The Arabic Alcazaba fortress in Almeria. SUR
Almeria: The 'mirror of the sea'

Almeria: The 'mirror of the sea'

Some academics have suggested the Arabic name Madīnat al-Mariyya means 'city of the watchtower', but this theory is contested

Tony Bryant


Friday, 27 October 2023, 15:29


Once known as a city of poetry and philosophy, Almeria boasts numerous reminders of its illustrious history, from the Phoenicians and the Roman era, to the Moorish period, when it was the most important maritime town in al-Andalus. It was founded in 955 by the Umayyad Emir of Cordoba, Abdarramán III.

It was located on the previously occupied Iberian settlement of Urci. Some historians believe the site was the former location of the Roman settlement of Portus Magnus (grand port), the name by which several Roman ports were known. It was mentioned by Pliny the Elder, although he noted that the town was located in Los Baños de Guardias Viejas, which is 40 kilometres from the current city of Almeria.

During Muslim rule, some geographers, such as al-Idrisi, continued to refer to the town as a Marsa al-Nafira, or great port.

The toponym of Almeria has Arabic roots, although there is some confusion as to its meaning. Some academics have suggested that the name was Madīnat al-Mariyya, meaning 'city of the watchtower', which referred to a coastal watchtower built to defend the ancient city of Baijána (present-day Pechina). The settlement was originally a coastal suburb of Pechina, which was initially known as Mariyyat al-Bajjāna - Bajjāna being the Arabic name for Pechina.

An artistic and cultural movement that emerged in Almeria in 1943 known as the Indaliano Movement claimed that al-Mariyya translates as 'the mirror of the sea'.

This had been previously suggested by 19th-century politician Pascual Madoz, who suggested the Arabic name derived from the word for mirror. He claimed that because the watchtower was called al-Mariyyāt did not necessarily mean that the term meant watchtower. According to him, there is no form in classical Arabic such as Mariyya or Mariyyāt with the meaning of watchtower.

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