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Zalamea de la Serena (Municipality, Extremadura, Spain)

Last modified: 2020-11-01 by ivan sache
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Flag of Zalamea de la Serena - Image by Ivan Sache, 17 March 2020


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Presentation of Zalamea de la Serena

The municipality of Zalamea de la Serena (3,606 inhabitants in 2008; 24,580 ha; municipal website) is located 140 km east of Badajoz and 15 km north-west of Castuera. The municipality is composed of the town of Zalamea de la Serena and of the village of San Cristóbal de Zalamea, aka Docenario (35 inh.).

Zalamea was the site of the palace-sanctuary of Cancho Roano, one of the most significant Tartessian sites found in Iberia over the last years; for whatever reason, the cult was subsequently transferred to the San José caves, aka as the Valley's caves.
Titus Livy mentioned the town as Iulipia, allegedly established in 300 BC. Iulipia was a municipality, that is a second-rank town; extended autonomy was granted, so that the town minted its own coins and ran its own institutions.

The town declined during the Visigoth period. During the Muslim rule (8th-12th centuries), the early monuments were destroyed. Little has remained of the Arab town but the castle.
In 1232, Arias P&ecute;rez, Master of the Order of Alcántara, reconquered the town. His successor, Pedro Yáñez, chartered the town to initiate the re-settlement.
In the 13th-14th centuries, Zalamea declined because of the struggle between the Orders of Alcántara and Saint James. After its triumph, the Order of Alcántara hold its Chapters in the town in 1474, made capital of a commandery, upgraded in 1527 by Charles I to a priorate.

Zalamea experienced its second Gilded Aged at the end of the 15th century, flourishing as a center of culture.
The humanist Elio Antonio de Nebrija (1444/1456-1522) lived for 16 years in Zalamea, where he redacted his masterpiece, Gramática de la lengua castellana, published and presented to Queen Isabel the Catholic in 1492 in Salamanca. This is the first published grammar of Castilian language and of any Romance language. A facsimile of the book was released in 2015 by the Royal Spanish Academy.
[ABC, 8 April 2018; Royal Spanish Academy]

Zalamea mostly owns international fame to the play El Alcalde de Zalamea, written by Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600-1681).
The play was first presented to the public on 12 May 1636, to be printed only in 1651 as El garroto más dado, to be eventually renamed to El Alcalde de Zalamea in 1683. Calderón de la Barca must have stayed in Zalamea in 1642, invited by the Count of La Mata. He derived his play from historical events that occurred in 1578, during the invasion of Portugal by Spain, ordered by Philip II in the aftermath of the death of King Sebastian in Africa. An earlier play by Félix Lope de Vega (1562-1635), also titled El garroto más dado, is based on the same events.
The main character of El Alcalde de Zalamea is Pedro Crespo, the Mayor who sentenced to death the officer who had abducted and raped his daughter, and had the sentence confirmed (after the execution!) by Philip II himself.
In 1961, Jean Vilar (1912-1971), the emblematic director of the Théâtre National Populaire (1951-1963) and founder of the Avignon Festival (1948), directed a French adaptation of the play. In the context of the Algerian War of Independence, Vilar deliberately selected the play as emphasizing the relation between civil and military justice.
[N. Lamari. 2017. El Alcalde de Zalamea en el Festival de Avignone. Anagnórisis. Revista de investigación teatral 15, 311-326]

El Alcalde de Zalamea is offered to the public every year in the town during a festival, which celebrated its 26th edition in August 2019. The festival, which includes two performances of the play by non-professional actors, all living in the town, guided tours, an historical market exhibitions, conferences and dances, was registered in 2018 as a Festival of National Touristic Interest.
[Municipal website; El Cultural, 16 August 2018]

Ivan Sache, 17 March 2020


Flag of Zalamea de la Serena

The flag (photo, photo) and arms of Zalamea de la Serena, adopted on 6 November 1992 by the Municipal Council and validated on 21 January 1994 by the Assessing Council of Honors and Distinctions of the Government of Extremadura, are prescribed by an Order issued on 16 February 1994 by the Government of Extremadura and published on 26 February 1994 in the official gazette of Extremadura, No. 23, pp. 603-604 (text).
The symbols are described as follows:

Flag: Rectangular, in proportions 2:3, composed of two equal horizontal stripes, the upper, yellow, and the lower, blue, charged in the center with the municipal coat of arms in full colors.
Coat of arms: Per pale, 1. Azure a distyle or, 2a. Or Potnios Hippon gules, 2b. Argent a Cross of Alcántara vert. A bordure compony gules a "N" sable and argent a "C" sable. The shield surmounted by a Royal crown closed.

The symbols were designed by a commission appointed on 17 May 1988. Composed of 30 members representing all the collectives of the town (political parties, companies, church, workers' unions, police, media, schools, and associations), the commission concluded that the town never used any symbol, and required the help of a team of specialists to design symbols from scratch, using characteristic elements of the history of the town.

The distyle (lit., two columns) is a commemorative monument, of 23/23 m in height, erected in 102 and registered as a National Monument in 1931.
Standing today on Constitution Square, it originally stood out of the walls of the Roman town of Iulipa. Used until 1961 as the parish church's bell tower, it was restored by the architects José Menéndez Pidal and Antonio Garc&eaucte,a Bellido.
Distyles originate from Delphi and were introduced to Syria by Alexander the Great.
Menéndez Pidal proposed two origins for Zalamea's monument:
- by the way of Trajan's father, who served as a consul in Syria; yhis hypothesis is supported by a reconstruction of a writing engraved on a stone kept now in the parish church ("The municipality of Iulipa dedicated this monument to Emperor Caesar Nerva Trajan, son of the divine Nerva Germanus, maximum pontifex and three times tribune and four times consul";
- by Syrian merchants who traded in the town.
The top of the columns form a convenient place used by storks to build their nest.
[Municipal website]

The Potnios Hippón, lit. "Horse Tamer", was found in the Cancho Roano archeological site.
Such religious figures, of Mediterranean origin, were found in other Celtiberian necropolis, mostly located in south-eastern, coastal Spain. Interpretation and geographical origin of the Potnios Hippón are not consensual.
The known samples of Potnios Hippón feature the tamer either standing or sitting.
[Jorge Juan Eiroa. 1988. Los relieves del Potnios Hippón de Lorca (Murcia). Espacio, Tiempo y Forma, Serie II, Historia Antigua 1, 106-115; José María Blázquez Martínez. 1954. Dioses y caballos en el mundo ibérico. Zephyrus 5, 193-212]

Cancho Roano was discovered in 1978. Its main researcher since 1988, the archeologist Jiménez Ávila, published in 2013 Cancho Roano: más que palabras. Bibliograf√≠a crítica sobre el yacimiento post-orientalizante de Zalamea de la Serena, a book recapitulating 30 years of excavations and scientific controversy about the site.
The site is dated to the 5th century BC, that is the first Iron Age. Built on a stone terrace, Cancho Roano is composed of a central building surrounded by a series of big, narrow naves forming small dwellings. The whole space, covering 2,000 m3, is surrounded by a ditch dug in the rock. The author presents, beside his own, different interpretations of the site. He rejects the identification of Cancho Roana with Atlantis, as "esoteric" and not supported by any scientific evidence.
[Hoy, 20 February 2013]

In the shield's bordure, the "N" and "C" correspond to Nebrija and Calderón, respectively.
[Municipal website

Ivan Sache, 17 March 2020