Tuesday, 15 September 2009

My travelling soul is torn between verse and the art of war, between stanzas and epic battles, between poems and viceroyalties, between odes and harquebus shots. My travelling soul aches in the hunch that Macharaviaya feeds from both the lyrics of Salvador Rueda and the conquests of the Gálvez family. The former was born in a humble home; the latter were buried in sumptuous mausoleums. The former brought the muses; the latter, running water. The former produced bending verses; the latter, daily bread. These are the fountains that quench Macharaviaya’s thirst: literary genius and economic power –the two sides of the coin of private and public life in town. Today, we’ll walk along the streets of the so-called “Little Madrid,” a book of poems under our arms.

Arrival, Monument, and the Gálvez

I drove along a narrow, winding road, where I came across a few of those small scooters taking men to the fields –limping, asthmatic, bearing vegetable boxes and bunches of octopuses in their rear carrier. Macharaviaya is surrounded by the typical Axarquía landscape: rolling hills, brownish earth, olive trees scattered along the horizon, vines, ravines, dry river beds. It’s a fleeting landscape, its beauty weird, peculiar: villages hidden from indiscreet visitor looks behind the hills. I suddenly came to a fork posing a dilemma. Where to go? To the left, Benaque, the homeland of poet Salvador Rueda. To the right, Macharaviaya, the homeland of the Gálvez, a powerful local dynasty. The fork is highlighted by a monument teaching me that viceroyalty was more important than verse, so I chose to come to Macharaviaya first. The fame of the Gálvez stems from their role in the history of the Americas. The pioneer, José de Gálvez (Macharaviaya, 1720-1791), got a prerogative from King Charles III, who appointed him as visitador to New Spain. As a Minister of the Council of the Indies, he took up his duties with unlimited authority in the New World. Eventually, he was made Marqués de Sonora. According to the CEIP Salvador Rueda, “Among his governmental actions were reforms in the administration, the economy, the army, and farming; the creation of the Viceroyalty of Nueva Plata, the introduction of intendancies in the colonial administration and the office of Regent of the Court, the establishment of limited free trade between Spain and the colonies, the setting up of the Philippines Company, and the creation of the Royal Court and Mining Trade of Mexico.” His brother and his nephew took up his work, both of them being appointed as Viceroys of New Spain (Mexico). Macharaviaya shared in their luck, as the family never forgot their origins. “A factory of playing cards was built in 1766, supplying all of the Americas (it can still be seen in town). This raised the villagers’ living standards, as the streets were paved, an open-air theatre was erected, and better ways of life were introduced. This earned the town the name ‘Little Madrid.’ There was even a washhouse, and roads connecting Macharaviaya with Málaga, and other nearby towns were improved. A fund for harvesters was created and a public school was built under royal sponsorship in 1783.” This brief summary of the family’s history can give you an idea of the Gálvez’s importance to and influence on life in Macharaviaya. This year, the town paid tribute to its benefactors on July 4, Independence Day in the US. Also, the monument at the entrance of town is a witness to their importance, and there’re lots of references to this family’s facts in the streets.

Parking and Getting Started

Some 10m away from the monument there’s a little park featuring a fountain and five benches –an ideal place to take a break after a walk. It’s in the higher part of town, affording great views of the sea. There’s a milestone dominating the square: an obelisk-shaped stone with the date when it was laid in the eighteenth century. You can park here and take a walk down towards the town or drive all the way down to the Town Hall square, Matías de Gálvez, where you’ll have no trouble parking. Since the streets get narrower, are paved in cobblestones, and most of them are pedestrian thoroughfares, it’s better to leave your car at this point. Besides, a good walk will enable you to get to know the essence of Macharaviaya. I left my car at Matías de Gálvez Square. I was given useful information at the local Town Hall: maps, brochures, opening hours, phone numbers, and so on. A board in the square gives directions and shows which way to go. To the left there was the Church of San Jacinto and the mausoleum, the playing card factory, and the Gálvez Museum. I took Real de Málaga Street to find the first references to the Gálvez family in plates, street names, squares, and so on.

Strolling Around

Macharaviaya is an old, delicate town, oozing peace and quiet. The houses are trimmed with trees and vines. Many patios look like gardens. It’s a truly Mediterranean setting, open to the nearby sea and laden with salty scents. You can hear the birds singing. And see the flowerpots and a bunch of bright colours emerging from them. I strolled around for a while. Real de Málaga Street took me to the square named after Bernardo de Gálvez, an indefatigable soldier who defeated the British army at Pensacola in 1781 and reconquered Florida for Spain during the American Revolutionary War. In fact, the square bears a plate with an image of Don Bernardo, informing of his feats and victories. Opposite this plate, there’s another one, commemorating the arrival of running water to the town. The 1815 Town Archives and the Book of Water of the Village of Macharaviaya read: “Aware of water shortage in their homeland and the ordeal it meant for local residents to walk down to the Albaraday del Horno fountains, they brought the water flowing in these streams through aqueducts into the three public fountains.”

Church of San Jacinto and Playing Card Factory

The Church of San Jacinto, whose side makes one of the edges of Bernardo de Gálvez Square, has a singular structure. It’s square, impeccably white, sober, austere. As if making up for this harshness, its façade is profusely decorated, perhaps one of the most elaborate I’ve seen so far in this trip. Dominated by the Gálvez coat of arms, it stands on four deep-red columns whose plinths and lintels are golden yellow, like the coat of arms itself. The contrast with the white wall is quite impressive. Behind the church there’s the local graveyard, while the Gálvez mausoleum is in the crypt. After seeing the church, I took Real de Málaga street again, and in 10’ I came to the Royal Playing Card Factory. After a royal warrant issued by King Charles III in 1766, the factory was granted the monopoly to trade with the Americas. Its cards were the most expensive in Spain, but it was closed down in 1791 due to water and wood shortage. The building is still there, but it serves as a private home. It’s still beautiful –simple but craftily decorated. Macharaviaya looks as if it’d been frozen in time. Satellite TV antennas are the only sign of modern life; otherwise, there seems to have been few changes over the past two or three centuries. Its clean, well-kept streets make a maze of comings and goings. At the far end of Real de Málaga Street I turned right and got to Gálvez Avenue, which led to the Gálvez House Museum (phone: +34 952 400 090). The museum goes over the history of this family and their importance to the town. It also features a visitor centre and a permanent exhibition of Robert Harvey’s paintings. After the museum, I walked up the street… for breakfast.

Taberna del Candil

I found a typical town bar. It was large and its walls bore traditional farming tools –a sort of museum of ethnography inside an inn. It features even an old plough, as well as sickles, pitchforks, and a yoke. I chose a place at the bar. When I was making myself comfortable, I saw three cyclists come in. They came from Málaga (25km on winding roads). Cycling is a common sport along the steep roads in Axarquía, especially when it’s early in the morning. To replenish their energy reserves, they ordered energy bars and coffees with condensed milk. Then they chose a table outdoors. My breakfast was a little different: two white coffees, sirloin rolls. After breakfast, I headed for my car, for I wanted to visit Salvador Rueda’s birthplace and the Mozarabic church in Benaque, 2km away. Off I went.

Benaque and Salvador Rueda

From the road I could see the outline of the Church of Virgen del Rosario, a typical Mozarabic brick building. I parked at the entrance to Benaque and walked to the church and Salvador Rueda’s birthplace, following signs and directions. The latter lay just 20m away. It’s a humble house –Rueda himself described is at “poor”– which witnessed the birth of poems paying tribute to the land or stating the modernist creed. A sample, below:

Horas de fuego (Hours of Fire) Quietud, pereza, languidez, sosiego...un sol desencajado el suelo dora,y a su valiente luz deslumbradoraque le ha dejado fascinado y ciego.
(Quiet, laziness, languor, peace,
A dislocated sun tans,
And its brave, dazzling light
Has left it stunned and blind.)

El mar latino, y andaluz, y griego,
suspira dejos de cadencia mora,
y la jarra gentil que perlas llora
se columpia en la siesta de oro y fuego.
(The Latin sea –Andalusian too, and Greek
Lets out sighs in a Moorish rhythm
And the gentle jug that sheds pearl tears
Swings in the siesta of gold and fire.)

Al rojo blanco la ciudad llamea;
ni una brisa los árboles cimbrea,
arrancándoles lentas melodías.
(The city burns in a bright red setting.
There’s no breeze whooshing past the trees, Or producing slow tunes out of them.)

Sobre el tono de ascuas del ambiente,
frescas cubren su carmín riente
en sus rasgadas bocas las sandías".
(Against an ember-coloured skyline,
The watermelons cover their laughing carmine
In their gaping mouths.)

“Rueda’s works are very important and interesting not only to understand the generations of poets that came after him but also because of the daring, original adventure of being the first modernist poet in Spain.” (Francisco Arias Solís, Analítica). Born in Benaque on December 3, 1857, Rueda spent most of his childhood and adolescence here, and he kept coming back to his hometown even after becoming a renowned writer. Traces of the Andalusian essence he never quite left behind and the skylines of Benaque, Macharaviaya, and Málaga (an ever-lasting source of inspiration to him) can be found in most of his poems. Rueda was a self-taught man. He was born to day labourers and had a hard life as a factory worker and farmer. His poetry was the result of pure genius. To learn more about him, about his life and work, click here. To visit his birthplace, call +34 952 400 042 for an appointment. The best way to get to know Salvador Rueda, however, is to read his poems, which are pregnant with a beautiful lyricism and powerful images. The very same street took me to the church. A delicate, simple, beautiful temple. The belfry used to be a minaret, that is, the tower used in mosques to call to prayer. Benaque looks like an extension of Macharaviaya in terms of styles, shapes, and ways. The same cobblestones, the same impervious quiet, the same layout. Behind the church, the hills boast with past pride. After the phylloxera plague that devastated the vineyards in the nineteenth century, now they show plenty of vines. I can imagine their mouth-watering muscatel grapes already.


My day of war deeds, viceroys, playing cards, and poetry was coming to a close. On July 4 –now, in the twenty-first century–, Macharaviaya has its major fiesta, a festival dedicated to the greatest of its indianos: the Gálvez. While the echoes of history can be heard in the streets, in the distance you can make out a poet covered in the dust of roads and clouds of verse. These are Macharaviaya’s emblems: history and poetry, the Gálvez and Salvador Rueda, the Spaniards who fought in the Americas and the humble bard.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to do: Before coming to the Salvador Rueda Birthplace or the Gálvez House Museum find out about opening hours and tours. The phone numbers are +34 952 400 042 (Salvador Rueda) and +34 952 400 090 (Gálvez). This is a town you enjoy more if you know about its history and poetry, so if you can read about the Gálvez and Rueda’s poems, so much the better. You’ll then be able to spot many of the things you’ve read about in the town’s corners. It’s worth the effort.
Useful links: Our usual reference website is that of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board. The Macharaviaya Town Hall website also contains a lot of useful information. If you’re interested in Salvador Rueda’s life, you can have a good bio at Analítica. His poems you can read in A Media Voz. Finally, for a brief history of the Gálvez family, go to the website of CEIP Salvador Rueda.

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.