Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Monda, a secluded village. Monda, a town of an impeccably white spirit. Monda, the place of “sopas arrieras” –superb, hearty soups. Monda, a corner overlooking the snow-capped mountains and the river Guadalhorce. Monda, a town of rising castles and fresh flowing water. Monda, a must-visit. Monda, Al-Mundat. Monda, a place of legends and bloodstained almond trees. Monda, the alleged favourite place of Rome’s Caesar. Monda, the fields and the olive trees. Monda, the city praised by Umar ibn Hafsun. Monda, a town of watchtowers and Stations of the Cross. Monda, designated as a Picturesque Landscape in 1971. Monda, featuring a hundred plazas and small squares. Monda, a place to scour and devour.

Arrival and Tour Planning

The town emerges abruptly, a white hamlet among the olive groves. Mediterranean reminiscences, oil aromas, and the voice of Umar ibn Hafsun, who seems to dominate the village from up the castle. It’s a winding town, sprawling toward the slopes of the surrounding mountains. Its square roofs, clothes hanging in lines, become evident as soon as you arrive. Following the directions at the town centre, I found the free public parking area in Arroyo de La Lucía. It was easy to find a place, and the car park is in the heart of town. As I got out, I was met by the pleasant sounds of Monda, which would stay with me throughout the morning: the trill of birds and the whooshing flight of swallows. I didn’t have a route this time. I’d read about the sites of interest on the Costa del Sol Tourist Board website, and I just hoped I’d find them by following directions. I had a list of things to see: the Castle, El Lavadero de La Jaula, El Calvario, the four fountains, the Parish Church of Santiago, the Marigloria House Museum.

Breakfast chez Juan “Papa” or “El de las Papas”

Out of the parking area, I got to the main street, facing my first site: Fuente y Lavadero de la Jaula. But before I needed to get some breakfast, so I turned left towards Bar de la Rubia. Walking up the street, I found a newsagent’s where I bought some postcards and postage (€0.82). Up the street/ road of La Jaula, I arrived at Plaza de la Ermita, featuring the Coal Man Monument –a tribute to Monda’s workers. From there I could see Bar de la Rubia, or Bar de Juan Papa, a.k.a. as “Juan, el de las Papas.” I grabbed an outdoor table and couldn’t help but ask about the nickname. “Well, because I had to plant… I had to plant a great many potatoes,” the bar’s owner replies. He’s 77. “People used to ask, ‘Juan, where are you going with so many potatoes?’ And I used to say, ‘And they’re not too heavy! Not heavy at all!’” Juan’s bar is one of those places where you’ll have real homemade food –no additives–, served by kind, talkative waiters and listening to the owners’ stories for hours on end. There’re three of us this time. Our order: two cola drinks, coffee and milk for one, two bacon and cheese sandwiches (breads chosen: “pitufo” and “chapata”), one ham and cheese sandwich = €7. Words don’t come easy to describe the textures, the delicious smells, the intense flavours… Or better yet: they’re not necessary. Before leaving, Juan “Papa” brings a dish of olives “aliñás” (seasoned) by his daughter. “House olives,” he says proudly.

Lavadero de la Jaula

After breakfast, we walked back down the street/ road of La Jaula towards our first site: the fountain and washing place bearing the same name as the street itself. It’s in the heart of town, and it’s spotless white. It must have been Monda’s nerve centre in the past. The name, “La Jaula,” comes from “Al-Haura” in Arabic, meaning “on the outskirts” or “from the depths.” On a plate you can read a poem by Cristóbal Jiménez Encina: “Mystery lies in the murmur of the fountain, whose crystal water reflects the sky.” Later I’d learn that the fountain and washing place had recently been rehabilitated. It was about to spoil for lack of care. Now it’s glistening with white, accompanying travellers with its singing water. Next stop: the Parish Church of Santiago. After climbing the steps beginning at the fountain, I asked a local woman how to get to the church. She came along and gave me a lot of useful information.

Marigloria House Museum

We came to a fork and took the road on the right, opposite the Fuente de la Esquina (Corner’s Fountain) by a little square –there’re zillions in Monda, sheltered by the shadows cast by trees, ideal places for a break. The woman told us the Parish Church was closed. Pity. Instead, she suggested asking for permission at María Sánchez’s. Nice try, but she’d gone to Alhaurín el Grande. We could also ask at the Marigloria House Museum, which is closed too, but maybe they could help us anyway. After bidding farewell to this kind woman, we went to 2 Amargura Street, where the Marigloria House Museum is (just behind the little square we’d just been to). We knocked at the door and were welcomed by Marigloria herself. We told her we wanted to visit the Parish Church and a neighbour had said she might have the keys. Marigloria is a smiling, affable woman. She agreed to show us both her House Museum and the Parish Church, which is usually closed (we’d later learn why). The Marigloria House Museum is a journey back in time. It’s managed to keep the essence of country life in the mountains, immutability kindling the imagination. A silent rocking chair, wrought-iron beds, clay jars, glasses, and cups, a brazier oozing smells of orange tree logs, crooks, farming tools… Everything is so carefully yet naturally displayed, spic and span. It’s a living museum, a humble centre of ethnography in which everyday objects become symbols that remind us of past times. Little details, good company, simple life into the twenty-first century.

The Parish Church of Santiago in Flames

Marigloria took us to the Parish Church –a great housekeeper she was. It lay 100 metres from the House Museum, dominating the town’s main square, Plaza de Andalucía, which, as we gathered from comments heard here and there, Mondeños are really proud of. We came through the Church gate, where they were getting ready for the market on the following day, and got to a beautiful garden peppered with yellow, pink, and white rose trees, featuring the remains of a well pump. The Parish Church of Santiago has a naves and two aisles, two side doors, and a fenced front gate. It’s a simple, cool building, the image of Jesus of Nazareth under one of the two Baroque domes and the crosses used in the Easter procession as the most important objects in the eyes of parishioners. Thank God we got in. Marigloria told us a story about this church. Three years ago, in 2006, a local man tried to set the front gate on fire. The arsonist sprinkled it with some sort of flammable liquid and lighted it. The fence prevented the flames from reaching the wood, so nothing came of it. A few days later, the man gave it a second try. This time he used one of the side doors, which was unprotected. It burnt in the dead of night, and only fate decreed it should be a minor incident. A woman called the firemen, who arrived soon enough to put the flames out. The door had burnt irreparably and smoke had found its way into the church, painting all the walls in black. You wouldn’t have guess, looking at the building in 2009: incredibly white and in perfect condition. Maybe this is why locals watch visitors so zealously. We thanked Marigloria for her help and walked her back home. She told us that the steps to the right led to the Cruz de Caravaca lookout. We took note and said goodbye.

Cruz de Caravaca Lookout

On the same street as Marigloria’s House Museum, ten metres to the right, we saw the steps climbing a dirt and concrete road. Soon we could see the little niche bearing a cross on a lookout. We went up effortlessly, getting a glimpse of the whole of Monda below. A perfect panoramic view of the village: the Al-Mundat Castle and Hotel, the belfry of the Parish Church of Santiago in front, the crosses of El Calvario to the right, and endless olive groves against the horizon. I cooled myself down at the fountain behind the niche and took a seat in the shade, chatting with my travel companions about what we’d seen and looking at Monda’s winding layout, down from the surrounding mountains. Then we moved on, our next points being Fuente Mea Mea and El Calvario.

Fuente Mea Mea and El Calvario

Retracing our steps down Caravaca Street, we came back to Marigloria’s House Museum and turned left on Marbella Street, in search for the Mea Mea fountain. The name is intriguing; we can’t tell what it means. On Marbella Street towards the castle we stumbled upon the fountain, on the pavement to the right of the road. We drank its water and read a poem by Federico García Lorca above the spouts: “Bebe el agua tranquila de la canción añeja ¡arroyo claro, fuente serena!” (“Drink the calm water of ancient songs, clear stream, quiet fountain!”). Wet in the face and with Lorca’s words echoing in our heads, we went in the opposite direction towards Plaza de Andalucía and the Parish Church of Santiago. The road along the right side of the church brought us to Cruz del Carnero, marking the old entrance to the graveyard. A simple wooden cross; an omen of a gloomy place. Ahead there was the Town Hall. We took the street to it, booming with colourful flowers, with pots and hidden paths and patios, which you can make out through the doors ajar. It’s always pleasant to get lost in the charming alleys, stroll quietly along, taking in the essence of Málaga and Andalusia. Back to the street/ road of La Jaula towards Coín to the crosses of El Calvario. They’re easy to find: a 5’ to 10’ walk, up to the road out of town. Next to a large olive grove, we saw a road going up the mountain. By the road, the threshing floor and El Calvario. White, immaculate under the bright blue sky. Three crosses glinting under the sun mark the end of the Holy Week’s Stations of the Cross. You can hear the cicadas and the birds flying over. The crosses cast powerful shadows, behind which we could see the olive-lined horizon. Leaning against the stone ledge around the crosses, we realised we were hungry.


We were recommended several restaurants. We wanted to taste the typical local soup, “sopa mondeña,” but we decided against it because of the heat. We’d have to wait until March and return for the Festival of Sopa Mondeña, which drew over 7,000 people this year on March 22. If you want to see what it takes, click on Sopa Mondeña. The festival has been designated as a Singular Fiesta of Provincial Tourist Interest. But then again, it was too hot to try the soup. We chose Balcón de la Jaula, whose tables are scattered on a terrace overlooking the fountain. Sheltered by the trees, we could feel the fresh flowing water. The place is great for kids, as there’s a playground for them next door. Our meal for three included two Cola drinks, a glass of wine, a large bottle of water, an Alpujata-style salad, kid lamb, charcoal-grilled entrecote, and chicken brochette, plus coffees qualifying as dessert. Bill = €57.30. That is, almost €20 per guest. Generous servings, delicious salad (including avocado, lettuce, corn, and orange), meat done to a turn, huge kid lamb. The after-lunch conversation was extremely pleasant. We had one last site to see.

Castillo de Al-Mundat or La Villeta

After going back for our car, we drove along the street/ road of La Jaula towards Guaro (to the right). There’re two ways of reaching the Castle: following the streets in town or using a steeper slope on the outskirts. We chose the latter. Off the town centre and down a hill we found a bend and a signpost indicating how to get to the Castle. Up where the Castle lies, crowning the mountain, there’s a parking area. The original castle had been built in the third century A.D. under the Romans. Nothing remains of it. Perhaps you can get a glimpse of the building sketched by Umar ibn Hafsun. The castle is now a luxury hotel whose guestrooms are better called chambers and whose halls can hold big celebrations –even wedding parties. The hotel also features a swimming pool, a solarium, a restaurant, and all the facilities of a luxury establishment. Staffers welcomed us in. They allowed us to go to the cafeteria, where we had Monda at our feet, with the Montes de Málaga jutting out of the horizon. With the scent of the surrounding pine trees, the Castle is but a shadow of its former self. Clinging to my medieval spirit, I decided to keep the legend of Monda’s Bloodstained Almond Tree, which you can read in the charming words of José Antonio Molero. I could still sense the presence of the ghosts of the past when I bade farewell to Monda. Sunset descended on Sierra de las Nieves, songs of everyday chores, birds, and water spouts coming from the town centre. A fresh look at Monda: lost in the maze of winding streets, I thought I could make out a beautiful girl. Her name could be Beatriz, like the girl in the legend of the almond tree.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do: Monda is a small town and the parking area is in the heart of it. So leave your car there and do everything on foot. The only thing you can use it for is the climb to the castle, which can be covered by walking as well.
What to eat: Sopa mondeña is a hearty soup –a typical mountain dish. It’s not the right choice for summer visitors, but if you come here in autumn, don’t miss it.
Useful links: You’ll find a lot of information on Monda on the website of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board or that of Sierra de las Nieves, the region Monda belongs to. Monda’s local website contains useful and updated information on special events going on in town.

Comments, suggestions, and opinions from travellers/visitors to this blog are very welcome. See you under the Bright Blue Sky.