Among Aspe’s earliest references are several pieces of evidence of ancient prehistoric settlements. These were first mentioned by Mr Jimenez de Cisneros, marking the beginning of geological and prehistorical research in this section of the Vinalopo river basin in 1906.
Following the finding of lithic remains attributed to the Mousterian period, Aspe was cited as a benchmark site in what is considered to be the first Spanish Prehistory manual, The Fossil Man, published by H. Obermaier in 1916.
However, it was not until the end of the 20th century that the first in-depth research study was undertaken in the “Vinalopo terraces”. A denomination was given by J. Ribelles to several areas where the lithic industries were dispersed over, comprising gentle mounts and hills marked by ravines that descend into Vinalopo river, the best known of which is Barranco de la Coca ravine.
According to the most recent data, it has been concluded that this wide dispersion of Mousterian materials was due to the presence of supply areas and flint carvings connected with groups of Neanderthal hunter-gatherers. All the above sites have been dated in the Middle Palaeolithic period.
At the moment, there have been no findings of Cro-Magnon men nor any remains from the Neolithic or Copper Age (also known as the Eneolithic or Aeneolithic). Aspe’s earliest human settlements featuring stone constructions date back to the Bronze Age and are located in four sites: La Horna, Tabaya, Mesa de Piedra and Tres Hermanas. Some of the materials found in these settlements were: ceramic fragments, stone mills and flint sickle flakes that can be viewed in Aspe’s History Museum. Among those sites, El Tabaya is one of the most interesting examples of the Spanish Mediterranean Bronze Age. Located in a privileged position in terms of visual control over the mid Vinalopo river section and its valleys, in addition to the low Vinalopo river section and coastline, this probably explains why it remained under continuous occupation between 3,000 and at least 2,000 BC, although probably also until 500 BC (pending confirmation regarding the source of the latest finds).
Iberian culture developed in the area from the 6th century BC onwards, with several settlements identified around Aspe: El Gorroquinto, El Tolomo, Castillo del Rio and Tres Hermanas. Moreover, in recent years, a new archaeological site known as Altos de Jaime was discovered near Castillo del Rio.
However, it was not until Roman times that Aspe’s historical period truly began. Classical authors such as Ptolemy mentioned the town of Iaspis in a Greek language text dating from the 2nd century AD when referring to the settlements located in the Iberian region of Contestania. A further mention of Aspis is found in the “Itinerario Antonino”, (3nd century AD) a compilation of roads from the Roman Empire. Aspis was probably a group of farmsteads located at the intersection of the Tarafa-Vinalopo river courses. A stop and supply point in the Via Augusta road that ran from Rome to Cartagena along the Mediterranean coast during the 2nd century AD.
Aspis’ survival into the Visigoth era has been confirmed thanks to the discovery of the following sites: Castillo del Rio and its necropolis, a settlement in the rural district of Verdegas, and Vistalegre necropolis.
During the Muslim period, Aspe was located in the same site as the Roman town of Aspis, i.e., at the intersection of Tarafa and Vinalopo rivers. At that point, (11th century) it was part of the so-called Cora de Tudmir province. Although it frequently changed rulers and, by the end of the century, it would become part of the Taifa of Denia kingdom. During this period, the town was known as Ash, according to a quote by the Arabic geographer Al-Udri in his publication Tarsi al-Ajbar, where he described the places he found along the route between Murcia and Jativa.
Castillo del Rio, a fortified Arabic enclosure, marks the location of what is now known as “Old Aspe” following the foundation of a new settlement known as “New Aspe” in the 13th century, This new location was intended to take further advantage of the Tarafa river flow that was channelled via the Fauqui and Aljau irrigation channels to create large, very fertile patches of land. Meanwhile, all new constructions were situated in areas that were unsuitable for irrigation around the current Plaza Mayor square with an irregular road layout, featuring plenty of dead ends and sharp corners. Until the mid 13th century, there were two different communities that were known to co-exist until the passing of Zayd Abu Zayd, the last landowner from Old Aspe, in 1270. After this event, Castillo del Rio and Old Aspe were never mentioned again.
After King James I of Aragon reconquered the area for the Christians, Aspe’s historical evolution was determined in 1244 by the Treaty of Almizra, whereby Aspe was incorporated into the Kingdom of Castile. In 1296, James II of Aragon captured these lands and brought Aspe under the control of the Muslim Lord of Crevillente. And when the title was abolished in 1318, it became part of Orihuela’s General Governance.
In 1304, a new treaty of Torrellas was signed between Castile and Aragon that modified the border between both kingdoms. Under this agreement, Aspe returned to the kingdom of Valencia and, therefore, to the crown of Aragon.
During its late medieval period, Aspe was under the control of a Lord, meaning that its administration was granted to a specific nobleman by royal decree.
During the “War of the Two Peters” (1356-1369) between Peter I (Castile) and Peter IV (Aragon), which was fought on these lands, there were significant damages to crops, livestock, trade and particularly, a large decrease in population. When the war ended, Aspe was donated to the English knight Sir Hugh Calviley, captain of the Free Companies, who sold it back to the crown of Aragon in 1383. Subsequently, and for a period of two years, Peter IV donated Aspe to his fourth wife Sibila de Fortia as a wedding dowry. However his successor, John I of Aragon, deprived his stepmother of all her possessions and granted these to his own wife, Violante de Bar. Later on, in 1424, Aspe was again sold to the Aragonese nobleman Alfonso Ximen Perez de Corella. His family would continue to rule over Aspe and Elda for seventy-three years.
In 1497, Gutierre de Cardena purchased the village of Aspe from Joan Roig de Corella, before creating a marquisate together with the towns of Elche and Crevillente. All three villages, in addition to the town of Torrijos and other villages, remained under the same Lordship until the 19th century.
At the beginning of the 17th century, Aspe’s history was marked by the expulsion of the Moors. This resulted in most of its population abandoning the town in 1609, leaving it was almost empty with all rural activities paralysed and, in general terms, most of its trade remaining in a standstill. Peoples from other areas were therefore attracted by the Lord who ruled the village in an attempt to mitigate the drop in population. This resulted in the creation of the “Municipal charter” on 22th May 1611, whereby the Duke of Maqueda donated plots of land to the new settlers. With most of the taxes being collected by the Lords of Maqueda- Arcos- Altamira estate, it was them who promoted and provided funds for the construction of Aspe’s most particular buildings: the Town Hall finished in 1641, the hospital, the Palace Hall and the Parochial church, where construction works began in the late 17th century.
During the 18th century, there was a significant rise in population that resulted in Aspe’s urban expansion. Some preserved documents reveal the creation of a new suburb featuring straight roads named Our Virgen de las Nieves, La Cruz, Nueva y Sol, in addition to several additional adjacent streets. However, this period was also noted by intermittent but frequent moments of crisis, caused by droughts and epidemics.
With the 19th century, the town underwent important administrative changes. 1834 saw the creation of the province Alicante, while in 1839, Hondon de las Nieves district was split. In 1851, a series of legal stipulations marked the end of the feudal regime and all landowner rights belonging to the Altamira Estate were sold to several local leaseholders.
In the final decades of this century and the early 20th century, the town was driven by a new urban development phase during which several buildings were erected. Some examples of these are the food market, Our Virgen de las Nieves Care Home, the New schools and Wagner Theatre.
Following a stagnation period during the first half of the 20th century, Aspe experienced a truly spectacular boom after the 1950’s both in terms of population numbers as well as in regards to its different economic activities: agriculture, industry and services. Agriculture was profoundly transformed, not only by a large increase of irrigation, but also due to focusing all agricultural land towards the national and international market driven supply of dessert grapes and other fruit crops.