Alicante is a city and port in Spain on the Costa Blanca, the capital of the province of Alicante and of the comarca of Alacantí, in the south of the Valencian Community. It is also a historic Mediterranean port. The population of the city of Alicante proper was 334,329, estimated as of 2011, ranking as the second-largest Valencian city. Including nearby municipalities, the Alicante conurbation had 462,281 residents. The population of the metropolitan area (including Elche and satellite towns) was 771,061 as of 2011 estimates, ranking as the eighth-largest metropolitan area of Spain.
The area around Alicante has been inhabited for over 7000 years, with the first tribes of hunter gatherers moving down gradually from Central Europe between 5000 and 3000 BC. Some of the earliest settlements were made on the slopes of Mount Benacantil. By 1000 BC Greek and Phoenician traders had begun to visit the eastern coast of Spain, establishing small trading ports and introducing the native Iberian tribes to the alphabet, iron and the pottery wheel. By the 3rd century BC, the rival armies of Carthage and Rome began to invade and fight for control of the Iberian Peninsula. The Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca established the fortified settlement of Akra Leuka (Greek: Ἄκρα Λευκή, meaning "White Mountain" or "White Point"), where Alicante stands today.
Archeological site of Tossal de Manises, ancient Iberian–Carthaginian–Roman city of "Akra-Leuke" or "Lucentum" Although the Carthaginians conquered much of the land around Alicante, the Romans would eventually rule Hispania Tarraconensis for over 700 years. By the 5th century AD, Rome was in decline and the Roman predecessor town of Alicante, known as Lucentum (Latin), was more or less under the control of the Visigothic warlord Theudimer. However neither the Romans nor the Goths put up much resistance to the Arab conquest of Medina Laqant in the 8th century. The Moors ruled southern and eastern Spain until the 13th century Reconquista (Reconquest). Alicante was finally taken in 1246 by the Castilian king Alfonso X, but it passed soon and definitely to the Kingdom of Valencia in 1298 with King James II of Aragon. It gained the status of Royal Village (Vila Reial) with representation in the medieval Valencian Parliament (Corts Valencianes).
After several decades of being the battlefield where the Kingdom of Castile and the Crown of Aragon clashed, Alicante became a major Mediterranean trading station exporting rice, wine, olive oil, oranges and wool. But between 1609 and 1614 King Felipe III expelled thousands of Moriscos who had remained in Valencia after the Reconquista, due to their cooperation with Barbary pirates who continually attacked coastal cities and caused much harm to trade. This act cost the region dearly; with so many skilled artisans and agricultural labourers gone, the feudal nobility found itself sliding into bankruptcy. Things got worse in the early 18th century; after the War of Spanish Succession, Alicante went into a long, slow decline, surviving through the 18th and 19th centuries by making shoes and growing agricultural produce such as oranges and almonds, and thanks to its fisheries. The end of the 19th century witnessed a sharp recovery of the local economy with increasing international trade and the growth of the city harbour leading to increased exports of several products (particularly during World War I when Spain was a neutral country).
During the early 20th century, Alicante was a minor capital that enjoyed the benefit of Spain s neutrality during World War I, and that provided new opportunities for the local industry and agriculture. The Rif War in the 1920s saw numerous alicantinos drafted to fight in the long and bloody campaigns in the former Spanish protectorate (Northern Morocco) against the Rif rebels. The political unrest of the late 1920s led to the victory of Republican candidates in local council elections throughout the country, and the abdication of King Alfonso XIII. The proclamation of the Second Spanish Republic was much celebrated in the city on 14 April 1931. The Spanish Civil War broke out on 17 July 1936. Alicante was the last city loyal to the Republican government to be occupied by dictator Franco's troops on 1 April 1939, and its harbour saw the last Republican government officials fleeing the country. Vicious air bombings were targeted on Alicante during the three years of civil conflict, most notably the bombing by the Italian Aviazione Legionaria of the Mercado de Abastos in 25 May 1938 in which more than 300 civilians perished.
The next 20 years under Franco s dictatorship were difficult for Alicante, as they were for the entire country. However, the late 1950s and early 1960s saw the onset of a lasting transformation of the city by the tourist industry. Large buildings and complexes rose in nearby Albufereta (e.g. El Barco) and Playa de San Juan, with the benign climate being the biggest draw to attract prospective buyers and tourists who kept the hotels reasonably busy. New construction benefited the whole economy, as the development of the tourism sector also spawned new businesses such as restaurants, bars and other tourist-oriented enterprises. Also, the old airfield at Rabassa was closed and air traffic moved to the new El Altet Airport, which made a more convenient and modern facility for charter flights bringing tourists from northern European countries.
When dictator Franco died in 1975, his successor Juan Carlos I played his part as the living symbol of the transition of Spain to a democratic constitutional monarchy. The governments of regional communities were given constitutional status as nationalities, and their governments were given more autonomy, including that of the Valencian region.
The Port of Alicante has been reinventing itself since the industrial decline the city suffered in the 1980s (with most mercantile traffic lost to Valencia s harbour). In recent years, the Port Authority has established it as one of the most important ports in Spain for cruises, with 72 calls to port made by cruise ships in 2007 bringing some 80,000 passengers and 30,000 crew to the city each year.The moves to develop the port for more tourism have been welcomed by the city and its residents, but the latest plans to develop an industrial estate in the port have caused great controversy.
Until the global recession which started in 2008, Alicante had been one of the fastest-growing cities in Spain. The boom was based partly upon tourism directed to the beaches of the Costa Blanca and particularly the second residence construction boom which started in the 1960s and reinvigorated again by the late 1990s. Services and public administration also play a major role in the city s economy. The construction boom has raised many environmental concerns and both the local autonomous government and city council are under scrutiny by the European Union. The construction surge was the subject of hot debates among politicians and citizens alike. The latest of many public battles concerns the plans of the Port Authority of Alicante to construct an industrial estate on reclaimed land in front of the city s coastal strip, in breach of local, national and European regulations. (See Port of Alicante for the details).
The city is the headquarters of the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market and a sizeable population of European public workers live here.
The campus of the University of Alicante is located in San Vicente del Raspeig, bordering the city of Alicante to the north. More than 27,000 students attend the University. Since 2005 Alicante has been home to Ciudad de la Luz, one of the largest film studios in Europe. Spanish and international movies such as Asterix at the Olympic Games by Frédéric Forestier and Thomas Langmann, Manolete by Menno Meyjes have been shot there.
The official population of Alicante in 2011 was 334,329 inhabitants and 771,061 in the metropolitan area "Alicante-Elche". About 15% of the population is foreign, most of them immigrants from Argentina, Ecuador, and Colombia who have arrived in the previous 10 years. There are also immigrants from other countries such as Romania, Russia, Ukraine and Morocco, many of whom are under illegal alien status and therefore are not accounted for in official population figures. The real percentage of foreign residents is higher, since the Alicante metropolitan area is home to many Northern European retirees who are officially still residents of their own countries. In the same pattern, a sizable number of permanent residents are Spanish nationals who officially still live in Madrid, the Basque provinces, or other areas of the country.