THE ALPUJARRAS Robert Bovington
© 2009 Robert Bovington. All rights reserved. an extract from “SPANISH IMPRESSIONS” (ISBN 978-1-4452-2543-2) also by Robert Bovington “SPANISH MATTERS” ISBN 978-1-4452-0773-5
Whenever I feel like a bit of relief from the relentless sunshine of the coastal region of southern Spain, I head for the mountains and, in particular, the Sierra Nevada. I still find it amazing that when the temperature on the coast is 20Âş centigrade or more, I can gaze at the distant mountains and see snow on the higher peaks. Granted that this is mostly in January and February but in less than two hours drive from the coast, I can be in the cooler atmosphere of the Sierra Nevada. It is the highest mountain chain in the Iberian Peninsula higher than the Pyrenees and in all of Spain, only Mount Teide in the Canaries is higher. At an impressive 3,482 metres above sea level, MulhacĂŠn is the highest mountain in the range. There are fourteen other peaks over 3,000 metres! 4
Sierra Nevada near Puerta de Ragua
The Sierra Nevada is both a National Park and a Biosphere Reserve, thanks to its rich ecological diversity and cultural heritage. The mountains teem with wildlife. Ibex share their habitat with wild boar and wildcats whilst in the air, owls, sparrow hawks and eagles soar. Further down, in the Alpujarras, squirrels, badgers, foxes, lizards and turtles are to be found and all manner of birds including robins, chaffinches, woodpeckers, wood pigeons and the hoopoe. In the rivers are trout and salmon. There is a pretty good range of flora too - a recent census revealed that 2100 different types of plant exist in the Sierra Nevada National Park! Chestnut trees, in particular, are abundant here and the local Alpujarran architecture incorporates chestnut beams. The diversity of flora and fauna is not the only thing that has contributed to the Sierra Nevada's distinctiveness. The ancient Roman and Arab monuments, the local architecture and the traditional religious festivals have all played their part in making this area of Spain different. The people who live and work in this region have also been an important factor - whether they are engaged in fruit and vegetable cultivation, animal husbandry, forestry or ecotourism, they have helped the Sierra Nevada achieve UNESCO Biosphere status. The Sierra Nevada is dotted with pueblos blancos - these villages of whitewashed houses appear to tumble down the southern slopes of the mountains. This is the area known as the Alpujarras and it is popular with tourists who are drawn to the area because of the picturesque villages and the stunning mountain scenery. It is a nature lover's delight. Torrents cascading down from the frozen summits of the high Sierra have cut deep ravines into the rock leaving the lower slopes a brilliant green. Olive and almond 5
trees abound and, as one travels higher into the Alpujarras, oak, chestnut and pine forests flourish. Every season in the Alpujarras is special - even winter with its orange trees heavy with fruit. Chris Stewart, in his best-selling book 'Driving over Lemons' tells a riveting tale of life on a remote farm in the Alpujarras. When we moved to Spain my wife and I, for a number of practical reasons - like not wanting the hard work that comes with working a farm, decided to live on the coast. However, intrigued by Chris Stewart's book, we started to regularly go on trips into the Alpujarras, which are only an hour's drive away from our home in Roquetas de Mar. The region has become one of our favourite places and we regularly visit the pueblos blancos of the Alpujarras - places like Ugíjar in the province of Granada. Ugíjar is one of the easterly towns of the Granada Alpujarras - the westerly towns being Lanjarón and Órgiva. However, that is only half the story - a large part of the Alpujarras is located in Almería province! La Alpujarra Almeriense may not be as well known as the Granada Alpujarra but it is, nevertheless, an exceptional place.
The whole region is special and one of great natural beauty. The valleys of the western Alpujarras are among the most fertile in Spain, though the steep nature of the terrain means that they can only be cultivated in small fields, so that many modern agricultural techniques are impractical. However, that adds to the charm of the area - at least for us idle buggers who don't have to work the fields. On a recent walk along the GR7 footpath, near the delightful little town of VĂĄlor, I saw a farmer ploughing the side of a hill using a horse and plough! Whole mountainsides are given over to growing things - many hillsides are terraced - a legacy of the Moors who also built irrigation channels - acequias - to bring water from the high Sierra to irrigate the crops. The region contains an abundance of fruit trees, especially grape vines, oranges, lemons, persimmons, figs and almonds. The eastern Alpujarra, in the province of AlmerĂa, is more arid, but still highly attractive and still rich in fruit bearing trees especially grape, olive and citrus varieties. Many peoples tried to conquer this mountainous area but it was finally the Moors who succeeded in settling in the Alpujarras. They were the only owners of this region for hundreds of years and even after the fall of Granada in 1492 they were allowed to remain there. Only after the Morisco Revolt of 1568 were these enterprising people forced to leave. The influence of the Moorish population can be seen in the agriculture, the local cuisine, the local carpet weaving and the numerous Arabic place names. The houses of the Alpujarras are quite charming with little chimneys sticking out as a reminder that the winter evenings can be a tad chilly. The houses are built of stone, adobe and clay and their 7
façades whitewashed. The distinct cubic construction of these buildings is reminiscent of Berber architecture in Morocco's Atlas Mountains. The steepness of the land means that the houses in the villages seem to be piled on top of one another. Their characteristic flat roofs, distinctive roofed chimneys, and balconies - tinaos extending across the steep narrow streets give them a unique and picturesque appearance - from a distance the villages appear to cling precariously to the mountainside. There are many villages in the region, the largest being Lanjarón, Órgiva, Ugíjar, Laujar de Andarax and Berja. All are situated at a considerable elevation but Trevélez, at 1476 metres above sea level, is the highest town in Spain. Most of the villages are delightful places to live in or visit but the three pueblos blancos in the gorge of the Río Poqueira Pampaneira, Bubión and Capileira - have become recognised tourist destinations and are very popular with walkers. There are many other traditional villages of similar appearance including Mecina Bombarón and Laroles in Granada province together with the Almerian villages of Ohanes, Padules and Alboloduy. Let's discover some of them! Driving from Granada or the Costa Tropical into the Alpujarras, the first town one encounters is Lanjarón. It is famous for its thermal baths and medicinal waters. It is very popular with tourists including a high number of wrinklies - all searching for remedies for rheumatism and arthritis because the spa baths are said to have curative powers! Like other Alpujarran villages, Lanjarón has Moorish origins and there is an old Moorish castle there. Well, 8
it wouldn't be a new Moorish castle would it - the Moors have long gone! The castle is in ruins but it is worth a visit for the excellent panoramic views. Órgiva is a small town in Granada province. It is a popular tourist destination. It is a good place to shop - woven rugs, baskets, pottery and cured mountain ham can be purchased in this attractive little market town, which lies in a fertile valley of olive, lemon and orange groves. It was made the capital of the Granada Alpujarras in 1839 and is the gateway to the Alpujarra Alta - the delightful villages of Capileira, Bubión and Pampaneira in the Poqueira Gorge are a short drive away and Trevélez, the highest village in Spain, is not too far. Órgiva is not too endowed with noteworthy monuments but it does have an attractive 16th century church - the delightfully named Iglesia Nuestra Señora de la Expectación. Its twin towers dominate the town's skyline. Other important buildings include the palatial house of the former Dukes of Sástago and the 16th century Palace of the Duke of Arco. The town also has a few ruins - sorry I mean archaeological relics including the remains of an Arab tower.
The aforementioned monuments are a testimony to the town's historic past and a number of important personages have resided there. Boabdil, the last king of Granada, lived there for a while. Following his surrender in 1492, the Catholic Monarchs granted him an estate in Órgiva but a year later, he continued his 9
exile in Morocco. The estate was taken over by Don Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, a Spanish military leader who had distinguished himself in the war against the Muslim kingdom of Granada. Other important residents included the Duke of Sesa, the Duke and Duchess of Córdoba and Ayala, the Marquis of Balençuela, and the Count and Countess of Sástago. These days, the inhabitants are not so distinguished - many of them are Northern Europeans looking for an alternative lifestyle. However, Chris Stewart, the author of a number of books about life in the Alpujarras, is a frequent visitor to the town. His farm at El Valero is not far from Órgiva. Capileira, at 1436 metres, is the highest of the three Alpujarran villages in the Poqueira valley. Like the other settlements in the Alpujarra, it has narrow streets and its houses have been adapted to the needs of the steep terrain and the local climate they are whitewashed, have flat roofs and are reminiscent of the architecture of North Africa.
In the centre of the village, a museum displays the arts and popular customs of the Alpujarra. There is also an 18th century church - the Iglesia Parroquial de Santa María la Mayor. However, most people who visit Capileira do so in order to walk - Capileira is a centre for walking and for accessing the mountains especially Mulhacén, which is generally treated as a twoday climb from Capileira with an overnight stop at a mountain refuge en route. Well, they can't drive that way! The Sierra Nevada Highway used to run through Capileira and out across the Sierra Nevada towards the city of Granada. However, motor traffic is no longer permitted beyond Capileira. 10
If you do decide to walk in the Sierra Nevada, take care - in 2004 some experienced British walkers lost their lives when the weather changed for the worse! Personally, I would only walk up there in the summer - at those altitudes it is bloody cold! In any case, I prefer to walk between the villages of the Poqueira Gorge. Pampaneira to Capileira via Bubión is a pleasant walk. Mulhacén looms over Trevélez, an attractive village of whitewashed houses and narrow alleyways. The town is famous for its ham and there are many secaderos (drying sheds) in the village that is also famous for being the highest municipality in Spain. I cannot tell you with any degree of accuracy exactly how high the village is as every travel guide and Website that I have looked at has given a different figure ranging from 1,476 to 1750 metres. Most indicate a height of around 1600m so I think it is safe to say that Trevélez is over 5000 feet around sea level!
Yegen is a little village situated in the easterly part of the Alpujarra of Granada. The Alto de San Juan lies to the north of the village. It is one of the lesser peaks of the Sierra Nevada National Park but it is still pretty high with an altitude of 9,000 feet. Yegen, itself, is 4000 feet above sea level and to the south, below the village, are the valleys of Cádiar and Ugíjar. Opposite is the Sierra de la Contraviesa, which can provide tantalising glimpses of the Mediterranean beyond. In the immediate vicinity of the village are forests of chestnut above the village and further up poplar. Below are groves of orange and olive. 11
Yegen is not as picturesque as villages like Pampaneira and Capileira - nor as large as Órgiva and Ugíjar. However, it is worthy of mention because it was the setting for 'South from Granada' by the celebrated English author Gerald Brenan. He lived in Yegen between 1920 and 1930. A number of famous friends visited him there including Virginia Woolf. Brenan was one of the foremost English chroniclers of Spain and its people. He wrote 'The Spanish Labyrinth' and 'The Face of Spain' but it was 'South from Granada' for which he is most famous. It was his autobiography of his time in Yegen. There is a plaque over the door of the house where the author lived and one of the streets in the village is named after him. There is even a 'Sendero de Gerald Brenan' footpath - it is one of a number of walking routes in the vicinity of Yegen. The long distance GR7 passes nearby. It is part of the International E-4 footpath that runs all the way from Tarifa to Greece. So even without Gerald Brenan, Yegen can lay claim to being well and truly on the map!
Válor is one of my favourite places in the Alpujarras. It is quite charming. The little white houses tumble down the hillside; a Mudéjar-style church projects above the rooftops of the lower part of the town and brightly coloured flower-pots, containing 12
geraniums and other vibrantly coloured blooms, peer from behind window-grilles. The snow-covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada in the distance all create a captivating scene. Whenever we are in the vicinity of Válor, my wife and I often dine at 'El Puente', a tastefully decorated restaurant that serves reasonable meals at even more reasonable prices. The menú del día is usually a good bet although I occasionally 'pig out' on the local plato alpujarreño - the local equivalent of bacon, sausage, egg and chips! Opposite the restaurant is an attractive little garden with mosaic paving, a pond and benches. Nearby, the views across the orange groves to the Ugíjar valley and the Sierras Gádor and Contraviesa beyond are quite spectacular.
The vista is probably not very different to that experienced by Don Fernando de Córdoba over four hundred years ago! The Moors ruled over the Iberian Peninsula and Andalucía in particular, for hundreds of years until, in the fifteenth century, the 'Catholic 13
Monarchs' began to take control. On 2 January 1492 Boabdil, the last king of the Moorish kingdom of Al-Andalus handed over the keys of the city of Granada to the 'Catholic Monarchs'. The Unification of Spain was complete. As part of the surrender agreement Ferdinand and Isabella, the Christian monarchs, promised to respect the religion and customs of those who remained in the country. This promise was not kept. The Moors resented the way the Christians were treating them and rebelled. The leader of the rebellion was Don Fernando de Córdoba, known as Abén Humeya. He was born and lived in Válor. In 1568, during the uprising, there were many bloody battles in this area of the Alpujarras. One of them took place near Paterna del Río. The Christian troops of Marqués de Mondéjar killed 4000 Moors. Eventually the Moors were expelled from Spain and the Alpujarras repopulated by Christians. That is the end of my little history lesson. Let us continue with the journey... Ugíjar is one of the largest communities in the region and quite different to the other pueblos blancos that dot the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada. Like the other white villages of the Alpujarra, Ugíjar does have narrow, winding stone-paved streets lined with houses that resemble those of northern Africa with their whitewashed façades and flat roofs. However, the town is notable for the fact that many of its houses have tiled roofs, which is unusual for the Alpujarras. Some of these houses are quite grand and were built in the 16th & 17th centuries for the many Ugíjar feria wealthy merchants who lived there. 14
The village may not be as quaint as others in the Alpujarras probably because it is bigger and has more commercial enterprises such as a petrol station, several banks, shops, an oil mill and a municipal market. However, what the town might lack in visual splendour it more than makes up for with its history. Local legend has it that Ulysses stayed here after the Trojan War. It is said that Calypso detained him here for seven years. It is also alleged that Ulysses looked for gold in the river Nechite while he was here. I don't know about that. From my memory of Homer's 'Odyssey', Ulysses did travel as far as the 'Pillars of Hercules' which historians place at the straits of Gibraltar, so maybe his journeys included Spain. What is not in dispute is that Ugíjar was part of the Kingdom of Granada until 1492, the year of Boabdil's surrender to the 'Catholic Kings'. Up until that time, the town produced silk, cotton and linen and this was exported to other Mediterranean countries via the port of Almería. A sign of the town's previous affluence is demonstrated by the fact that many of the buildings have towers and roof tiles. Apart from the attractive ancestral homes, there are a number of other interesting buildings including the parish church - the Iglesia de la Virgen del Martirio - built in Mudéjar style. Other buildings of religious importance are the Ermita de San Antón, the Ermita de Santa Lucia and the Franciscan Convent of Saint John the Baptist. Laujar de Andarax is a town in La Alpujarra Almeriense - in other words, it is located in the province of Almería. It has a special charm and a turbulent 15
Laujar de Andarax
history. It nestles in a fertile valley between the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and the mountains of the Sierra de Gádor in a delightful setting, located near the source of the Andarax River that supplies water to the numerous fountains in the town. There are a number of fine buildings too and none more so than its principal church - Iglesia Parroquial de la Encarnación. Dating from the 17th century, this Mudéjar building with a Baroque finish is quite attractive. Inside, are paintings from the Dutch School. The church is known as the 'Cathedral of the Alpujarra'. I am not sure whether it is because of its large size or because of its history. It was built on the foundations of a mosque. I do not know if it was the original mosque that was set on fire in 1500 with the population inside - they were hiding there during the first Moorish revolt. What I do know is that the entire Moorish population was obliged to convert to Christianity or leave the kingdom. Those Moors who converted were known as Moriscos. Later, 1568-71, there was a second Alpujarras rebellion. The leader of this revolt was the aforementioned Abén Humeya, King of the Moriscos. However, his nephew Aben Aboo assassinated him and proclaimed himself as his uncle's successor. He established the capital of his kingdom in Laujar. Following many bloody battles, the Moriscos were finally expelled from the Alpujarras. This town, like many others, was left deserted for many years until people from outside the Kingdom of Granada repopulated it. Today, Laujar de Andarax is a thriving town and it is still a capital it is the capital of the Alpujarra of Almería. It is well known for it's wine and there are a number of bodegas that welcome visitors. It is 16
one of the most accessible places in the Alpujarras being only a 40minute drive from the coastal town of Almerimar. I frequently visit Laujar to purchase some of its local produce - particularly honey and the delicious soplillos, which are chewy meringues made with almonds. However, there is another reason I visit the town. About 1 kilometre north of Laujar is 'El Nacimiento' - a delightful area of waterfalls, picnic areas and places to walk. My wife and I usually go there in spring and autumn on weekdays and, mostly, we have the place to ourselves. It is a haven of peace and tranquillity. Nacimiento means 'birth' and it is here that the Río Andarax starts its journey to the sea near Almería. I have mentioned just a handful of the numerous pueblos blancos in this delightful region. All share the distinction of having that special charm that derives from their Islamic heritage dating back to the times of Al-Andalus - the peculiar architecture that resembles that of Northern Africa; the irrigation network of acequias and the terraced hillsides with their patchwork of almond trees, vineyards and orchards. Yet the villages of the Alpujarras are diverse each village has different customs and all, in their different ways, contribute to the economy of the region. Every village produces its own food and wine and many are famous for their products outside of the Alpujarras Laujar, Albondón and Padules for their wine, Lanjarón for its water, Canjáyar and Cherín for olive oil, Murtas for its honey and Trevélez for its
mountain ham. Crafts too are important in the region - leather goods from Capileira; textiles from Bubión, Pampaneira and Ugíjar; pottery, ceramics and jewellery from Órgiva; perfume from Cádiar; handicrafts made from metal, wood, glass, leather or esparto grass are produced in villages throughout the Alpujarras. All these, day-to-day, activities are carried out whilst maintaining the allure of the region. There are not many places in the modern world that can lay claim to preserving its beauty, traditions and way of life. The Alpujarras can - no wonder that it is such a special place!
Aboloduy (Alpujarra Almeriense)
Ohanes (Alpujarra Almeriense)
also by the author: SPANISH MATTERS ISBN 978-1-4452-0773-5 SPANISH IMPRESSIONS ISBN 978-1-4452-2543-2 SPANISH VISIONS ISBN 978-1-4457-4447-6 available in paperback and e-book format from www.lulu.com
Robert Bovington is an English writer living in Spain. After working in both the telecommunications industry and the teaching profession, Robert Bovington wanted to take on new challenges. He and his wife, Diane decided to relocate to Spain and, in 2003, the couple moved to Roquetas de Mar in sunny AndalucĂa. However, lazing on the beach was not Robert's idea of fun - he wanted to explore his new homeland. It didn't stop there! Robert was so impressed with his new homeland, its countryside, its historic cities and its culture that it inspired him to write about his experiences.