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View of the village of Grazalema in the province of Cadiz. Karl Smallman
Grazalema: The village of the mysterious Zulema
THE STORY BEHIND THE PLACE NAME

Grazalema: The village of the mysterious Zulema

Although the Romans settled in the area, it was the Muslims who named the village Gran Zulema, from which its current name derives

Tony Bryant

Grazalema

Friday, 20 October 2023, 16:37

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Archaeological remains found in and around Grazalema, located in the foothills of the Sierra del Pinar (Cadiz), indicate pre-history human activity, although academics believe that its history begins with the Roman colonisation of the Mediterranean. Historians claim the fortified Roman town of Lacilbula received its name from what is now the River Guadalete (Cilibus). The Roman settlement stood on the site of a present-day farm located near the village, and this has traditionally been considered to be the origin of Grazalema.

It was with the arrival of the Muslims in the first quarter of the eighth century that the town became known for its agriculture and textile industry. The name was changed to Raisa Lami Suli, (City of the Banu al-Salim), after the first Berber settlers who inhabited the area. The name would soon be changed to Ben-salma, son of Zulema. Zulema signifies "she who brings peace" in Arabic. Who "she" was remains a mystery, but she was obviously respected for some great feat, because the village's name was changed again to Gran Zulema.

The place name changed several times throughout the Muslim period, although most of the latter names seem to have been derived from the mysterious Zulema. In 1485, when Christian forces conquered Zagrazalema, as it was by then known, it would become part of what was called 'Las Siete Villas', in reference to the seven villages that were reconquered by Rodrigo Ponce de León.

There appears to be no evidence as to why the name was shortened to Grazalema, other than the typical Latinisation of names after the Christians regained control.

Huge economic growth took place in the 17th century, thanks to the textile industry, which produced the famous Grazalema blankets, an industry that began with the Arabs in the eighth century.

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