Tuesday, 20 April 2010

And they chose to stay. Some of them found in uprisings, riots and guerrilla warfare a way of being loyal to their customs and traditions, a way of keep their past –and pride– alive. They were called monfíes and the Christian armies could only crush them with great violence, after stripping them of everything they loved. Then they became outlaws, on a level with ordinary thieves and highwaymen. This all happened after 1492, when the kingdom of Granada surrendered and Muhammad XII, a.k.a. Boabdil, surveyed the Alhambra for the last time and burst into tears. More than 500 years later, in 2003, a treasure was found during rehabilitation work in a house in Cútar. It was one of the oldest, most comprehensive, and best kept Qur’ans ever found in Al-Andalus. Experts consider it to be a unique document in Spain. Dating from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, it’s given rise to a panoply of legends. I can see the man in djellaba bidding farewell to his wife and children, seeking the shelter from the Christian soldiers in the mountains and gullies in Axarquía. I can see him, besieged by Christian swords, burying his father and grandfather and great-grandfather’s treasure. I can see him holding the Qur’an in his hands, kissing it, looking at the bright blue sky, and hiding the book before leaving for good.

Arrival in Cútar

The hills before Cútar –a hamlet perched on the slope of a mountain– are punctuated by vines. Stumps can be seen all around, covering the adjacent mounts, leaving no room for other species. The land seems to have got over the phylloxera outbreak that devastated the region in the nineteenth century, finishing vine growing off and thus dealing a harsh blow to the local economy. And this is where Cútar lies, inevitably surrounded by vines, pouring out of the slope where it stands. I parked at the entrance of town, next to the bus stop, and took a walk in the narrow, vertical hamlet, climbing up La Fuente Street. Cútar’s kept its rural skin under its modern looks. It hasn’t lost a drop of authenticity, nerve, and morisco essence. I came to the Town Hall building, whose porticoed ground floor features a viewpoint affording views of the vine-peppered hills. The streets are so steep (almost vertical) that the town seems to be spilling out of its own guts. I climbed up, slowly, step by step, unhurriedly. Once up, I turned left and headed for Plaza de la Iglesia. Before reaching it, I noticed a board pointing to Tintorerías Street, where the Monfí’s Museum is located.

The Monfíes and the Church

Cútar pays tribute to those who became outlaws after the surrender of Granada, those moriscos who rose up against the new regime of the Catholic Monarchs and traded their farming implements for arms. Every year in October, the town travels back to the fifteenth century for the Fiesta del Monfí. “For two days, the village morphs into something different. The streets are taken by a market of Al-Andalus crafts, Arab music, shows and workshops, falconry displays… Food plays a key role at the fair, with locals and out-of-towners enjoying fourteenth- and fifteenth-century aromas and flavours, reminiscent of Arab times. Cutareños take part in the celebrations wearing Al-Andalus costumes and dancing in style.” Feeling the echoes of Cútar’s past reverberate in my ears, I moved on towards the church. The Church of Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación was built between 1553 and 1558, using the foundations of an old mosque. An information board on the front door explains that “It is considered to be a unique token of this style, marking the transition from simple to more sophisticated Mudéjar. The niche in the high altar, in the Rococo style, and the polychrome altarpieces are remarkable. The robust belfry tower is thought to have doubled as a fortress. The dome inside is supported by scallops in the middle floor.” From the upper part of town, where the church stands like a ship aground, you can see the neighbouring village of Comares –an eagle’s nest sheltered from the swipe of enemies.

The Arab Fountain

According to the Libro de Apeo de Cútar (Book of Land Distribution in Cútar), published in 1571, “The Aina Alcaharia fountain used to be an Arab chapel or convent, then converted to water well and fountain. Alongside Aina Alvaida, Ainalhagui, Ainatuta, Aina Alarla, Aina al-Maharaca, Aina Caçahalún, and Iznacutar, it made the network of water springs and fountains providing this village with water. It was also the hub of everyday activity in the village.” The fountain is on the outskirts, by the entrance, at a bend in the road. Its mighty water flow under a little brick bridge and gurgles in the old Arab fountain. I fancied beasts of burden drinking after a long day, or women carrying their jars, full to the brim, back to the village centre, or boys and girls hanging around in the area. I splashed my face, cooled my forehead, and went back to my car, ready for farewell.


When I reached the bus stop before the road back to the village, I stopped. I was standing on a mound where I could look at Cútar in the eye: a white hamlet against the green vines and olives. The buildings stood in sharp contrast to the mountains in the background, hunched against one another, the Church of La Encarnación dominating the whole picture. I thought of the monfíes who chose to relinquish their ties with their homeland and stood up for what they thought was a legitimate claim. They left their sheltering sky and the steep streets under it to save their lives in the folds and mountains of this rough region in Axarquía.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to see: Fiesta del Monfí: It’s held on the second weekend of October, recreating the days when the moriscos lived in Cútar. About it the Cútar Town Hall website reads, “The town’s narrow white streets become a makeshift souk, where some forty stands display a wide array of foods and crafts from those days, like almojábana (fritters with soft cheese). Locals where period customs and parade down the streets in Al-Andalus fashion, inviting visitors to join in.”
Past and nature: Peña de Hierro is an interesting place to visit, both for the beauty of its landscapes and its archaeological value: traces have been found here and in Río de la Cueva of settlements dating back to the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, which attests to Cútar’s strategic location between Axarquía’s lowlands and highlands.
Useful links: I’ve relied on three websites in my visit to Cútar: the Costa del Sol Tourist Board, the Cútar Town Hall, and the Association for the Promotion of Axarquía. Alongside Totalán, Comares, El Borge, Almáchar, and Moclinejo, Cútar is part of the Route of Raisins in Axarquía.

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