Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The year was 1569. Andrés Xorairán’s family had chosen to stay after the fearful army of the Catholic Monarchs conquered the last Moor kingdom in Al-Andalus in 1491 and Boabdil bade farewell to Granada with tears in his eyes. They’d chosen to stay because they felt attached to the land, the people, and the smells. The Catholic Monarchs had promised they’d let them keep their customs and traditions as long as they agreed to being christened (by faith or by force). But the reality was quite different. In 1567, at the request of inquisitor Pedro de Deza, King Philip II published a Real Pragmática whereby the Moorish people were banned from carrying weapons, speaking their own language, wearing their traditional costumes, and engaging in their traditional customs. Moreover, they had to hand in all their books. Soon, the Moors became second-class citizens, persecuted for their refined culture, condemned in public by a law that couldn’t envisage much beyond the Christian cross. The Moors, who had brought farming, irrigation methods, and an open concept of citizenship, were now vassals of Christian noblemen. The old Christians hated them; the Crown repudiated them; the Church despised them. Andrés Xorairán saw his family pay respect to ferocious lords who treated them like slaves and showed no mercy. Outraged, he became a monfí, an outlaw, and on April 24, 1569, he led an attack on Pedro Mellado’s inn after Mellado kidnapped the wife of one of his friends. His rebellious act spread like wildfire: Salares joined Sedella se vio arrastrada, and with it there came Axarquía and then Sierra de las Nieves (remember last week’s María Sagredo in Alozaina) and then Genal. The riots ended in bloodshed with the Battle of Peñón of Frigiliana. The rebellion was crushed; the rebels were expelled; their towns became deserted. These were the last vestiges of mighty Al-Andalus –a bloodstained diamond.

The Ravines of Silence

Málaga’s sky, usually bright and clear and blue, is leaden-grey this early winter morning. There’re two roads leading to Sedella: from Algarrobo to Árchez across Sayalonga and from Vélez-Málaga passing through Canillas de Aceituno. I chose the latter, for I wanted to take another look at La Maroma (the highest mountain in Málaga, 2,068m high) and check for snow in its crest. But when I reached Canillas de Aceituno, I could see the majestic mount hidden by thick fog. At Canillas, before reaching the town centre, a sign indicated that Sedella lay to the right, only 7km ahead. The road that connects the two villages is abruptly beautiful, sliced by gullies and ravines, rock-laden watercourses, or rough trees standing on truncated slopes. The landscape is impressively robust, and even more mysterious in winter. Despite its twists and turns, the road was easy to drive along, given the absence of other vehicles in it.

Sedella: “Sé de ella,” said Isabella I of Castile

I parked at the entrance of town. You’re not advised to drive in the town centre, for the streets get really narrow. The first thing I sighted, to the left, was the washhouse, which wasn’t a separate construction, as in other towns, but the ground floor of a beautiful old building. The access is marked by three green-trimmed round arches. I could hear the murmur of water, echoing the long chats of the women who used to came here to do the washing. To the right, there was a sign indicating where the future Sierras Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama Nature Park Visitor Centre would be, showing the park’s most characteristic animal and plant species. I plunged into Sedella through Villa del Castillo Street. I soon grasped two of the town’s features: its gnarled streets and its kind people. The town has a clear rural character, with visible traces of its Muslim past. I ventured into the nooks and crannies and the steep climbs, wrapped in the charm of Al-Andalus. It didn’t take me long to get lost in the maze of alleys and corners that seemed to have crashed into one another following plans that were impossible to understand. “Good morning,” local people greeted me. “Good morning, could you tell me how to get to…?” was my usual reply. “Oh, yes, of course. Take this street to the right, then turn left, walk up the second climb, then turn left again, go on straight, and when you get there, ask for more directions,” they explained. Their willingness to help was undeniable, but their directions weren’t so easy to follow. Sedella can be a temptation for those with a curious nature. There’s something to be found round every corner. Hanging around in the early winter, I could imagine men and women by the fireplace, their homes protecting them against cold. My mental picture was ratified by the smell of burning embers. I came to the main square, where the town seems to get somewhat wider. There were two sights here: the Tower House and the Church of San Andrés. The Tower House is what remains of the old fortress where the lord of Sedella used to live. It’s a robust building, as it was part of the town’s bastion wall. Now the tower’s attached to a house, but it’s managed to keep the old spirit. Built in the sixteenth century, the tower features a series of twin arches supported by Renaissance columns, which also hold up a hipped roof. Mudejar in origin, the Tower House has arabesque-trimmed paintings on one side. In fact, this sight has earned Sedella a place in the Mudejar Tour of Axarquía, alongside Árchez, Arenas, Salares, and Canillas de Aceituno. As to the Church of San Andrés, it’s preceded by a flight of a dozen steps, separating it from the rest of the square. Its belfry tower is attached to the temple, rising from its square foundations against the cloud-laden sky. The belfry is the only vestige of the old sixteenth-century building, upon whose ruins the modern parish church was erected. This viewpoint made the mountains beyond the town look more menacing, even when they were wrapped in a foggy cloak. Here Sedella was calm, unhurried, peaceful. The silence was only broken by a horn announcing the arrival of the fishmonger. I trudged on. One of the doors showed a wooden shield. It referred to Queen Isabella. Being curious, I wanted to know more about it. I was told it had to do with the town’s name. Apparently, nobody knows its exact origin. It could be related to a Latin word, sedilla, an acronym, “S.D. Lía,” or a Muslim term, “Xedelia.” However, tradition has it that “the name dates back to the Reconquista, when in the area known as ‘Arroyo de la Matanza’ there was a fight between Christians and Muslims and Queen Isabella was told about it and answered ‘Sé de ella’ (‘I know about it’)” (source: Town Hall website). Any of these stories could be true. I headed eastwards for the Chapel of Virgen de la Esperanza. The best way to get to the place is asking for directions and, with the enquiry as an excuse, talk a little bit with locals. I asked the postwoman, who got me on track. (Later I bumped into her again in Salares.) Some gardens sneaked in houses, living door-to-door with them. There were bubbling-water fountains, too. Streets ended without warning, leading nowhere, crammed with flowerpots and flowerbeds dressed in deep red and other bright colours. When I came to the little chapel, I turned around and saw the compact hamlet, dominated by the belfry tower and Sierra Tejeda and Sierra Almijara behind. I breathed in the chilly morning air and headed for my car, walking along the winding streets and past the spotless wall, which had probably been whitewashed once and again throughout the years.


This is where we’re parting ways today. I’m driving to the neighbouring town of Salares, where I’ll meet you next week, for I’m following the Mudejar Tour of Axarquía and soaking in the spirit of these charming Andalusian towns. History goes beyond time barriers and comes to the twenty-first century, wrapping us in powerful, strong sensations. In Sedella, you can still hear Andrés Xorairán calling for justice.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

Where to eat: Most restaurants in Sedella are concentrated on a single street: Villa del Castillo. Mesón Casa Frasco, Restaurante Lorena, Restaurante El Chiringuito… We had two white coffees and two bacon and cheese sandwiches at El Chiringuito for €4.80. Two more choices: Mesón Granada and Casa Pintá.
When to come: Easter season: In Sedella, Easter is a deeply felt fiesta. On Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, the bells in the church become a sort of rattle announcing Mass. Sounds also play a key role on Resurrection Sunday, as firecrackers celebrate the rebirth of Christ.
What to do: Hiking: The majestic Sierra Tejeda and Sierra Almijara make Sedella an apt place for hiking. Most trails are difficult to negotiate if you’re not familiar with them or don’t have the right gear. The Visitor Centre now being developed will be of great help in this respect.
Useful links: My tour of Sedella was guided by the websites of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board, Sedella Town Hall, and the Association for Tourism Development in Axarquía-Costa del Sol.

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