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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: Aκρα Λευκa, 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; 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 11th 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 the King James II of Aragon. It gained the status of Royal Village (Vila Reial) with representation in the medieval Valencian Parliament.
After several decades of being the battlefield where Kingdom of Castile and the Crown of Aragón 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 allegiance 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 which enjoyed the benefit of Spain's neutrality during World War I, which 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. Even if not as famous as the bombing of Guernica by the German Luftwaffe, Alicante was the target of some vicious air bombings during the three years of civil conflict, most remarkably 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 it was for the entire country. However, the late 1950s and early 1960s saw the onset of a lasting transformation of the city due to tourism. Large buildings and complexes rose in nearby Albufereta and Playa de San Juan, with the benign climate being the best tool to bring prospective buyers and tourists who kept hotels reasonably busy. The tourist development, aside from construction, also brought numerous businesses such as restaurants, bars and other activities focused on visitors. Also, the old airfield at Rabasa was closed and air traffic moved to the new El Altet Airport, which made for a convenient facility for charter flights bringing tourists from northern European countries.
When dictator Franco died in 1975, his successor Juan Carlos I oversaw the transition of Spain to a democratic constitutional monarchy. Governments of nationalities and regions were given more autonomy, including the Valencian region.
Today, Alicante is one of the fastest-growing cities in Spain. The local economy is based 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.