Morella, Castellón, Valencia, Spain

Morella is an ancient walled city located on a hill-top in the province of Castellón, Valencian Community, Spain. The town is the capital and administrative centre of the comarca of Els Ports, in the historic Maestrat (Maestrazgo) region. There are traces of settlement by the Iberians, succeeded by the Greeks and Romans, Visigoths and the Moors. From the early 17th century to the Spanish Civil War, the town was often fought over, due to its strategic situation between the Ebroand the coastal plain of Valencia. Morella is part of the Taula del Sénia free association of municipalities.

Every six years the citizens celebrate the Sexenni, a commemoration of the town’s recovery from the plague in the seventeenth century. Tourism now plays an important part in the local economy, along with agriculture. In the 20th century the town and surrounding area became depopulated, a trend that has only been reversed in the early 21st century. The population of Morella in 2008 was 2,854, having declined from a figure of 7,335 in 1900 (INE). One of the typical gastronomic products of Morella are sweets known as flaons. Local bakeries are also renowned for a number of other traditional pastries and sweets, like mantecadas, prepared in the ancient way.

Prehistoric remains in the area include cave paintings in Morella la Vella and Bronze Age graves at Hostal Nou. The Greeks established a treasury at Morella, but then the area became the scene of conflict between the Carthaginians and the Roman Empire during the Punic Wars. Eventually the town was Romanized and became part of the province of Tarragona. The Moors took the town in 714, naming it Maurela. El Cid is reputed to have rebuilt the castle which dominates the town and in 1084 he is supposed to have fought in the service of Yusuf al-Mu’taman ibn Hud and defeated Sancho Ramírez of Aragon at the Battle of Morella. In 1117, Sancho captured Morella, but it was recaptured by the Moors and only finally subdued by Blasco de Alagon in 1232. Following Blasco’s death in 1239, James I of Aragon established a royal garrison in the city and awarded the inhabitants the tiotle of “Faithful””.

Morella sided with Philip V during the War of the Spanish Succession in the early eighteenth century and became the centre of a military and political district. During the Napoleonic Wars, the citiozens rose up gainst the invading forces and the town was finally captured for Spain in 1813 by Francisco Javier de Elío. In the Carlist Wars of the nineteenth century Morella became the headquarters of the forces of Ramon Cabrera. The town was captured by forces of General Franco in April 1938, towards the end of the Spanish Civil War. Republican guerillas held out in the surrounding mountains until 1956. In the 1960s and 70s many people left the town for work opportunities in the cities and many of the local small industries died, but a slow revitalization has taken place since the transition of Spain to democracy.

In the late seventeenth century, Morella was severely affected by the plague. After twenty years of suffering, the citizens brought a statue of the Virgin Mary from the Sanctuary of Vallivana, 24 kilometres (15 mi) away, at the feet of the Serra de Vallivana range, and processed it through the streets. It is said that the plague disappeared from the city and, to remember this, every six years the Sexenni festival takes place for nine days in late August. The virgin is carried in procession and the traditional town guilds perform ancient dances in her honour. The festivities in 2006 were the first of the 21st century

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