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In La Batería park in Torremolinos. A.M.S.
Why is Hercules a symbol of Andalucía?
Andalucía Day - 28 February

Why is Hercules a symbol of Andalucía?

The coat of arms and flag of the southern Spanish region show the mythological figure accompanied by two lions and pillars

Alekk M. Saanders

Wednesday, 28 February 2024, 11:24

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On the coat of arms of Andalucía (and on the region's flag too), a young Hercules appears next to two lions and two pillars behind him, under an arch with the words "Andalucía por sí, para España y la Humanidad" (Andalucía for itself, for Spain and humanity). The flag and symbols of Andalucía were first unfurled by Blas Infante, standing on the first floor balcony of the Círculo de Artistas in the Plaza de Socorro in the centre of Ronda, where the Ronda Assembly was held in 1918.

The Círculo de Artistas in Ronda.
The Círculo de Artistas in Ronda. V. M.

Blas Infante was a cultural activist who promoted the study and preservation of Andalusian folklore, culture and traditions. It is not surprising that this leading figure of the Andalusian nationalist movement is considered the "father of Andalucía".

For Blas Infante, the coat of arms was part of a tradition far removed from legend: "We Andalusian regionalists or nationalists came here to invent nothing. We had to limit ourselves to simply recognising, in this order, what our people had created in justification of our history."

As Blas Infante explained, Andalucía is symbolised by the young Hercules as an expression of strength but also of control over animal instincts, the latter represented by two tame lions. Incidentally, many of the elements had been 'borrowed' from the coat of arms of the city of Cadiz (founded by the Phoenicians of Tyre as Gadir).

Andalucía is symbolised by the young Hercules as an expression of strength but also of control over animal instincts, the latter represented by two tame lions

It is the Andalusian city of Cadiz that is the bridge between the mythological character and Andalucía. Legend has it that Hercules led an expedition from Tyre to the kingdom of Tartessos to trade in bull skins and precious metals when the colony of Gadir already existed. According to legends, Hercules' famous adventures took place on one of the islands of Erytheia (meaning "red").

In Greek mythology Erytheia, one of the three Hesperides, was located on an island near to the coast of southern Hispania, more specifically in the vicinity of the modern cities of Cadiz and San Fernando. It is believed that this is where the original Punic colony of Gadeiras was located.

Pliny the Elder's Natural History records of the island of Gades: "On the side that looks towards Spain, at a distance of about 100 paces, is another long island, three miles wide, on which stood the original city of Gades." The island was the dwelling place of Geryon, whom Hercules defeated.

Hercules and his pillars

In some sources Hercules is named as Heracles. This is how he is referred to in Greek mythology. However, after Latinisation he became known as Hercules. It is less known that in the time of the Phoenicians (at least in the sixth century BC) the ancient hero was called Melqart, like the tutelary god of the Phoenician city-state of Tyre and a major deity in the Phoenician and Punic pantheons.

Hercules was both the most famous hero of ancient times and the most beloved. More stories were told about him than any other hero. Hercules was worshipped in many temples throughout Greece and Rome. Incidentally, much has also been written about the mythical temple of Hercules in Cadiz, where, according to legend, Julius Caesar wept. The appearance of the remains of a monumental building under water at the mouth of the Sancti Petri river between San Fernando and Chiclana may correspond to the Phoenician-Punic temple of Melqart, Hercules Gaditanus in Roman times.

Hercules is also associated with pillars, further confirming the connection not only with Andalucía, but also with Gibraltar, Morocco and Ceuta. The Pillars of Hercules referred to mountains on either side of the Strait of Gibraltar, it is believed - erected to separate the African continent from the European continent. Being quite sure that the northern pillar, Calpe Mons, is the Rock of Gibraltar, modern historians do not know which rock on the southern side is the other pillar, the so-called Abila Mons. The two rocks that are most likely Abila Mons are Monte Hacho in Ceuta and Jebel Musa in Morocco. Since ancient times, the Pillars of Hercules, the area around the Strait of Gibraltar, marked the end of the world, beyond which was believed to be the abyss into which man would fall to his death.

Since ancient times, the Pillars of Hercules, the area around the Strait of Gibraltar, marked the end of the world

Monuments depicting the columns can be found in Ceuta, Gibraltar, Ronda and even in La Bataría Park in Torremolinos, among others. Seville has a garden square named in honour of Hercules. The Andalusian capital considers the ancient hero its mythological founder. His statue and that of Julius Caesar have been placed on two Roman columns at the southern end of the Alameda de Hércules, which is 450 years old this year. In the 18th century, two more statues of lions with shields, symbolising Seville and Spain, were placed on the northern columns.

Hercules in Seville.
Hercules in Seville. A. M. Saanders

A typical day-trip to the Moroccan city of Tangier from Tarifa might also include the so-called Caves of Hercules. The cave complex is located about 14 km west of the city, facing the Mediterranean Sea. These natural formations on Cape Spartel have generated many legends, myths and anecdotes.

It is believed that the caves have been used as dwellings since Neolithic times. The name of the caves is linked to the name of Hercules, who, according to myths, stayed and slept in this cave before performing his 11th labour to return the legendary golden apples of the Hesperides to King Eurystheus.

Another legend says that the Caves of Hercules were bottomless and were actually one end of a 24-kilometre underground ley tunnel under the Strait of Gibraltar. The European outlet would be St Michael's Cave in Gibraltar, where macaques apparently made their first steps in Europe.

The Andalusian capital considers the ancient hero its mythological founder. The 'Alameda' named after him is 450 years old this year

According to some sources, the caves were used as a brothel some time in the early part of the last century when the international zone of Tangier was formed, under the joint administration of France, Spain and Great Britain. Today, the Hercules Caves are considered a symbol of tourist Tangier, a must-see.

Incidentally, a cave named after Hercules can be found in Spain as well. The Cueva de Hércules, a subterranean vaulted space dating back to Roman times, is located in the city of Toledo. It is said that it was carved by Hercules. The place is surrounded by mysteries, summarising in a certain way the so-called 'underground' tradition of Toledo.

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