Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Benadalid: a town of Moors and old Christians, of Romans and castles, of cork oaks and chestnut trees. Benadalid: the town of the Berbers descended from Jalid. Benadalid: a town of peace and quiet. Benadalid: a town with roads to tread, damp earth to breath upon, leafy nature, healthy water telling stories of times past. Benadalid: a town of harsh winters, and autumns, and springs, and summers. Benadalid: a town of smoking chimneys and pots and stewpots. Benadalid: a town with a mellifluous name and an eventful past. Benadalid: a town with a living history.


The Genal valley faces the sky like a green oasis –leafy, dark, and deep. The hills that reach the river bed are peppered with chestnut trees –a landmark in the area. And now, in autumn, the place becomes a must-visit. The trees bear ochre crests; the chestnuts protect themselves against the hostile weather, showing their more aggressive side. Some have already fallen. You can see them on the road. Benadalid can be accessed from the Algeciras-Ronda road. You have to be on the alert, for although it’s right there by the road, there’s no sign indicating the entrance to town. My advice is, take the right exit (“Ayuntamiento” or Town Hall) so that you can drive down a cobblestone street and reach your first sight: Cruz del Humilladero. You can park in the area.

The Tour: Part One

Benadalid is a little white town with impossibly narrow streets and walls swarming with flowers –bougainvilleas climbing down from terraces like a charm in violet and green. However idyllic it might look now, this town was home to bloody wars. After the fall of Ronda, the Moors living here surrendered to the Catholic King and Queen and became their vassals. “The king promised to respect Muhammad’s law and his Moor people’s property and customs.” This I read in an information board by Cruz del Humilladero. The board went on: “And he consented to their being judged according to Islamic law, by a judge and an al-faqih.” good intentions, however, were reduced to ashes as ongoing revolts and riots brought Muslims and Christians face to face once and again. These clashes gave origin to the Fiesta of Moors and Christians that takes places every year in August: Moor troops steal the image of St Isidore and a Christian army fights against them to get it back. I imagined the castle in the midst of bloody battles. The walls lie some 20m away from Cruz del Humilladero. The overwhelming castle is now home to the town cemetery. With their four towers, the walls distort the Genal skyline –a row of balconies in it, watching over the road connecting Ronda with Algeciras back in Roman times. I respectfully opened the door and heard the hinges squeak. The dark stone walls stood in sharp contrast to the niches. The silence was just appalling, only interrupted by the sound of raindrops. (Yeah, it was raining.) The castle walls loomed against the leaden sky of the sierras. The building looked majestic, as if taken out of a storybook. I walked down Calvario Street to the right to find an dazzling landscape: Serranía de Ronda to the left; the river valley, Alto Genal, and the neighbouring white towns in the distance, wrapped in a gentle fog that was beginning to clear. I came to the Calvario scenic viewpoint –an old threshing floor now furbished with two wooden benches. A wild landscape unfurled before my eyes, its only stain being a house: chestnuts, a smoking chimney down there, a barking dog in the distance. Peace and quiet all around. The damp earth oozes a delicate smell, a light vapour went up from the fields, like embers burning inside. Don’t leave your camera at home when you come to Benadalid; there’re a thousand things to capture with through its lens. Also, bring your binoculars if possible, since you can always spot birds of pray in the area.

The Tour: Part Two

I walked down Calvario Street into the heart of Benadalid, giving in to the colourful explosion of flowers on the streets and decorated façades against the white walls. The ringing bells were my sound compass. I followed them and came to the Church of San Isidoro behind Plaza Nueva. It was a coquettish, romantic corner, with the usual benches and flowerbeds. One of the walls bore a board telling a beautiful story. It could’ve happened right there, in that garden, time gaps permitting. It was the legend of the rose: “It is widely acknowledged that love affairs between Moors and Christians were punished with death. Legend has it that here, in Benadalid, a beautiful young lady fell in love with a Muslim. Their love was impossible, but it was strong, so they made arrangements to run away in the dark of night, in search of the wild rose tree. This plant, now unbeknownst to us, hid powerful essences. Those who pricked themselves with its thorns had to react immediately; otherwise, they bled to death under its narcotic effect. This is how our lovers, falling pray to an unyielding society and an irresistible love, brought their lives to an end.” Intoxicated by this charming story, which evoked other tales of love and death (Romeo & Juliet and others), I turned to Plaza del Ayuntamiento, the town square facing the church. It was a large rectangular square, probably one of the nerve centres in town. As it was raining, it was empty; the Benalizos must have preferred their warm homes to a hostile morning in the open. The Town Hall features an arcade where you can take shelter –an architectural feature I’d not seen in the other Costa del Sol towns I’d been to. I took shelter just to see how it felt, and also to sample the bread and pork products I’d bought in a local store (perhaps Rosa Mari’s store?). From my cosy refuge, I watched time go by and heard the church bells ring. The houses facing the square were stout and traditional, although tastefully renovated with modern touches. Some of them bore witness to Benadalid and the Genal valley’s prestige as country travel locations. An old man walked past towards the church. He produced a bunch of keys and opened the church’s side door. This was my chance to get in, I thought. I asked him if I could come in. “Of course you can,” he replied from the inside. He told me he’d come in a rush because he thought he’d left some of the windows open. “And I was right, so thank God I’m here. Hold on: I’ll turn on the lights for you.” A solemn nave appeared before me. Its austerity was only challenged by a decorated altar, a recently renovated coffered ceiling, and a dome above the altar resembling the sky. As I usually do in churches, I lighted a candle for the patron saint (St Isidore this time). “Your church is beautiful,” I told the man. “It is, yes,” he said proudly, “It’s been recently renovated and it now looks good. We only need a new image of Virgen del Rosario, but you know: the crisis… It’ll just have to wait.” I said goodbye and went out. I walked down Isidoro and Fuente Streets. Taking a stroll in Benadalid is a tour in its own right. Locals just love their town, and it shows in the colours and the aromas: stews, mint, meat, pringá. I suddenly came to the water supply compound, including the washhouse, the Water Museum, and a Roman fountain. I could hear women voices of the past in the washhouse. I imagined their gossiping while María or Antonia or Paca or Felisa filled their jars in the adjoining fountain. On top of the ancient spout (now protected by a wrought-iron gate) I could read “Salus per acquam.” Then I couldn’t resist the temptation: I cupped my hands and took a long, fresh, glittering sip. A nearby flight of steps gave me a different perspective of Benadalid. I could now see the roofs and chimneys. Resting my elbows on the banister, I could only think of one thing: When would I come back to Benadalid?


After getting on by car by Cruz del Humilladero, driving around one, two, three times, taking down some notes, enjoying each and every corner, I left Benadalid behind. On the road to Algeciras, I came to Los Castaños scenic viewpoint after 1km driving. I stopped, got off, and let my eyes wander between the huge mountains, the leafy chestnuts trees, along the endless horizon. And just there, crumpled on the mountains slopes, I could see the white hamlet I’d just been to –a delicate yet compact apparition. I let out a sigh and was filled with the aromas of the damp soil.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

When to come: Fall in Valle del Genal, or the Genal river valley, is just great. If this was true for Benalauría (where I was two weeks back), it’s even truer for Benadalid. The area seems to live in a state of grace at this time of year.
What to take: A camera is a must, as every corner in Benadalid makes a spectacular photo.
Useful links: As usual, my reference points have been the websites of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board and the Benadalid Town Hall, where you can find information on country accommodation. There’s a personal blog, Benadalid, where you can read interesting facts about the town, its history and etymological facts.

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.