Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Guaro: the town of oil and tender olives. Guaro: counties and travellers. Guaro: white snow, valleys, and a mountainous skyline. Guaro: facing the moon in the eye –the moon of the Moors, the Moorish moon, the black-eyed moon, the moon like a burning candle. Guaro: a town for an invigorating walk. Guaro: a place full of beautiful, discreet, secret corners. Guaro: the town of flowery streets, keeping the scent of an eventful history. Guaro: a devotee of St Michael, a bold saint and a devil hunter. Guaro: a town at the crossroads.

Getting Close

In the morning, you can hear the cicadas crouching in the trees. It’s an endless, persistent sound, a harbinger of heat evoking summer’s festive, colourful atmosphere. The cicadas climb onto the olive trees perched on the surrounding mountains –rolling hills everywhere, the village clinging to one of them. High up, the skyline is most unusual: Sierra de las Nieves to the east and south, Valle del Guadalhorce to the north, Montes de Málaga to the west. The town is therefore at the crossroads, and this is why it became one of travellers’ favourites, sheltering them from indiscreet looks behind the craggy hills. The olive trees hide an intricate maze of old alleys where you can feel the essence of traditional Málaga.

Arrival and Breakfast

Following directions, I came to the town centre, only to be welcomed by a palm-lined avenue, Avenida de Andalucía, leading to the heart of town. Past the square, the streets get narrower, so the best thing to do is park on the avenue and walk 200m to the maze of broken alleys. It’s early in the morning, and a Málaga-style breakfast is a luxury you can’t miss: muffins, rolls, toast, slices of bread, ham and cheese sandwiches, bacon, tomato, oil, garlic, spicy pork sausage, pâté, and a wide array of coffee types and their funny names: nubes, sombras, corto, mitad… My breakfast bill = €4.40.
Toward the Town Centre and the Al-Andalus Cultural Centre

Having replenished my energy reserves, depleted after waking up at the crack of dawn, I set out on my tour. Walking along the avenue, I glanced sideways at the streets and their intricate broken patterns, making the roots of Guaro. Some houses feature grilled patios brimming with flowers, showing their best profile to passers-by. Before entering the maze, I came across the Al-Andalus Cultural Centre (the Ethnographic Museum), a Mozarabic tower built in the guise of nineteenth-century olive oil mills (so an information board read). Inside, I found lots of brochures, maps, and information on Sierra de las Nieves and lodging. The first floor is a journey through the past and present of the local oil making industry. An old mill stood there, in great condition, its parts well-preserved, almost ready to use: the press, the millstone, the hydraulic system, the straps used to exert pressure and produce the first oil from crushed olives. If you ask the museum’s staff, they can show you how it works, making that weird, purring sound as its parts move. The Al-Andalus Cultural Centre serves as an exhibition room and event venue. When I visited it, there were photographs of Sierra de las Nieves’s flora and fauna –a complete catalogue of flowers, plants, and insects living in this Biosphere Reserve, a recipient of EU’s EDEN award (European Destinations of Excellence) in 2008 for its intangible asset conservation efforts. A nice place to see in an interesting, educational outing. Moreover, the brochures and maps help in a tour of Guaro and the surrounding area. I left the olive oil tower behind and went down into the alluring labyrinth.

Hanging Out: Marmolejo Olive Oil Museum

Suddenly, everything got narrower, as if sucked by a centrifugal force into the town centre. I went in along Andalucía Avenue. Although it’s a two-way artery, you’d better leave your car parked before reaching the maze. Coy wooden doors hid cool patios. Shady secrets below the fountains’ murmurs. In a secluded corner, I came to a fountain dedicated to St Isidore, the patron saint of peasants, who has a pre-eminent place in Guaro, agriculture being one of the basic economic activities. The avenue leads to the town square, featuring several wrought-iron benches and a refreshing fountain. Coming across a newsagent’s on my way, I got myself some stamps; I’d bought a postcard at the Al-Andalus Cultural Centre, so in the shadow of the fountain I wrote a few lines and threw it in a nearby letter box. My next stop was at the Marmolejo Olive Oil Museum: an old house rehabilitated by the Marmolejo family including even a granary. The museum used to be on the outskirts, but as Guaro sprawled, it took it in, so that now it’s part of the town centre. To get to the museum, I walked across the town square to Dr Millán Peña Street, then I climbed down Parras Street until I found the entrance. Since this a privately-owned museum, the possibility to visit it depends on the owners’ availability. But it is open during the Festival of the Moorish Moon, in the first week of September. I retraced my steps back to the square to access the Parish Church of San Miguel.

Parish Church of San Miguel

I climbed up Pósito Street in search for the church. Streets got so narrow that they blended into one another. After 20m, I came to a rather tall white wall on which the parish church and its square leaned. I walked in. The whole church was dominated by an image of St Michael imposingly defeating Lucifer. The epic battle depicted here made me want to know the underlying story. St Michael is viewed as the commander of the Army of God. In art, he’s usually represented as an angelic warrior, fully armed with helmet, sword, and shield, standing over a dragon, which most of the time is Satan, whom he sometimes pierces with a lance. St Michael is the supreme enemy of Satan and the fallen angels, whom he forced out of Heaven with his sword). Guaro’s St Michael looks beatific rather than warlike, but still he’s standing on the vanquished demon, wearing his armour and brandishing his sword. The church is simple, featuring just a central nave. It was built in 1505 and last rehabilitated in 1996/1997. There were women inside, working on the flowers and the cloaks. “There’s a wedding tomorrow,” they told me. I went out into the square and skirted the building along its right side, getting lost in the sweet streets smelling of flowers. Up and down, gazing at surprising corners every few steps. I could hear voices from everyday life, birds singing, pigeons fluttering and being frightened away. Some street names, like Una Acera (literally, “One Street”), are funny, having turned usual references into proper nouns. Walls splashed with water from the fountains are everywhere to be found. To fight the heat at noon, some doors are open, letting some air in, intimacy preserved by discreet thin curtains. The little squares are like the thresholds of individual houses. They’re full of pots and flowers.

The Moorish Moon

The streets I trod on are quite a different thing in September. Lights go off in the evening, and oil lamps and candles burn instead, illuminating all the town centre. This marks the beginning of the Festival de la Luna Mora (Festival of the Moorish Moon), whose twelve editions have managed to combine the charm of a candle light town with the medieval ambience that becomes the background to craftsmen, storytellers, performers, musicians, and Arab dishes. It’s a feast for the senses, a perfect magical harmony in which the town’s dazzling layout and the non-electrical light play a key role. About 20,000 candles burn to welcome world-class artists whose Arab-Andalusian music delights locals and out-of-towners alike. In addition, there’re workshops, films, lectures, storytelling sessions, exhibitions, and many other cultural activities. A great time to see Guaro in a different light, no doubt.


Leaving the town centre behind, I walked towards the town sports centre, stumbling upon the Chapel of Cruz del Puerto, a simple eighteenth-century building featuring benches and a fountain which makes the end point of a procession every year. The chapel affords panoramic views of the town, clinging to the hill that determines its fanciful layout. Looking in the opposite direction, I could make out the higher slopes of Sierra de las Nieves, whose white limestone peaks were a silent explanation of the mountain chain’s name (for nieves means “snow” in Spanish). I sat down, unconsciously resembling one of those past-time Guareños who used to wait here for the vehicle that would take them far away to distant provinces.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

Parking: Don’t try reaching the town centre by car. Leave your car parked on Avenida de Andalucía. The centre is only 200m away.
Olive Oil: The Al-Andalus Cultural Centre displays elements from one of Guaro’s quintessential industries: olive oil-making. The old oil mill can be compared to the one kept at the Guaro Sociedad Cooperativa Olivarera, El Molino de Guaro, where you can buy high-quality extra virgin olive oil. Guaro’s Mill is on Ctra. Guaro-Coín, Km. 1. Telephone: (+94) 952 112 976. You can also buy online at its website.
Useful links: The web references used this time were the websites of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Guaro Town Hall.

Comments, suggestions, and opinions from travellers/ visitors to this blog are very welcome. This is intended to be an open door, so the more things shown and said the better. See you under the Bright Blue Sky.