This was the earthquake that destroyed Vera in 1518

The hill of the Holy Spirit stands out on the profile of low houses of the city of Vera. Imposing, with a statue of the Sacred Heart on its top, it watches the life of the new town go by since an earthquake left its history and the lives of 150 people buried forever. It was on November 9, 1518, exactly 504 years ago.

On a day like today, but 1518the inhabitants of Bayra —they were Christian settlers who arrived from the Kingdom of Murcia after the Reconquest, sealed with the capitulations of June 1488— would probably be strolling calmly through the narrow and steep streets built on the slopes of the hill that is now called the Holy Spirit. It may never be known exactly what that city was like (perhaps similar to present-day Mojácar?), but it is being excavated and investigated to shed light on it.

From the highest point, where their citadel was, they could see the Mediterranean Sea and the neighboring town of Muxacar (present-day Mojácar) without any difficulty. Surely many of them would be working in their gardens, irrigated by ditches with water from the Wadi Bair River or Vera River —the current Antas River—.

Surely no one could imagine that Tuesday would be his last day in that city. Although the most superstitious had reason to be worried. That same summer of 1518 strange things had happened in the region. Omens that something bad was coming. In July, the waterwheels started moving on their own in the Huércal-Overa field. Days later, the bells of the church of Lubrín rang, without anyone turning them. This is how José Ángel Tapia tells it in his book ‘Historia de la Vera Antigua’. Supernatural events? Omens? Possibly they were seismic movements prior to the great earthquake.

Night fell. Probably many were already sleeping 11:00 p.m. on that day, November 9. Silence dominated the city. Suddenly, the earth roared loudly, trembling as if shaken by a chill that ran from the bottom to the top.

Alonso de Sepúlveda, a resident of Bayra, was one of those who slept. He lived in an old and dilapidated house, like almost all the ones that made up that city. Suddenly, the ceiling collapsed on top of them and the walls crumbled like paper. His parents died right there, buried. He was badly injured, also under the ground. His testimony was recorded in writing forever and is preserved in the General Archive of Simancas.

The House of Andres Perpignan, Another of the residents of that city on the hill was also reduced to rubble. She fell on him, his wife and his three children. When they took him out she had a broken arm and a bad head injury, but she survived.

The same fate had each and every one of the houses in the city: about 200 according to the testimonies that are preserved. It did not even resist the citadel on the top. “Its foundations, which were large rocks, sank,” said Alonso de Sepúlveda. All these testimonies are collected Gabriel Flores in his book ‘Life in Vera: chapters of its history’.

The “famous castle” of which he had spoken the traveler Jerome Münzer in 1494, no longer existed. Only a few scattered stones remained on the hillside and the remains of its foundations and doors, which still remain today —since the work carried out in 2018 they can be appreciated much better from a distance—. The silence that had reigned a few minutes before turned into sobs. Some cried because they were seriously injured, buried by the stones. Others, because they did not find their loved ones in the midst of so much chaos. Everyone, suddenly, had lost what they had.

A second tremor and the new city

But it does not stop there. Shortly after the ground shook again by another earthquake as violent or more than the first. The constructions that had managed to resist collapsed. About 150 people died: men, women, children, elderly…

just stood “a small chapel of the church where the Corpus Domini was”, something that was taken as a great mystery “because it seems that the sovereign Lord, who was there, allowed nature to have power over the buildings that were stronger than the chapel, but that it be preserved without ruin”. That’s how he told it Emperor Charles V to his ambassador in Rome. However, today what remains on the hill is only a cistern, which was perhaps used as a hermitage.

More than half a millennium has passed since the destruction of Bayra, which, as a consequence, gave rise to the construction of the current Vera, on the nearby plain, next to the Fuente Chica. A city that the emperor ordered to be built following the layout proposed by the Mayor Francisco de Castilla: square plant, closed by mud walls, with eight towers, with battlements and embrasures and two doors; one to the road to Granada or Puerta de Arriba, and another towards the sea —the door below or to the sun—. Today, unfortunately, nothing remains but that wall that protected the city, for example, from the siege of the Moorish Abén Humeya in September 1569.

The hill has given rise to many legends. For example, they say it was their own Elizabeth the Catholic who visited Vera after the earthquake and launched a crossbow shot from the top of the hill to determine the place where the new city had to be built. A story widely publicized by word of mouth and that has even appeared on occasion in the provincial media, despite the absurdity of his approach. The presence of the famous Catholic queen would have been an even greater mystery than the resistance of the chapel to the earthquake, since Isabella of Castile died on November 26, 1504, that is, 14 years before the Vera earthquake.

Today, the old Bayra at first glance is nothing more than a hill full of bushes, prickly pears and boulders, crowned by the image of a Sacred Heart of Jesus —Installed July 17, 1948—. But it’s much more than that. It is the symbol of Vera and the greatest icon of her. The memory of her history and a site with potential yet to be discovered, in which the University of Granada is working.

The hill of the Holy Spirit is a place that arouses the curiosity of those who visit the town for the first time and that fascinates the Veratenses who, since they settled in the plain, have never stopped looking at the hill, climbing it and marveling every time their road trip over some remains of the pottery of those men and women that on November 9, half a millennium ago, they lived completely normally without knowing what would await them at 11 o’clock at night.

This was the earthquake that destroyed Vera in 1518