of the negative assessment by the Royal Academy. Since the request was left unanswered, the plaintiff complained at the Royal House and at the Ombudsman, which urged the Government to make a decision. On 22 November 2002, the Government turned down the request, advizing to initiate an administrative dispute. One of the researchers consulted in October 2002 the Royal Academy of History; the report of the Academy, released in March 2005, specified that Royal arms cannot legally be used as municipal arms and that the evaluation of variations based on historical documents is of regional competence. As already recalled by the Royal Academy "Alfonso X the Wise", the norms of the Region of Murcia prevent the use of Royal colours and symbols, Aragonese pallets, etc.
The appeal for administrative dispute was considered in December 2007 by the Superior Court of Justice of Murcia. For the first time, data were presented and hearings were made. L. Lisón Hernández produced accredited copies of the 1573 documents and recalled he had informed the municipality that the use of the coat of arms was erroneous - for the sake of deference, he had not recommended to design a new coat of arms. The Court rejected the appeal, assessing only the administrative part of the case.
The plaintiff did not give up, applying to the Supreme Court, which once again rejected his appeal without any historical justification, assessing here again only the administrative process.

Ivan Sache, 22 April 2015