The historical centre of Sant Joan d’Alacant was developed from the old layout of the irrigation network of l’Horta d’Alacant, as well as from the roads linking Alacant with Xixona and València. The development of the historical city centre was continuous. Its origin dates from Islamic times. According to the chroniclers, at that time Sant Joan was located on both sides of the Séquia Major (Main Ditch) and had its own mosque.
With the arrival of the Christians in the thirteenth century, there were some changes although the urban layout remained around the Séquia Major from the Maigmona, where the Molí del Rei (Mill of the King) or del Consell (Mill of the Council) was already located, which we have known of since the fourteenth century. In the parallel street to Maigmona – the current Cervantes – there probably were important properties of socio-economic nature such as the Orts bakery.
At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the new parish church was built on its current location, very close to Plaça Maisonnave. also known in several periods as Plaça del Mercat, del Pou or de l’Om. This square was probably developed throughout this century in the intersection of the different main roads that crossed Sant Joan. This square would become the socio-cultural and economic centre until the mid-twentieth century. Among other events, the fruit and vegetable market on Thursdays and Sundays and the market and auction of water on Thursdays took place there.
The calle Mayor was developed from the church. Its date of construction is not known with certainty but it was probably constructed around the seventeenth century, since it already appears in a plan of 1689 as a very wide, straight street. At the end of this street we can find ‘Plaza de la Cruz’ (Cross Square), which was already there in the seventeenth century. It is located on the plot of an old defensive tower, where it bifurcates into the Carrers de Sant Josep and Carme, popularly known as ‘carrer Nou i carrer Baix’ (new street and low street). The first one reaches the old Alqueria de Benialí (an estate) where there was a defensive tower and a hermitage consecrated to St Joseph that gave name to this street, in which we can still find the interesting water passages that the irrigators used. The second one, following the layout of the Séquia Major (Main Ditch), extends from the ‘Plaza de la Cruz’ to the beginning of the Séquia Ampla (Wide Ditch), the place where the canal widened on its way to Benimagrell. Along the route of the calle Mayor there were numerous bridges to cross the canal.
From the end of the seventeenth century the calles San Antonio and El Mar were developed from plaça Maisonnave. The first one followed the route of the old Silla road towards València. The second one followed the direction of the sea connecting with the roads that led towards the beach of l’Horta.
Regarding the dwellings, most of them are modest farmhouses with up to three floors or only a ground floor. The houses were painted in vivid and varied colours – as is usual in many Valèncian Mediterranean localities -, and especially in the nearest towns such as Alacant, Santa Faç or Mutxamel.
Most of these houses have a large door to allow the passage of large farm implements or even cavalry, and on their balconies, they have interesting iron balustrades. Generally, the upper floors housed the residential areas, while the ground floor housed the ‘cambra’, a space used to store the farm implements and agricultural products. Most of these houses have backyards, which were used as a corral or small private garden, and the house latrines were located there as well. The excrements, once dried and cut up, constituted what many market gardeners called ‘rosquilla’, a very good fertilizer used to cultivate.
Regarding the decoration of these houses, we can highlight the use of “taulellets”, small ceramic panels with geometric shapes located in the eaves of the houses, a large part of which are still preserved, especially in calle San Antonio. Another decorative element would be the ceramic panels or sculptures with representations of saints. In this case there has been less fortune and only one dating from 1950 is preserved in the church, but we know that there were several in each street.
The old Benimagrell probably arose in Islamic times just like its neighbouring town Sant Joan, also following the layout of the Acequia Mayor or of the Consell that passed through the centre of the main street. Benimagrell became a small centre of population formed by a single street with some small squares. Probably, at the arrival of Christians in the thirteenth century, the mosque was first converted into a church until its destruction. In the sixteenth century the construction of the new late-Gothic temple with its rib vaults with anagrams in the keystones would take place. According to some chroniclers, this settlement had two defensive towers to shelter the inhabitants from pirate attacks, of which we know nothing and have no archaeological record. At the end of the street a neoclassical residential villa was built, Vil·la Ramona.
In the second decade of the twentieth century, Ms. Campos decided to build a chapel and a school of Carmelite nuns for girls with few economic resources. In the 60s there was an unfortunate demolition of part of the neighbourhood due to the construction of the national motorway 332, so many houses were demolished as well as the old convent and school of the Carmelite nuns. This unfortunate episode caused the partial isolation of Benimagrell from Sant Joan until some years later when the underground bridge was constructed, uniting Benimagrell again to Sant Joan.
The settlement of Santa Faz was built after the miracle of this venerated relic that took place next to the Joncaret ravine where this village is located, in the year 1489, when the Rogation procession came from Sant Joan along the old Camí de Lloixa. Shortly after, the construction of the monastery began and the Clarisse nuns lived there. Next to the temple and premises of the convent, two defensive towers were built to give shelter to the population in case of pirate attacks. In the seventeenth century, the baroque locker room was also built to keep the relic, and in the eighteenth century the old church and convent were demolished – except for the locker room and the defensive tower of Antonelli – to give way to the new baroque monumental complex that we can see nowadays.
The main square of the town was constructed before the church, where the main road arrived from the city. The organization of plots and houses continued along the road from the Alacant-Sant Joan axis through the current calles Alberola Canterac, Luis Foglietti and Mayor. The settlement continued towards the camino de Lloixa, with Carrer Barranquet and Carreró de Sant Dídac that ended at the homonymous square. This square communicated with Mayor street through an arch under a house that was replaced at the beginning of this century by another one that is not in harmony with the surroundings. There is now a diminished arch instead of a semicircular one.
The traditional houses of the old town follow the habitual distribution of the typical house of l’Horta d’Alacant, like the same ones that we find in Sant Joan, Mutxamel, Alacant and Benimagrell. Due to the celebration of the exhibition entitled ‘Luz de las Imágenes’ (Light of the Images) in 2006, the houses recovered their traditional colour schemes.
The ravine that in the furious water floods used to overflow and enter into town was located at the end of calle Mayor. For this reason all the houses had divisors to avoid the entrance of water. A divisor was even enabled to block the passage of water from the ravine towards the calle Mayor. You can still contemplate the grooved stone structures in which this divisor was inserted, which are located at the end of the side wall of the monastery and the house located in front of it. This is also the place in which the municipal boundaries of Alacant and Sant Joan are. This territorial division was made for the first time at the end of the sixteenth century and maintained after different confrontations between Sant Joan and Alacant until our days. The city of Alacant always wanted to have the monastery of Santa Faz in its jurisdiction despite the location of the monastery in the limits of the Sant Joan parish church.