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Hellín (Municipality, Castilla-La Mancha, Spain)

Last modified: 2019-08-30 by ivan sache
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Flag of Hellín - Image by Ivan Sache, 4 May 2019

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Presentation of Hellín

The municipality of Hellín (30,268 inhabitants in 2018, therefore the 2nd most populated municipality in the province; 78,119 ha, therefore the 3rd biggest municipality in the province by its area; tourism website) is located on the border with the Region of Murcia, 60 km south of Albacete. The municipality is composed of the town of Hellín and of the villages of Agra, Agramón (680 inh.), Cancarix (77 inh.), Cañada de Agra (385 inh.; established in 1963 by the National Institute of Colonization), Isso (2,199 inh.), Las Minas, Minateda, La Horca, Mingogil (274 inh.), Nava de Campaña (534 inh.; established in 1963 by the National Institute of Colonization), Torre Uchea, Rincón del Moro (14 inh.), and El Maeso.

Hellín was already settled in the prehistoric times, as evidenced by the rock paintings found in the Greater Shelter of Minateda, aka the Figures' Cave. More than 700 drawings, forming scenes or featuring individual anthropomorphic or zoomorphic figures, have been recorded. Animals are represented in a very naturalistic way, so that horses, bulls, goats and stags have been identified. War scenes involving bowmen and scenes of every day's life are represented, as well as isolated, either naturalistic or schematized, individuals. The paintings were made using natural dyes, such as iron oxide, and feathers, branches or fingers as tools.
The Greater Shelter was discovered in May 1914 by Juan Jiménez Llamas, a collaborator of Federico Motos (1865-1933) and Henri Breuil (1877-1961). One of the best European specialists of rock art of the time, Breuil visited the cave in April 1915; his tracings were the base of his seminal work, Les roches peintes de Minateda, published in 1920, a primer in the establishment of chronologic, stylistic phases in rock paintings. Further scholars challenged Breuil's interpretations; there is still no consensus about the exact period at which the paintings were initiated, but it is generally admitted that the paintings were made during the transition towards agricultural societies.
The Minateda Greater Shelter is among the 758 Spanish sites inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List as "Rock Art of the Mediterranean Basin on the Iberian Peninsula" (registration).
[Francisco Javier López Precioso & Juan Francisco Ruiz López. 2016. Henri Breuil en Minateda (Hellín, Albacete) : facsímil de sus obras sobre el Abrigo Grande y el Tolmo]

The neighboring Tolmo de Minateda hill, an erased spur overlooking brook Tobarra and watching the junction of important roads, was the seat of a citadel established by the Celtiberians and re-used by the Romans and the Visigoths. Remains of walls, water tanks, dwellings, oil mills and of an impressive Visigoth basilica make the place one of Spain's most important archeological sites. Tolmo de Minateda, inaugurated on 1 March 2019, forms Castilla-La Mancha's 5th archeological park (website).

The Roman town is believed to have been named Ilunum around 200 AD. Located north of the present-day's downtown, the Roman town was from the 2nd to the 4th century one of the most important towns in the area. Mosaics excavated there are kept in the National Museum of Archeology in Madrid (originals) and in the Albacete Provincial Museum (fac-simile).
The mosaic, discovered in 1938, was exhibited only in 1954. The mosaic (13 m x 13 m, one third lost) features the seasons and months (April, May, August, September, October, November, and December are preserved, a small fragment of June as well, and February's caption), bucolic scenes and the struggle between Amor and Pan (a theme of Greek origin quite common in the Roman iconography). Stylistic comparison with similar mosaics gave a probable dating to the first half of the 3rd century. Therefore, the mosaic is the second oldest representation of the classical months' theme found in western Europe after a mosaic found in Ostia.
[Henri Stern. 1963. Mosaïque trouvée à Hellín (Albacete) en Espagne. Comptes rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres 107, 65-66 [First report]; Henri Stern. 1965. Mosaïque de Hellín (Albacete). Monuments et mémoires de la Fondation Eugène Piot 54, 39-59 [Detailed description]

During the Visigoth period the town, known as Eio/Elo, was the seat of an early bishopric, established in the beginning of the 7th century. Elo was located in a strategic place between Toletum (Toledo), the Visigoth capital, and Carthago Spartaria (Cartagena), the Byzantine capital; territories still disputed with the Byzantines were nominally incorporated to the Diocese of Eio.
Renamed to Iyyu by the Muslims, the town was among the seven towns listed in the pact signed in Orihuela in 713 by Count Theodemir (d. 743), the last Visigoth ruler of the area, and 'Abd al-'Aziz. The pact placed the region under Muslim domination but the population was allowed to maintain the Christian religion, provided it paid a fee and did not support the enemies of the new rulers.
Iyyu was abandoned in the 9th century for places located closer to ways of communication and sources of fresh water, often already settled at the Roman times. Hellín's present-day historical downtown was erected on Castle Hill, named for the Almohad fortress erected on its top, and another two neighboring hills.

Ivan Sache, 4 May 2019

Symbols of Hellín

The flag of Hellín (photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo, photo), which does not appear to have been officially registered, is horizontally divided celestial blue-white with the municipal coat of arms in the center.

The coat of arms of Hellín is prescribed by Decree No. 2,603, adopted on 30 August 1974 by the Spanish Government and published on 16 September 1974 in the Spanish official gazette, No. 222, p. 19,036 (text).
The coat of arms is described as follows:

Coat of arms: Vert a castle or masoned sable port and windows gules supported by two lions or surmounted by an armored arm argent issuant holding a sword surmounted by a Royal crown open and surrounded by seven stars argent, four dexter and three sinister. The shield surmounted by a Royal crown closed.

The arms of Hellín were designed by the Chronicler King of Arms Vicente de Cadenas y Vicent (1915-2005), who was commissioned in 1972 by the municipality to design it.
Philip II's Relaciones (1576) report that "the town of Hellín has always been using as its arms a castle surrounded on one side by a lion and on the other side by a hand and a sword, and on top by to stars and on bottom by another one. The arms are so old that nobody knows why they were adopted." The same arms were reported for Villena and Sax, but without stars. The report mentions a hand, not an arm; as explained by Aurelio Pretel Martín, the hand and sword do not necessarily refer to the winged hand and sword of the Manuel, once lords of Hellín.

The arms of the town are described in the Atalante Español (1778) as featuring "a strong and high castle with two lions on its sides; above the crenels, a beautiful crown used as a garland, surmounted by an arm holding a sword about to hit". The shield painted in the 18th century in a private property features the castle surrounded by fours stars, two on each side, in agreement with Tomás López' Dictionary (1787): "a castle, two lions supporting it, four stars and a kind of axe falling down to the castle's top." The public fountain erected on Portalí square in the times of Charles III was decorated with a stone coat of arms; unfortunately, it was destroyed without recording the design of the arms.

In the 19th century, the arms represented on municipal seals featured two lions, seven stars, an armored arm and a crown. The stone coat of arms placed in the late 19th century above a window of the building of the Provincial Council in Albacete features the castle with the two lions, the armored arm and the seven stars (forming an arch), but no crown inside the shield.
The seals used by the Municipality and the Mayor in 1876, kept in the National Historical Archives, feature a castle supported by two lions, an armored arm emerging from the central tower and seven stars. In the Municipality's seal, the crown is placed inside the border, while it is placed above the castle in the Mayor's seal. The companion text says that the municipal archives, old writings, old people "characteristic of the place" and privileges granted by the Crown in the past could not provide any hint to understand why the municipality used on its seal "a coat of arms composed of a high castle between two lions, on its crenels a warrior's arm holding a sword in a defensive posture, surrounded by seven stars and completed by a crown".
Roa Erostarbe's Crónica de la Provincia de Albacete (1894) shows a coat of arms similar to the modern one, except that the arm emerges from the crown instead of the central tower.
A more accurate coat of arms would have the crown open removed from the shield's field and the armored arm holding the sword replaced by the Manuel's winged hand and sword.
[Luis Guillermo García-Saúco Beléndez. Heráldica municipal de la provincia de Albacete. 1991]

Ivan Sache, 4 May 2019