Thursday, 30 September 2010

Algaidas is a Villa Nueva (new village). Villanueva de Algaidas. Severed from Archidona, its independence and peculiarities acknowledged only in modern times. Algaidas was the birthplace of master Berrocal, Miguel Berrocal –a household name of twentieth-century sculpture around the world. Algaidas, a name of Arabic descent where you can hear the echoes of thickets and bushes. Villanueva de Algaidas, a village with ascetic, convent-like origins. Algaidas, surrounded by olives and more olives and more olives, bathed in the golden oil of which it’s the first producer in Málaga Province. Villanueva de Algaidas, Algaidas, Villa Nueva.

Far in the Distance, Olives

The silent olives bury their shoots in the earth, giving rise to a woody ocean in silvery green. The rolling hills are full of them; there’s no spot where you can see the bright red earth, throbbing beneath your feet. Tractors and other farming machines plough their way along the roads and trails among swirling clouds of dust. Corn and olive storage facilities rise up like metal insects, like lunar bases resting on a green ocean. The air is pregnant with the slightly sweet and strong smell of olive pressing –a harbinger of a powerful oil-making industry, of refined olive oil and golden oily liquids. The dust hangs in the horizon and beyond, wrapping the land in a surreal, oneiric blanket and evoking faraway dreams.


Driving towards the town centre, I was met with a linear layout hiding a couple of winding streets. Up Málaga Street and into Córdoba Street, where I parked. Villanueva de Algaidas and the neighbouring village Villanueva de Tapia lie on the border of Málaga, back to back with Córdoba. Parking where the two streets met was like having the provincial geography reproduced at a small scale. I was soon faced with wide hallways and shady courtyards behind thick wooden doors. Winter must be harsh in this northeastern area of Málaga. I could imagine the frost and the dew, the low temperature at dawn and in the early morning, the comforting heat of the sun at noon… The stately homes featured two or three storeys at most, the third floor serving as an attic or family granary in the past but now fallen into disuse. Windows and doors lay behind black wrought-iron bars. The houses projected their shadows over one another, so that I could stay in their shelter, protected from the inveterate sun in the bright blue sky.

Origins and Parish Church

Where other towns spread around a fortress, a tower, or a castle, the origins of modern Villanueva de Algaidas lie in a Franciscan convent. In fact, in the town centre, religious architecture boils down to a humble modern church. The old Franciscan convent “used to gather several population centres. With time, administrative organisation became necessary: a town hall was needed to manage the interest of the scattered settlements in the area known as ‘la Rinconá.’ About 1km away from today’s town centre there was the core of the first village, now known as ‘La Atalaya.’ Other districts emerged in the areas where farming lands could be found. La Atalaya, La Rinconá, Zamarra, Albaicín, and Parrilla are some of the districts that eventually made Villanueva de Algaidas, which had its own Town Hall in 1843, after its separation from Archidona” (source: Costa del Sol Tourist Board website). The Parish Church of Nuestra Señora de la Consolación was built between 1904 and 1907. It boasts a simple façade in white and ochre, ending in an austere belfry with one bell and reconstructed in the twentieth century. It’s a single-nave church, built into the street as if it were just one more home. The sacristy door belongs the old Franciscan convent. On the façade you can read, “Happy are those who fight for peace stemming from justice” and “Let your Word, My Lord, change my life.” Despite its small size, the parish church has an active religious life, as shown by the notice board announcing Masses and other events.

Miguel Berrocal, Sculptor

I was retracing my steps when I stumbled upon a man singing a copla in a soft voice while leaning on his door. Some of the houses looked solemn, as if of some importance, maybe dating back to the eighteenth century. The wood blinds were unfolded, preventing the sun from coming in and thus bringing some relief. I reached Plaza Miguel Berrocal, the nerve centre of Villanueva de Algaidas and a tribute to one of the best sculptors from the twentieth century, whose work went well beyond the boundaries of his hometown to become part of the world’s art heritage. “Miguel Ortiz Berrocal, a.k.a. Miguel Berrocal in the art world, was born in Villanueva de Algaidas, Málaga Province, on September 28, 1933. In 1949 he moved to Madrid, where he attended the first course in the School of Sciences and was admitted to the School of Architecture. But he left to attend the School of Arts and Crafts and, later, the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts under the tutoring of Ángel Ferrant. After getting a grant from the French government, he moved to Paris, where he met Giacometti, Cárdenas, and Picasso in Cannes. In his first phase, under the influence of Eduardo Chillida and Jorge Oteiza, Berrocal worked with wrought iron. In the 1960s he began making the “puzzle sculptures” that would earn him a household name. These are small-sized pieces in noble materials. However, Berrocal was acquainted with new materials like Kevlar® or carbon fibre, which he used in big sculptures. He also lived in Rome and Verona until he returned to Villanueva de Algaidas, where he died on June 1, 2006” (source: “Escultura Urbana” website. Also check the official site, for more information on the sculptor’s life and work, and a sample of his wide catalogue.).

The Convent and the Cave Chapels

Going back to where I’d left my car, I plunged into the origins of Villanueva de Algaidas. I went down Córdoba Street and turned left at a junction, following a sign reading “La Atalaya” (which could’ve been the original settlement). I found the ruins of the Franciscan convent along the way. They were closed and fenced off, but still I was able to appreciate the structure of the building. Besides, there was an information board telling the history of its origin and construction. The ruins of the magnificent building only include the nave of the church and part of the original structure that housed the Franciscan friars. Opened in 1566 by Pedro Téllez de Girón, Duke of Osuna, the convent became a religious reference in the area. Historical events led to its abandonment and the collapse of part of it. A curious fact: the Franciscans in the convent lived off the sales of holm oak wood which they good near the headquarters of the Spanish Navy. Next to the ruins there was a ninth-century cave chapels, which sheltered a group of Mozarabs, i.e. resisting Christians under Arab rule. It’s in fact a series of little rock caves with a central nave and a barrel vault, plus small side rooms. The cave chapels are proof that the area was a major Christian settlement.


Far from Villanueva de Algaidas’s brilliant past, I plunged into its gleaming present, when the silvery crowns of the olive trees are rocked by the warm breeze of summer. My car got lost in the bends of the winding roads, well into the groves, becoming one with the reddish earth, the ashy green, the silvery grey. For we are oil, too.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

Miguel Berrocal: For a deeper knowledge of the life and international career of the sculptor who rubbed shoulders with the greatest artists of the twentieth century (he was in fact one of them), check the official site, Berrocal chose to spend his last days in Villanueva de Algaidas, his homeland, leaving Verona behind to take a final look at olives in his hometown.
Hiking: Adjoining the Franciscan convent, there’s the long-distance trail 7-E4 (GR-7). This long-distance trail connects Andorra with the Strait of Gibraltar. It’s marked with red and white signs, like all long-distance trails. In fact, it was the first trail of this kind to be marked as such in Spain in 1974). The GR-7 is parallel to the Levante but far from the coast. It’s part of the European trail E-4 (Tarifa-Spain). After running across France and Andorra (also as GR-7 in both countries) it goes into Spain: Catalonia (La Farga de Moles), Valencia, Murcia, and Andalusia, where it reaches the southernmost point in continental Europe, Tarifa (near Algeciras). One day, the GR-92 will converge here.
Useful links: To learn more about Villanueva de Algaidas, visit the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Villanueva de Algaidas Town Hall.