Tuesday, 2 February 2010

The muezzin calls to pray and Salares wakes up from its evening slumber. Salares: a clenched fist, a cluster of houses leaning on ravines. Salares: a village of secret gardens and minarets rising up against the bright blue sky; a village of hidden treasures and flavours of the past. Salares: a town of old nostalgias and present victories. Salares: Mudejar perfumes, delicate aromas, narrow climbs. Salares, or Roman Salaria Bastitanorum. Salares, which was also Greek and Phoenician and Carthaginian and deeply Muslim. Salares: a town of riots and Muslim uprisings; a town of heroes and villains. Salares: mills and trap-net sites, threshing floors and limestone quarries devoured by the past. Salares: a town rolling down a hill. Salares: a village fluttering over passing time. Salares: a town discovered.

The Discovery

The 4.5 km separating Salares from Sedella follow the route of the steep ravines surrounding both villages. The cuts in the mountains become more pronounced, like primitive wounds, as if the relief had conspired to prevent the town’s secrets from being revealed, to protect them from inquisitive looks. Thanks to this, modern travellers can find their selves amidst the crags and gullies, seeing the hamlets as soft white brushstrokes on the hills, sheltered by the Sierras de Tejeda and Almijara or locked in by robust La Maroma. A peak appearing suddenly behind a sharp bend or a winding road are part of the region’s idiosyncrasy –of its austere charm.
Salares Revealed

Watching Salares, I was overwhelmed by its skyline. The town is literally perched on a cut in the mountains, rolling down the hill towards the bottom of the valley. I parked my car in the higher part of town and climbed down a maze of impossibly steep streets that came to dead ends everywhere. Soon enough, I stumbled upon a tile indicating one of the Stations of the Cross. In fact, Salares has a curious way of celebrating Easter: On Sunday, Our Lady of Grief, carried by women only, is taken along the streets in the upper part of town, whereas Resurrected Jesus, carried by men, is taken along the streets in the lower town. Both processions come to the doors of the cemetery, where they meet. The walls look thick enough to protect from both winter’s cold and summer’s heat. But the town has the steepest climbs I’ve been to in Málaga so far. The cobblestone streets seem to collapse in disarray. Salares is unusually beautiful, with an architecture standing on sound Muslim foundations, as shown in archways and walls, whitewashed houses, and broken structures. Some of the buildings on Castillejo Street seemed to have been taken out of a homemade nativity scene. It didn’t take me long to get to the small square where I could find the door to the Parish Church of Santa Ana, whose minaret stood in grandeur against the grey, cloud-laden sky. In 1979, this minaret was designated as a Historic-Artistic Monument. Before getting to the square, just behind me, there was the Tower House, an original white house whose semicircular structure gave away past uses of the building that went beyond those of a mere house. I walked down Town Hall Street, only to find a stunning secret place.

The Secret Garden Shows Itself

A wooden door at the bottom of the minaret opens onto a little room –a sort of alley resembling a bedroom with a fireplace where the old access to the tower used to be. The room has a lintel opening out onto a little patio with two wooden benches and a few flowerpots, sheltered behind the church walls, the minaret, and what seems like the remains of an old castle. The views from here are impressive. I sat down, looked up and saw the sky, the tower, the mountain slopes, and halo of the sierras. The silence was impervious to everything around it but the purr of nearby cats. I got carried away by my own daydreaming and thought I could hear the muezzin singing. A flight of steps protected by a wall took me down to the back of the Town Hall building. I kept going down. Salares has managed to keep the essence of the old time, the flavour of ancient traditions. The stone houses took me along secret roads where Salares wanted me to be. My will had nothing to do with this stroll. I wander about, hoping to see a silhouette wearing a “djellaba” and a turban round every corner. Suggestive names like “Rincón de las Maravillas” or “Casa Escondida” took stereotypes beyond the imaginable to turn it into a beautiful reality. Maybe the Stations of the Cross I mentioned above are the best example of the coexistence between past and present, the Muslim and the Christian in the twenty-first century, as many of them, showing purely Christian images, are under smaller tiles featuring Arab motifs. Most houses have their original stone structures, which have been whitewashed once and again. I came to the square in the lower part of town, watching the village sprawl like a white wound across the mountain. Then I walked up Pasadizo Street, making blind guesses on my way back to my car. Bumping into the postwoman, I pitied her for the difficult task of delivering the mail in a town full of ups and downs. But she said she was used to it, and it helped her keep fit and strong. She does her job in Sedella as well (in fact, it was she I asked about the way to the chapel there) and goes to Canillas de Aceituno every day, where the central post office is. I had an insight: Sure enough, she must be acquainted with the town’s best-kept secrets. I wanted to walk with her to unveil them. But then I thought it was better this way, having unravelled some of Salares’s mysteries and leaving others for future visits. I walked up the road, making stops at will, chatting all the way to my car and my farewell.

Leaving Salares Behind

I left Salares with an unmistakable Mudejar taste in my mouth. The town is a white gem in the rough heart of Axarquía. As the fog set in, I could hear the singing of the muezzin calling to pray.

Travel Tips and Useful Links
What to do: Mudejar Tour of Axarquía: The general layout and the minaret have earned Salares a place in the Mudejar Tour of Axarquía, alongside Arenas, Árchez, Sedella, and Canillas de Aceituno. Hiking: Located within Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama Nature Park, Salares is an ideal place for this sport. Several trails, with different degrees of difficulty, have their starting points in this or neighbouring villages.
What to see: Arab-Al-Andalus Festival: In September, Salares holds the Arab-Al-Andalus Festival, where visitors can experience the Al-Andalus legacy in its foods, crafts, culture, art, and history.
Useful links: To explore Salares I’ve used the websites of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board, Salares 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.