Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Hins Qannit: A town on a crenellated hillock, watching time go by. Hins Qannit: A town of Moors and Christians; a town of wars and borders. Hins Qannit: A town with an eventful past and a powerful present. Hins Qannit: A town that is now Cañete la Real. Hins Qannit: A town with the countryside at its feet. Hins Qannit: The town the Arabs, the Castilians, and now travellers surrender to. Hins Qannit: A town where past and present come together in delicious intertwining. Cañete la Real: A town to discover; a town to enjoy. Cañete la Real: A town that used to be Hins Qannit.

Getting Closer: First Impressions

Deep, bright yellow. Corn and olive trees. These were the visual stimuli that prevailed on my way to Cañete la Real. Modern yet Quixotic mills moved their sails to the rhythm of the wind. The undulating hills rolled up and down, giving rise to a peaceful landscape. This, however, used to be a border area, stained with blood shed in war, marked by never-ending and unfinished battles, home to the Arabs and Moors, and the Christians from Castile. In Roman Times, Cañete la Real was Flavia Sabora, a town where you could smell winnowed wheat. It was a white spot resting on mountain-wrapped cradle. A square tower stood out, stout, austere, upright. I could imagine a lookout up there, maybe Umar ibn Hafsun himself, looking into the horizon. As I approached the town, its skyline becomes overwhelming. The countryside lying just in front of the Antequera region lay before me.

The Architectural Show

Following directions, I came to the town centre and parked my car by the Church of San Sebastián. The Town Hall square was a little bit ahead. There were many parking spaces along the street leading to it. As soon as I got off my car, I marvelled at what I saw. Stately façades to the right and left, majestic, powerful, well-kept eighteenth-century houses. To the left, the Convent of Santísimo Sacramento. Behind my back, the Church of San Sebastián, an almost ethereal building reaching for the bright blue sky whose deep red, yellow, and blue-trimmed frontage and tower stood in sharp contrast to the rest of the shades. The main access dominated the street, which thus became a sort of threshold. Inside, the church was profusely decorated, brimming with flower scents. The high altar was delicate, bearing the typical ornaments prior to the Festival of the Virgen del Cañosanto, the town’s Patroness. The festival takes place on the third weekend of September, so zillions of bunches of flowers had been gathered. The church itself was neither overdecorated nor affected. In fact, this is something that can be said of the whole of Cañete la Real: everything –and everyone–, from the remarkable architecture to the warm people, was simple and natural. A parishioner told me that there’d be a novena at ten in the evening, adding that the church would fill with people and be fully illuminated, which is when it’s at its best. I took a couple of pictures and went out into the stately –almost overwhelming– street. My eye was caught by a somewhat dilapidated blue house, whose glass and leaden balconies lean on to the street. Its Indies air captivated me. Its colour and structure, the patio I could guess there was inside… I felt under the effect of a magnet. The house stood in stark contrast to all the rest, which were impossibly white. Maybe it was its colour, evoking the bright blue sky and the Mediterranean, or maybe it was its Castilian style, but this house plunged me into the world of Al-Andalus. I walked on towards Plaza de Andalucía, skirting the Carmelite Convent of Santísimo Sacramento y Santa Teresa, established in 1662. The door was ajar for visitors to come in and buy sweets (from 9:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and from 4:45 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.). A plate in the main hall over the hole in the door for the sweets you buy asked visitors to make their orders during opening hours and, if possible, on Sundays. So I chose not to bother the quiet nuns and continued with my tour of Cañete la Real.

Towards the Castle

From Plaza de Andalucía, with the Town Hall on the right, there’re three ways to get to the castle, one by car and two on foot. The first route on foot goes through an archway preceding an uphill cobblestone street behind a statue of the Virgen del Cañosanto. 20 or 30m after the archway, you come to a fork. Take the 180º bend into Porras Street. You’ll see the castle’s gate to the left. Then it’s easy: you just have to walk in its shadow. The second walking route consists in walking on along the Town Hall street and take Porras Street to the right. The rest is the same as in the other route. Either takes 10’ to get to the place where they say it all started in Cañete la Real: the Hins Qannit Castle.

Hins Qannit Castle

The castle afforded impressive views of the landscape. The horizon looked like a never-ending line up here. It was an inversion of what I’d seen when I came to Cañete la Real. Now I was being cradled by the mountains; I was on the lookout; I was a descendant of Umar ibn Hafsun. I could see the corn fields stretching out before me with the imposing mountains in the background. I’d seen pictures of this beautiful place I was now looking at. In winter, Cañete’s roofs are laden with snow. The church’s red façade shines brightly. The plains below make a huge white blanket. It must be spectacular. Now it was the last of summer, so the land was dressed in ochre and yellow. I stood in the battlements, behind the walls of the reconstructed castle. The information boards explained each room for me as I approached the Homage Tower –a majestic square tower featuring the tiniest of windows; all in all, the main watchtower in town. The tower housed a visitor centre, “Los Vigías del Territorio,” showing Cañete la Real and the region of Guadalteba’s historical heritage. Here I met Gerardo, who came with me on a guided tour. The first floor was dedicated to Prehistory and Antiquity (Flavia Sabora was Hans Qannit’s extension for some time. It was closer to water and, therefore, to crops. With strife and revolts, residents reverted to higher ground, where they were better protected. The rooms displayed period coins and tools. The second floor was the realm of Al-Andalus, present in its everyday objects: coins, needles, thimbles, vessels, amphorae. Gerardo gave painstakingly detailed explanations of each piece, until a band of boisterous motorcyclists demanded his presence. I took the third floor on my own: besiege arm replicas –real engineering ingenuities in aid of warfare. The walls displayed the castles that were erected in the region and the revolts in those years. I watched a 10’ documentary on the history of Cañete la Real, introducing the main sights and periods in its history. On my way out I bumped into the noisy motorcyclists again. I said goodbye to Gerardo and left. The Hins Qannit Castle is a fine example of monument rehabilitation and use as a cultural resource or tourist attraction. The castle’s hours are Tue-Sat, 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m.; Sun, 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; Mon, closed, except on holidays (Phone number: +34 952 713 475).

Down to Town, Convent of San Francisco, and Night Club

I went back to the town centre down Porras Street, which led to the Town Hall street. Getting lost in this delicious maze was one of the best things that’d ever happened to me. Most houses were in good condition. They’d been taken care of throughout the ages. Some showed their patios through their open doors –cool, shadowy, flowery. Neighbours greeted me affably. The cobblestones brought Cañete’s stately nature out, whereas the garlands announcing the fiesta on Saturday added a casual touch. I came to the Town Hall, past the municipal warehouses –undergoing rehabilitation– to the right. I went down Conde de las Infantas Street, leading to a little square in front of the Convent of San Francisco. It was an austere, stout building featuring a bell-less belfry and a door with a simple lintel. A plate by the door read that the convent used to adjoin cloisters that’d been once used as a night club, until local authorities converted them to cultural venue. The walk had given me an appetite. After a makeshift poll, I chose my bar, at the far end of a short climb: Bar Andaluz.

Lunch and Chat at Bar Andaluz

I have to apologise for not including pictures of my lunch: my chat with the bar’s owner, Juanma, made me forget all about my camera, and then I was so busy eating! Bar Andaluz is a typical popular tavern attended by local patrons and out-of-towners alike, who order beer and tapas. It has a boisterous, cheerful, relaxed atmosphere, with everyone speaking loudly and light-heartedly. I ordered two small bottles of beers and two tapas: black pudding and mackerel. “We’ve run out of black pudding, but instead you can take Iberian sausage. You won’t regret it,” said Juanma. “Iberian sausage, then,” I agreed. “By the way, what are mogollones?” (It was written on the menu board and I couldn’t figure out what it was.) “Sweet red peppers, lots (mogollón) of them,” he boasted. Then Juanma talked about Cañete: how it was a must-visit, how they were getting ready for fiesta on Saturday, what the town looked like then. While we talked, he brought more tapas –anchovies, Navarra cheese– and more beer –only larger bottles this time. He loved his hometown, you could tell. He served patrons and returned to my table to go on talking. I told him about this blog project and he asked me to paint a nice picture of Cañete. As he insisted, I ensured I’d wholeheartedly encourage my readers to come. “For a friend, everything,” I borrowed Juanma’s words. The talk went on and on and on. I thought that maybe the third Saturday of September would be a good day to come to Cañete. For the fiesta.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What else to see: In Cañete la Real you can also visit the municipal district of Ortegícar, in the vicinity of former Flavia Sabora. There’s a watchtower and a Roman bridge to see.
Useful links: The website of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board has been my guide when planning this trip. The Cañete la Real Town Hall website and that of Red Patrimonio Guadalteba contain interesting information as well.

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.