Thanks to its wonderful geographic location, the first inhabitants of Cortegana settled on the summits of the highest hills, from which they had perfect visual control of the territory and also enjoyed good defence conditions. They lived in the open air in small circular huts with a stone plinth which supported the roof of branches and mud. They took advantage of all the resources that the environment provided and practised a basic agriculture and animal husbandry. Their social relations were based on co-operation and a community life, particulars which have been evidenced in their collective gravesites: the dolmens. We are referring therefore to settlements of the Copper or Chalcolithic Age (2,800-1,800 BC approximately), which established small populations in el Alto de la Caba, Cabezo del Cojo and the Cerro de Santa Barbara. We also know of burials in Cabezo de Cojo: the necropolis of Corteganilla, which consists of three dolmens under tumuli and certain elements of funeral goods in the Corteganilla-Hallemans dolmen ( flint arrowheads, slate idols, polished axes)
Once these settlements were abandoned, there was a relative decline in the population of the Cortegana municipal area.
From the so-called Bronze Age (1,500-800 BC approximately) we know of two inhabited enclaves : the Cabezo del Hornillo and the Cerro de Berrueco, which consisted of simple huts, forming principally look-out points over one of the routes leading from the Chanza area to the Central and Eastern Sierra and which passed alongside the Carabaña stream. The burials from these societies generated cist necropolises, where each corpse occupied a separate grave. In Cortegana, cist cemeteries at la Cierva and Tejadillas have been documented, but nowadays they have all been destroyed.
In Roman times Cortegana acquired great economic and population prominence, although no urban nucleus was defined. The population, mostly occupied with agriculture and animal husbandry, was dispersed throughout the territory. However, the greatest economic benefits derived by our Roman ancestors resulted from mineral and metallurgic exploitation, both from the mines in the Andévalo (El Carpio, San Telmo and Herrerías de Confesionarios) where mainly iron and copper were extracted, and also from the hill country mines, situated in the riverbeds of the Chanza and the Alcalaboza, where they mined veins of iron oxide. In this way, many of the settlements in Cortegana territory, such as Corteganilla, La Gaga or Los Andrinos, specialised in iron metallurgy, forming part of the mining districts of the only two Roman towns in the area, Arucci and Turobriga.
Through these areas ran the Roman route that led from Huelva to the Lusitanian town of Beja, specifically the track ran parallel to the Alcalaboza river.
The urban origin of Cortegana was identified by the scholar Rodrigo Caro in the XVII century as Roman Corticata, named by the Greek geographer Ptolemy, although archeological excavations have since discounted this hypothesis.
The birth of Cortegana is believed to be during the Islamic period, when it was called Cartasana, one of the heads of the administrative districts in Seville province. In the Muslim period,control of Cortegana was disputed by Castilians and Portuguese during the so-called Algabe conflict. In 1253 Alfonso X’s administration delegated control to the Seville territory and it achieved the status of “villa” ( town), In 1267 Cortegana was handed over to the kingdom of Castille by the Treaty of Badajoz.
The castle in Cortegana is of Late Medieval Christian origin (XIII-XV c), at least, this is what material evidence and architectural studies show, but we cannot rule out earlier Islamic buildings nor a population, possibly scattered, from this time. The exact date of the castle’s construction is unknown, althoughthe first time it is mentioned in writing is in the “Ordenamiento” (Legislation) of Alfonso XI in 1344, and from that date on numerous items regarding the appointment of its mayors or repairs to the enclosure. Probably the first people in Corteganawere “fortified”, living inside the castle fortifications for protection and to keep their possessions safe from Portuguese raids.
The construction of the Ermita de NuestraSeñora de la Piedad (The chapel of Our Lady of Piety), next to the castle appears to have been earlier, an example of a repopulation chapel in the middle of the XIII century, built as a religious centre for the Christian repopulators, who were Galician and Leonese and who arrived in these territories to fill the spaces left in the area by the reconquest.
From the middle of the XIV century the relative stability of the region meant that the population began spreading out into the valley, concentrating in the areas nearest to the springs, which suggests that the first houses were built around the “FuenteVieja” ( The Old Spring) and the “Chanza” ( the source of the Chanza river). Between these two neighbourhoods the new Divino Salvador (Divine Saviour) church was raised, which acquired the status of parish church, to the detriment of the one at the castle.
In the Modern Age, around the XVI century, Cortegana began to consolidate as an important town in the region. The urban area concentrated around the road connecting Cortegana with Aroche, forming a longitudinal axis from the castle to the ErmitadelCalvario (The Calvary Chapel), passing by the parish church of the Divine Saviour and the Chapel of San Sebastian.
In the XVII century the conflict with Portugal caused great harassment to the population. Although Cortegana had no decisive role in the events of the wars, the assaults on its urban nucleus posed a grave danger of depopulation and therefore on 14th April, 1658, the town council asked for an extension of the taxes due to the king, as an incentive to retain its inhabitants. The king required a permanent billeting of troops in Cortegana, whose castle was situated in the second line of defence against the neighbouring country.
Socio-economic stability depended on the exploitation of agricultural and mineral and metallurgical resources. In addition, Cortegana became one of the principal centres for the production of pork products (salted bacon, sausages and hams) which were transported to Seville to be sent on to America, both for provisions during the journey overseas and for stocks for the emerging American markets. Making the most of these freights going to Seville, consignments of iron were added, produced by the mines in the Sierra around Cortegana, which were reopened and exploited as in Roman times.
The Contemporary Age gave Cortegana its best period of prosperity, when in the middle of the XIX century a flourishing bourgeoisie established themselves in the town, consolidating an important cork industry. At this time corks manufactured in Cortegana were mainly exported to France to seal the bottles of fine Gallic wine.
This economic progress caused a drastic change in the socio-economic structure of the population: firstly, the appearance of a new ruling class, based on their economic power, who monopolised public and institutional posts; and secondly the development of a specialised working class who replaced the agricultural peasants. This period of prosperity was also reflected in the urban area, with the building of genuinely noble homes and two Social “Casinos” (Clubs), these last places of meeting and socialisation for the general public. There was also a change in the structure of agricultural property as the new bourgeois invested a great part of their profits in land in order to control the basic resources for their industries.
There was, in addition, important artesan activity, which employed many workers and opened commercial relations with the exterior: cork, pottery, locksmithing and the manufacture of steelyard balance scales, flour and oil mills and more than 100 weavers of linen and wool.
The workers organised themselves into unions, became literate and even established a form of social security insurance. As time passed, the cultural level of the town rose and this gave rise to the creation of recreational and charitable societies.
The opening of the railway between Zafra and Huelva in 1889 stimulated the economy of Cortegana even more, as it initiated a boom in the mining operations of San Telmo and Valdelamusa.
During the XX century industrial pork-product factories replaced cork as the principal force in the local economy, offering high quality Iberian ham and pork products. The Civil War and its consequent post-war crisis seriously damaged the development so far achieved. This latter was further affected by sectorial crises which in the last third of the XX century gave rise to serious damage to local industry and artesan production. The mining operations were abandoned in the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s. Nowadays, the economy of Cortegana depends on the industrial sector and services, but not forgetting agriculture. The principal industry is meat, with important producers of ham, sausages and other pork products typical of the area.
And so this was how the history of Cortegana and its surroundings contributed to and enlarged its image, giving the town its current status of second most important municipality in the Sierra of Huelva.