Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Riogordo: passions and Passion, oil and olives, harsh winters and warm summers. Riogordo: a village rocked by history, famous for its characters. Riogordo: fertile lands and uneven hillocks, graces and Grace. Riogordo: Neolithic and Phoenician background. Riogordo: a village that borrowed its name from the river flowing next to it, a “fat” river. Riogordo: a village bursting with heavy minerals, detached rock, tough solidity. Riogordo: birthplace of Umar ibn Hafsun (if Parauta and the sierras excuse me). Riogordo: stealth and niches. Riogordo.

Coming to Riogordo

Mildly rolling hills pregnant with olives channel the road connecting Colmenar with Riogordo –a subtle zigzag, a dance between the sierras and the bright blue sky, amidst the onlooking granite formations of Axarquía: Tajo de Gómer (1,129m) and Sierra del Rey, with its highest peak, Castejón (972m). I relished in the green freshness of the recent rain, which had soaked the earth in ancient wet smells. I turned right, then left, then right again, into an olive-flanked narrow road that laid bare the first roofs of Riogordo. I drove ahead towards the town centre, parking my car in a free space near Plaza de la Constitución. If you don’t find a place in the square, you can park in any of the adjoining streets. As soon as I got off, I noticed the first of Riogordo’s distinctive features.

Fountains All Around

Fountains. Water is ever-present in Riogordo. It’s in the name of some streets and squares –“Búcaro,” “Pozo,” “Agua,” “Fuente Nueva,” “Aguardientería”... In Plaza de la Constitución, I read, “Water has always been a hallmark of this village, which carved gardens on the banks of the river, dug wells in courtyards, and built fountains in the streets and squares. For instance, the famous Pozo Realengo de Benales, lying on Pozo Street by the Hospital of San Sebastián in 1574.” Three fountains take visitors back to the eighteenth century: Las Taras, in Plaza Pública towards the Palace of the Viscountess; La Gota, in the district of Aprisco, a.k.a. El Generalife (1785); and Fuente Nueva, near El Calvario, next to… guess what?... the waterwheel! At least this is what I could read in a tile plate, among many water-related curious facts, such as the arrival of drinking water in 1909.

The Church and the Streets

From Constitución Square, I walked down Virgen de Fátima Street to get to the Parish Church of Nuestra Señora de Gracia in Plaza de la Iglesia. The rockroses and brooms of the surrounding mountains added a peculiar smell to the village. The blackbirds and swallows made my soundtrack, tweeting and trilling in their acrobatic pirouettes. The parish church was closed. Later I was told it was about to be rehabilitated; the bishopric had already granted permission so work would begin soon. The outside showed an austere door with a brick lintel and a bell-less belfry. The belfry tower was in the back part –a perfectly square brick construction whose two clocks could be seen from Plaza de la Constitución. I moved on. The streets of Riogordo were brimming with colourful details: flowerpots painting the walls in bright red, violet, or purple, with a touch of pink or light yellow. They were developed in adjustment to the geography, so the apparently simple layout was in fact quite complex. I got lost. The best thing to do was ask around and follow directions. This is how I got to the Public School of Nuestra Señora de Gracia, which I skirted to reach the site where The Passion of Jesus Christ is staged every year.

The Passion

The premises –the school’s backyard– included walls to the left and a series of temples and shrines, colonnades and houses. The Passion of Jesus Christ is staged here every year. It’s a major event in town, first held in 1951. “Some media have described it as ‘the best Passion in Europe,’” said a board at the entrance. Beyond subjective opinions, Riogordo’s Passion was designated as a Fiesta of National Tourist Interest by the Spanish Chamber of Deputies in 1996, a Fiesta of National Tourist Interest by the Andalusian Parliament in 1997, an Axarquía Institution of Honour in 1996, and a Fiesta of Singular Provincial Interest in 2004. In 2009, it was granted the “Nazareno del Año” award by Cadena Ser. “El Paso” is an open-air performance of some scenes in the life, passion, and death of Jesus Christ in an 8,000-square-metre natural setting. It’s a faithful recreation of Biblical facts involving the direct participation of 400 people and the commitment of the whole town.

The Chapel

I returned to the town centre along San Isidro Street, where I got a glimpse of the church tower set against the fields. As the streets vanished into the horizon, green and hills prevailed –dark rolling hills covered with grass, olives, or Mediterranean forests. Back in the square, I took Real Street and 10 metres ahead I saw the red-trimmed wall of the Chapel of San Sebastián or Jesús Nazareno. As the door was open, I walked in, drawing a large dark red curtain. If was quiet and cool inside. The chapel was simple and clean. I was taking pictures when a painter in dungarees came to me and told me the building had just been renovated, from the ceiling to the choir. They just had to finish the niche of Jesus of Nazareth, which had deteriorated with time despite being protected by a glass door. It had already been cleaned up, and now they have to restore it and paint it. I talked to him for a little longer, but our chat was interrupted by three women who’d come to pray. I said goodbye and walked out.


Back in my car, I drove towards Colmenar and Casabermeja, into the Montes de Málaga. I could go on until I reached the huge green sheet of La Viñuela reservoir or take the road connecting Colmenar with Málaga City. 500 metres from Riogordo, I pulled over. I could only hear the silence and see the olive trees, smell the wet earth and feel the bright colours of poppies in the grass. I stared at Tajo de Gómer and Castejón; they looked overwhelming. I did nothing else for a while, wrapped by the aromas of olive groves while I fancied the sweet taste of the verdial oil I’d bought in Riogordo. I pulled away into the traffic with a watering mouth.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

When to come:
Snail Day: From May 27 to 29, Riogordo pays tribute to snails. This Fiesta of Singular Provincial Interest consists in a cookout in which 350 kilos of snails are boiled in a slightly hot stew and served to all and sundry. It’s one of the typical local dishes. The snails are washed down with locally made wines and accompanied with other traditional foods. There’s music and dance, and a ceremony in which awards are given to those people and institutions who’ve made significant contributions to the promotion of Riogordo.
What to see:
The Passion of Jesus Christ: If you want to learn more about the fiesta I’ve briefly described above, how it unfolds and what it means to this town and its people, click here: Riogordo’s Passion.
What to do: Route of Oil and Mountains: Alongside Colmenar, Alfarnate, Alfarnatejo, Periana, Alcaucín, and La Viñuela, Riogordo is part of this route across,
Useful links: My two web references in this trip have been the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Riogordo Town Hall.

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