Villarreal was founded on 20 February 1274 by King James I of Aragon (hence its royal status), to strengthen his reconquest of Eastern Spain from the Moors. It was placed strategically on the ancient Via Augusta 65km north from Valencia, and in the outskirts of the then-Muslim stronghold of Borriana. It was founded with royal status, with representation in the Valencian Parliament and Delegation of the Kingdom, and had the privilege of using the royal standard as its ensign. Villarreal was part of the royal sector of the Valencian Parliament and had an active say in its affairs.
The original town surrounded with wall, expanded outside from the 14th century due to an increase of population. The demographic and economic imbalances which characterise the 15th century carried on into the beginning of the 16th with constant conflicts with the Mudejars (remaining Muslims in the Christian realms) of the nearby dominions and in a short, but very active participation, in favour of the Criminal slangs.
During the 16th century, the farming land began to be extended and enhanced by drilling wells to obtain water and convert dry land into irrigated fields, making it possible to begin commercial agriculture in the 17th century. After its disastrous participation in the War of the Spanish Succession, in the second half of the 18th century, the first industries were established, mainly for textiles. Also during that time, the city became involved in various revolts and wars which changed Spain's political make-up.
In the 19th century, the cultivation and trade of orange was introduced, which gave the town great economic progress, led both by businessmen and by farmers' associations or "cooperatives". After the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), the earnings obtained from the orange trade allowed several entrepreneurs to build ceramic tile factories as a way to diversify their industries. Ceramics has continued to expand up to the present day, and is now Villareal's main economic activity.
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