Bitrawsa – Batrûsha – Petrocha – Petrosa: historical notes

February, 2018

Al-Andalus is about to attain an era of great splendour, Cordoba will be the capital of the most powerful kingdom in the West: the Caliphate of Cordoba. At la Vall de Penàguila of Yibâl Balansiya (mountains of València) there is a town that, covering 2 km., stretches from the banks of the river Fainos to the Tossal del Moro. This 600-m. hill hosts a fortified enclosure that rules over the surrounding area. Settlers, from dry stone-built dwellings that alternate with agricultural fields (corn, olive and fig trees) along the territory, visit a local market that takes place at the foothill. Archaeology experts maintain that the Pla de Petrosa settlement already existed in Iberian times. It disappeared in the 12th century by reason of raids carried out by the mercenary known as El Cid.

Al-Bitrawsi, Bitrawsa o Batrûsha is a town that became the amal or county capital under the jurisdiction of the independent taifa of Dénia. This kingdom, with cultural splendour and strong international nature, extended to Jaén, the Balearic Islands and even Sardinia, and by 1076 would become part of the taifa of Sarakusta (Saragossa).

This articles shows my research on the link between that historical Batrûsha and the Pla de Petrosa, now part of the municipal districts of Benilloba and Penàguila. Next, an outline of texts by specialists in History, Archaeology and Linguistics about Bitrawsa, Batrûsha, Petrocha or Petrosa, where my birth village, Benilloba, finds its origins.

View from the Tossal del Moro at Pla de Petrosa  (author’s picture, 2016)

Un toponyme historique de l’ancienne Kura de Tudmir: Benicadell (1), was published in the magazine Murgetana in 1976 -an essential and at the same time complex reading for a History enthusiast like me- by Pierre Guichard, a French historian especializad in Al-Andalus. It supports that the place-name Benicadell descends from a Hispano-Arab proper name, banna of the Qatîl, that is, penna or peak of the Qatîl. According to the research Guichard conducted on Arab texts through the ages, this word would indicate the Banû Gatîl. They constituted a clan, lineage or family with such political influence over an area, since the beginning of the 9th century, possibly earlier, until the end of the 12th century, that it would ultimately be named after them.

Professor Guichard mentions Al-‘Udri, a geographer from Almería that died in 1076 and covered the Valencian territories. He talked about a yuz’ (sector) of the Banû Gatîl, an administrative district that at that time belonged to València. The work Takmila by Ibn al-Abbâr takes us to the northern limit of the old Kura (dominion) of Tudmir. One of its members came from Bitraws, Abû Marwan Umayya ibn Gatîl, cadi (magistrate) of ‘Alî ibn Muyâhid (1044-1076), second sovereign of the taifa of Dénia. Another one was Ibn Gattâl, he lived in Denia, died in Xàtiva about 1145 after the Almoravids were defeated, and was born in an amal (county capital) of Dénia llamado Bitrawsa.

The fact that its geographic origin appears in historical biographies denotes the high social status of the Banû Gatîl family. The phonetic evolution of the Andalusian Arab language would explain the variation in spelling (Al-Qatîl, Gatîl, Gattâ o ‘Attâl). According to Guichard, Gattâl could have been both a family name and a demonym and the Gattâl from Dénia would have been defined rather by their nisba (family name) of geographical provenance. Al-Bitrawsi, a town or district that would be part of Dènia inland mountains. Pierre Guichard lays out theories from different authors about the Bitraws location and concludes by underlining the phonetic similarity with the word Petrosa.

L’ordenació del territori del País Valencià abans de la Conquesta, segons Ibn-Al-Abbar (segle XIII), -also indispensable reading- is an extensive work by Professor Mikel de Epalza Ferrer (2). He raises the five century-long evolution in land management based on the works by a Valencian historian and politician mentioned above, Ibn al-Abbâr (1199-1260). According to al-Abbâr, Dénia’s jurisdiction included at least three amal or county capitals: Bairén, Qusantâniya (Cocentaina) and Batrûxa or Pedrosa, that the author locates near Xàtiva. The historian and Arabist de Epalza also mentions that Batrûxa was Ibn Qatâl’s homeland, related to other Banu Cadell, in turn connected to the Benicadell fortress.

Back in 1948, the Valencian philologist Manuel Sanchis Guarner (3) tied Petrosa and Benilloba as an example of archaic forms of the language used by Valencian Mozarabs in his text Introducción a la historia lingüística de Valencia.

The book Maisons d’al-Andalus by French archaeologist André Bazzana (4) mentions the Batrusa or Bitraws place-names of a settlement he identifies with the Tossal del Moro and locates on a hill at the Pla de la Petrocha, Penàguila. Professor Bazzana describes the defensive purpose of the spot as an isolated relief that controls the neighbouring territories with two main elements. One, a rather narrow and hard-to-reach rocky wall (around 80 x 50 m), with closed accesses that a tâbiya wall to the west. In the centre of the platform, a strong rectangular tower (14 x 9.5 m) with a cistern. Ceramic and remains of dwellings were discovered to the east, and according to archaeologist Bazzana, such settlement already existed in Iberian times and it would probably disappear in the 12th century. Typology of ceramic objects found during the 1980s archaeological excavation includes: pot, flagon, bottle, small jar, jar, al-habia, casserole, kasriya and ataifor. Such furnishing would correspond to a rural home of a certain quality and it could also fit with its use as a food pantry. Both hypothesis may indicate the Tossal del Moro settlement operated as a small local market.

Remains of the Tossal del Moro tower (author’s picture, 2016)

As part of her thesis that focuses on the occupation of the hisn (castle) at the Vall de Penàguila, archaeologist Débora Kiss has studied materials originating at the Tossal del Moro (5), deposited at the Centre d’Estudis Contestans. The archaeological site is located on privately owned land near Benilloba at the Pla de Petrosa, an area next to the Seta river where different routes between Alicante’s inland and coastline cross converge. According to an article she published in 2012, excavations carried out in recent decades found materials, mainly on the south and west hillsides of the Tossal and towards the south, a total of 50 hectares. Ceramic forms, definitely household scope, indicate a settlement of a certain entity where houses would alternate with farmland. It is perhaps the Bitraswsa town, under the authority of Dénia, a alquería (hamlet) of some entity that could be dated back to the Caliphate period between the 9th-11th centuries.

According to Pere Ferrer Marset and Amparo Martí Soler, from the Centre d’Estudis Contestans (6), the town medievalists call Batrûsha, its place-name having been connected to Petrosa, held the capital of the territory equivalent to the present county, el Comtat, between the 10th-11th centuries. It was abandoned, due to the Cid’s raids like other places, in the 11th century, at the time when Qusantâniya became the great Muslim capital of Alicante’s inner mountains. On their contribution to the book Els musulmans al Comtat  -indispensable in order to know our local history-, the historians establish that the town of Batrûsha was laid around the route towards Cocentaina and Alcoi near the Mas (farmhouse) de la Casablanca, district of Penàguila, and it would stretch up to the river Frainos (also known as Penàguila). The area would reach 2 km, huge at that time, and would exactly correspond to the location occupied today by the town of Benilloba. The Centre d’Estudis Contestans experts regret that this first-rate important archaeological site remains long-forgotten by Valencian medieval archaeology.

I will conclude with a couple of maps: the first is a 1:25 000-scale topographical work of Benilloba’s municipal district drawn by the Instituto geográfico y estadístico in 1898 that shows the term Plá de Pedrosa. The second is a 1:50 000-scale map of Alcoi by the  Instituto geográfico y catastral that displays Pla de la Petrosa, dated 1955 (7).

mapa terme B 1898 IGN
Terme de Benilloba, 1898,
mapa terme B 1898 IGN mini
Terme de Benilloba, 1898,
Alcoi, 1955,
MTN50-0821-1955-nnn-Alcoy mini
Alcoi, 1955, http://www.ign.e

Benilloba, february 2018


  • Jiménez Alcaide, Luis: Ocho siglos de moros y cristianos, Avant narrativa, 2016.
  • Manzano Moreno, Eduardo: «Épocas medievales» (volumen 2), Historia de España, Josep Fontana y Ramón Villares, Directores, Crítica-Marcial Pons, 2015.
  1. Guichard, Paul: “Un toponyme historique de l’ancienne Kura de Tudmir: Benicadell”, revista Murgetana, Real Academia Alfonso X el Sabio, Murcia.
  2. De Epalza Ferrer, Mikel: “L’ordenació del territori del País Valencià abans de la conquesta, segons Ibn-Al-Abbar (segle XIII)”, Revista Sharq Al-Andalus, nº 5 (1988), Universitat d’Alacant. ISSN 0213-3482, pp. 41-67.
  3. Sanchis Guarner, Manuel: Introducción a la historia lingüística de Valencia, Institución Alfonso el Magnánimo, 1948, Diputación Provincial de Valencia.
  4. Bazzana, André: Maisons d’al-Andalus. Habitat médiéval et structures de peuplement dans l’Espagne orientale, Casa de Vélzaquez, Madrid, 1992.
  5. Kiss, Débora Marcela: “La cerámica del Tossal del Moro (Benilloba, Alacant). Primeros resultados del estudio de los fondos depositados en el Centre d’Estudis Contestans”, Actas do Congresso Internacional “A cerâmica medieval no Mediterrâneo”, 2012. .
  6. Martí Ferrer, Pere y Martí Soler, Amparo: “El Comtat. Arqueologia i poblament d’un paisatge islamitzat”, Els musulmans al Comtat, Centre d’Estudis Contestans, Cocentaina, 2009.
  7. MINU 1870-1977 BY 4.0, Dirección General del Instituto Geográfico Nacional de España (IGN).

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