Thursday, 17 June 2010

Plateau and countryside, olive and corn. And lots of vines, whose robust stock clings to the reddish earth with the strength it draws from centuries. Low stock, deeply rooted in the terroir. The wines produced here are of recognised, proven quality. So much so that they’ve earned their own Designation of Origin. This is Mollina, a white brushstroke against the green horizon, a hamlet appearing when you gaze at the Antequera landscape, with Montes de Málaga behind, and Peñón de los Enamorados and El Indio to the right. A longish white hamlet lost in the mist. Mollina.


Following the directions to “Centro Ciudad” (Town Centre) and “Ayuntamiento” (Town Hall), I arrived in Mollina, parking near the church. The horizon opened up under the bright blue sky. Despite their straightness –a landmark of the region–, the streets cut into one another, giving rise to an intricate maze whose effect becomes clearer as you reach the historic district and leave the housing development in the suburbs behind. Past the Church of Nuestra Señora de la Oliva there’s Guadalinfo, the Tourist Information Office. A kind assistant gave me a map, a street map, and directions to get to the main sites: Castellum de Santillán, Convent of La Ascensión, and others. Most architectural sights in Mollina are close together, almost facing one another.

Our Lady of Olives

The Parish Church of Nuestra Señora de la Oliva, in Plaza de la Constitución, is an imposing building. The front bears a belfry with three bells and up to four roof layers. The walls are white; the lintels, ochre. The belfry’s shadow projects across the square as if trying to gain ground for the church, which was built in the seventeenth century and rehabilitated in the following century. Inside, a nave, two aisles, and a wood coffered ceiling. The dark red marble high altar features a niche that is home to Our Lady of Olives. This is a curious fact, for the church was originally dedicated to St Gaetan. In the seventeenth century, Mollina was the leading olive producer in the region. It was used to called “Pago de los Olivos” (Land of Olives). The popularity of olives led to St Gaetan being replaced by our Lady of Olives. Down the left aisle, there’s a huge wooden cross dominating the white wall. The nave and aisles are separated by round arches whose columns are decorated with images of the Apostles. I lighted my candle and walked out.

The Square and the Convent

Although it was still spring, the first summer heat could be felt. Elderly men found shelter in the shade of the trees. I splashed my face with water from the square fountain. I felt good. Home architecture in Mollina was in line with what I’d seen in neighbouring villages like Alameda, Campillos, or Humilladero: wide hallways leading to shady interior courtyards, black wrought-iron grilles in windows, elaborate wooden doors, and so forth. I sat for a while on a bench in Plaza de la Constitución. I could hear heated football arguments and secretive gossiping. I was facing the Convent of La Ascensión. Built in the eighteenth century, it had been the focus of Mollina’s urban development. What remains of it is a huge wall crowned by five pivots and a big baroque door under a beautiful archway that functions as a lintel. The streets in the area have been designed to fit in. I went back to my car to pay a visit to Castellum de Santillán.

Castellum de Santillán

The ruins of the Roman castellum can be reached by car or on foot. You’re strongly advised to choose the latter, for the road is characterised by heavy traffic. If you want to drive, however, go towards Alameda along the zigzagging road into the olive groves. You’ll see vines, bales of harvested barley, poppies peppering the fields with red… A somewhat sharper bend marked the beginning of Santillán Recreational Area. The first detour to the right led to a bar. I drove around along a dirt road until a fence preventing me from going any further. The ruins lay 10 metres away. “Covering a surface area of 1,400 square metres, the ruins reveal constructions from two different periods: a cluster of rooms developed around two big rectangular areas from the first or second century A.D. –a Roman villa housing a family of the ruling class–and a walled fortress with a 24.5-metre x 24.5-metre floor plan and a tower in every corner built on the family home in the third century A.D. with defensive purposes,” I read on the website of the Costa del Sol Tourist Board. The recreational area was being used by a group of schoolchildren from Málaga. There were wooden benches and tables, modern barbecues, and a religious sight: the Chapel of Virgen de la Oliva, built in 2008.


A short stroll revealed a small wood across the road. Its lines of shadowy willows played hide-and-seek with the sunbeams. It was a quiet, inviting place. I gave in to the rustling of leaves and lay down on the soft wet grass.

Useful Data and Links

When to come:
Wine: Mollina produces 80% of all D.O. Málaga wine. Winemaking being such an important activity in the village, there’s a festival in its honour: Grape Harvest Fair, in the second week of September. It’s an important local fiesta. Held in Plaza de Atenas, it consists of a huge tasting of D.O. Málaga and D.O. Sierras de Málaga wines, which include “Tierras de Mollina” wines. The Grape Harvest Fair in Mollina was first celebrated in the 1960s, when it used to be called “Feria del Barrio Alto,” for it was in this district that it began. With the expansion of the local winemaking industry, the celebrations reached other areas in the village, and the event’s name changed to Grape Harvest Fair in 1987. The fair also includes a poetry competition, “Mollina, the Colour of Wine,” whose 10th edition took place in 2008.
What to eat:
Pork products: The cold, dry winter weather makes Mollina ideal for pork meat curing. There’re several stores in the centre of town selling traditional pork meats at affordable prices.
What to do:
CEULAJ: Mollina is home to the Euro-Latin American Youth Centre, which organises a series of cultural activities, social events, and meetings throughout the year. This means that the village becomes the centre of youth activities of Málaga Province and Andalusia several times a year. To read more about CEUAJ, go to the website of the Institute of Youth Affairs (Injuve).
Useful links: For more information on Mollina, visit the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Mollina Town Hall.

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