Petrer is situated in the north-eastern part of the province of Alicante in the basin of the Vinalopó river, which flows through the western section of its municipal area.
To the north of Petrer lie the towns of Castalla and Sax; to the south Novelda and Monforte del Cid; to the east is Agost and to the west is Elda, with which it forms a major conurbation.
The landscape is predominantly mountainous and consists of a narrow passage between the lowlands of Elche and the Villena plateau, which lies at the bottom of a basin between large mountain ranges, namely the sierras of El Cid, El Caballo and Maigmó.
The dry Mediterranean climate has typically low rainfall and pleasant temperatures, with short, mild winters and long summers.
People have lived in the area around Petrer since Neolithic times. Remains of Iberian and Roman settlements have also been found.
However, the origins of Petrer as a town date back to the El Andalus era, and this can clearly be seen in the landscape. It was once known as Bitrir, a Moorish town mentioned on signs at springs and in old itineraries. It is thought to have been the centre of an administrative district and an important place, judging by the size of Petrer castle, built in the second half of the 12th century.
However, it is possible that an earlier building from the Moorish era may have been re-used for the castle. Petrer is a fortified town surrounded by a double wall and a central tower that stands on its highest point, Cerro del Castillo.
After the Treaty of Almizra was signed in 1244 establishing the border between the kingdoms of Castile and Aragón as they expanded south, the town of Petrer-Bitrir became the property of the kingdom of Castile.
It was granted by king Alfonso X the Wise to Jofré de Loaysa, whose descendants kept the Lordship until it was sold to the Valencian family of Pérez de Corella. In 1265 the king of Aragón Jaime I the Conqueror came in support of the Castilian king to quell a series of rebellions that had broken out in the Moorish settlements across the kingdom of Castile. One of the castles he took was Petrer.
The Sentence of Torrellas in 1304 and the Pact of Elche in 1305 placed Petrer under the sovereignty of the Crown of Aragón.
During the 15th century, the town of Petrer belonged to the Pérez de Corella family, the earls of Cocentaina. Their descendants sold the town, along with Elda and Salinas, to Juan Coloma. The Earldom of Elda was created in the late 16th century by privilege granted by Felipe II. Petrer remained property of the earldom until lordships were abolished in the 19th century.
In the 16th century the town of Petrer was predominantly Moorish and its main source of income was farming and livestock breeding. This is why, following the expulsion of the Moors in 1609, only the local people, the castle steward and seven old Christian families were left. Petrer was repopulated with nearly 100 families from neighbouring villages such as Castalla, Onil, Biar, Jijona and Mutxamel, under a population charter granted by Antonio Coloma in August 1611.
During the Spanish War of Succession, in the period from 1700 to 1714, Petrer fought on the side of Felipe V and was part of the Castalla Union, receiving various privileges from the king in reward for its loyalty.
The town’s last major historic event took place during the final days of the Spanish Civil War, when Petrer was the headquarters of the Government of the Second Spanish Republic. President Negrín and his ministerial cabinet stayed in the country estate of El Poblet only a few days before going into exile.
Since the end of the decade around 1910, the region’s economy has been based largely on the footwear manufacturing industry, which underwent its greatest period of growth in the years after 1940.
Over time, the footwear and leather goods industry has become a lucrative business for the town. The small and medium-sized businesses involved are organised in such a way that they are fully flexible and can adapt to fluctuations in the sizes of orders for shoes, bags and other accessories.
Nowadays, the new industrial model, based on specialisation, innovation, product differentiation and the development of sales networks is becoming more and more a part of everyday life for this constantly expanding sector.
Footwear-related industrial and commercial activity accounts for approximately half of the town’s total economy. Remaining industries are, in order of importance, construction, leather goods and farming, which although small, are very active on the international market.
The museum is in Elda, which together with Petrer is the largest conurbation in the province of Alicante. The Museum, the only one of its kind, was officially opened in 1999. It is important because its collection shows the entire history of footwear in the area, with hundreds of sample shoes and machinery involved in the production process. The collection also includes a large section on how the lasts are made.
The museum has four rooms for the permanent exhibition and a room for temporary exhibitions.
The First room contains items connected with the mechanisation of shoe manufacture dating from the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Second room has a display of diplomas and awards connected with footwear.
The Third room has an exhibition of several collections, namely History of Humanity; Shoes with a History, belonging to famous people from the world of culture, the arts, sport, etc.; Local Footwear; Footwear and Sport; Footwear Gems; Footwear in Antiquity; Great Designers, and a series of photographs of Historic Figures in the Footwear Industry.
The Fourth room contains a display of shoes that have been awarded prizes in competitions such as Lápiz de Oro, the National Artisan prize and others over the years. Display of miniatures and shoes by leading shoemakers. Shoes for masks and other collections.
The Footwear Museum organises a series of activities and events to promote top quality Spanish footwear. Examples include the Award for Best Shod Woman in Spain and the annual Luís Berlanga Journalism Award for the best piece on women’s shoes. The museum also holds travelling exhibitions, attends sector trade fairs and has its own library collection.
What else see in Petrer
The Dámaso Navarro Municipal Archaeological and Ethnological Museum, opened to the public in 1999, houses a permanent exhibition spread over two floors. The archaeological exhibition traces the town’s history and progress, while the ethnographic exhibition shows trades, crafts and way of life of previous inhabitants.
Petrer castle was built in the Moorish era and has undergone successive refurbishments in the past. It has two sections: the esplanade and the citadel. The former preserves part of the outer wall with a central tower surrounding an inside space where archaeological excavations have uncovered Medieval houses.
The citadel stood on top of the hill and was built between the 12th and 15th centuries. It is a walled area with an eight-sided polygonal layout built in masonry and stone. The main entrance is raised above floor level and defended by a machicolated balcony. After lengthy restoration work between 1974 and 1983, it was declared a Historic-Artistic Monument.
The cave houses in the town walls were built in the early 20th century by the poorest families in Petrer. They are attractive for both their architecture and their cultural value, and are now part of the Dámaso Navarro Municipal Archaeological and Ethnological Museum.
The Arco del Castillo, or castle archway is also worth a visit. This is one of the old gateways to the streets running round the lower part of the castle from the direction of Plaça de Dalt. It was built with masonry and lime mortar, probably in the 15th or 16th century.
The parish church of San Bartolomé is a rectangular building designed by Francisco Sánchez. It has a single nave with side chapels and the dome over the transept rests on a drum.
The chapel of Ermita de San Bonifacio was built outside the town walls in 1634, although it was extended in the early 18th century thanks to donations from the town’s churchgoers. It houses the image of San Bonifacio, the town’s patron saint.
The chapel is built on a Latin cross layout, with a central nave and side chapels, apse and a ribbed dome covered on the outside with curved blue tiles.
Despite renovations carried out in the 18th century, the Ermita del Santísimo Cristo (1674) still retains the appearance of a rural chapel, with three buttresses at the back and a belfry with a bell set in the façade.
Another chapel worth visiting is the “Catí” chapel, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception and named after the rural area in which it stands.
The San Rafael aqueduct, on the outskirts of the historic town centre in the San Rafael neighbourhood, runs across the Rambla de Puça, or Rambla dels Molins. It carried water from La Noguera spring and supplied the town of Elda. It was built in the late 16th century and was probably in use until the early 19th century. It was declared a Historic-Artistic Monument of Local Interest by the Spanish Ministry of Culture in 1981.