Thursday, 23 December 2010

“His footprints on the earth will show you his history,
As if you’d seen it with your own eyes.
Alas, never will time bring someone else like him,
To conquer the peninsula
And lead the army as he did.”
Ibn Idhari

They took down the bells, one by one, and he had them brought to Córdoba. He asked his private guard to look after the saint’s tomb. He had already devastated Zamora and León on his way to Santiago de Compostela. Once there, he didn’t leave a single stone in place. He was cadid of Seville and commander of all armies. His power was ruthless, his temperament, arrogant in the years before his fall after the battle of Calatañazor. Abu Aamir Muhammad Ibn Abdullah Ibn Abi Aamir, better known as Almanzor, still remembered his boyhood days in Hins Turrus, the glorious site of the Umayyad Caliphate where rebellious Umar ibn Hafsun fell to the absolute power of Abd ar-Rahman III. He’d grown in these zigzagging streets, chasing after other kids. Christians knew him as Almanzor and feared his sword and his ruthlessness. But Torrox new Abi Aamir the boy, who didn’t see his people surrender to the Christian army in 1487 or the stifling of the Morisco revolt in the battle of Peñón de Frigiliana in 1571. This land with an eventful history was also prodigal in conquests and surrenders. Welcome to Torrox, home to Almanzor.

Zooming in

The soul of Torrox is made up to two distinct parts. On the one hand, the beach, the Roman villas, the garum factory. On the other, the hills, the intricate pattern, the zigzagging streets. Torrox Costa and Torrox Pueblo coexist in a place which, so the slogan goes, has “the best weather in the world,” the average annual temperature being 19ºC. The place is also associated with the discovery of America, for a man from here, Luis de Torres, was aboard one of Columbus’s caravels. These threads make the fabric of fabulous stories –Mansio Caviclum, Almanzor, Casa de la Hoya–, told against the background of an Arab village of impossibly narrow, twisted streets and beaches that look the Mediterranean in the eye.

The Tour Begins: First Impressions and Church of La Encarnación

My tour begins in Torrox Pueblo, some 3km away from the coastal district. I leave my car in a large parking area at the entrance on the left, before reaching the town centre. From here, a house-lined walk leads to Plaza de la Constitución. Small houses, walls full of pots filled with plants and flowers. Autumn smells of hearty stews. The morning sun shines on the clean cobblestone streets. The Town Hall website contains several routes to get around Torrox. I’ve chosen the Historical Route (the most complete), starting at Plaza de la Constitución, with variations of my own. I take Chiste Street to the right, then Paz Street. The broken layout and the narrow streets will be with me all along. There’re big surprises round every corner. For instance, upon leaving Paz Street flows into Plaza de Oriente, were I’m faced with a flight of steps, a row of balconies, and lots of flower pots. Colour all over the place. I take a couple of pictures and walk on, amazed at every corner or bend. I go down Beso Street (the plate is illustrated with a kiss) to the vicinity of Plaza de la Constitución and the Church of Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación. The maze forces me to ask for directions once or twice. Every now and then, I spot a plate indicating the Route of Almanzor. The plates bring me to the right sights. Later I will learn that this route and the one I’ve chosen coincide in most points. The church becomes visible as soon as you arrive in Torrox. It’s a curious dark ochre building. On closer look I realise the walls are engraved with geometric figures all along the plinth. The main door is on a side street, so I go in using the side stairs. Built in the seventeenth century on the ruins of an old mosque, the church had to be rebuilt in 1889. It is simple, austere inside, its high altar dominated by a wood cross. Its most remarkable feature is the reddish wooden coffered ceiling. I go out into Plaza de la Constitución.

Plaza de la Constitución

A large square, with several bars and restaurants where you can have tapas under the warm autumn sun. Its main building is Casa de la Hoya (Hollow House), where King Alfonso XII stayed when he visited the village in 1885, after an earthquake shook Axarquía in Christmas. The square affords great views of the church, standing up against the bright blue sky. A bunch of foreign residents are having cold beers in a bar, wearing short-sleeved shirts in spite of the season. Constitución is a nice square, worth a stroll or two. Next to Casa de la Hoya, the access to the courts, an orange tree-lined walk and courtyard. Elisa Ortigosa Street marks the beginning of the town centre. From it I walk into Baja Street, one of the main thoroughfares in Torrox.

To the Church of San Roque

Baja Street used to be one of Torrox’s main shopping streets. Majestic homes and shops bear witness to its past. Two ochre Arab towers welcome visitors. A plate tells me that, “According to legend, prince Abd ar-Rahman lived here after he landed in Almuñécar in September 775. Antonio Segovia Lobillo, poets and writers of Axarquía.” Little remains of original building, but knowing that you’re strolling along what used to be the town’s defence line is quite a feeling. Some 10m from the towers, Santa Teresa Street, whose sides are connected by means of three archways. It’s just one of the many Morisco traces in the town’s layout: steep, narrow streets, stairs leading nowhere, little squares enclosed by defensive walls, bends appearing out of nowhere… With the main street as reference point, I visit some of the sights, make inquiries, search for places, take photographs. I see, for instance, the façade of the House of the Inquisition or House of Alonso Algassy. Although it’s not in good condition, I can give you an idea of its majestic past. Then there’s the Mint or Customs Office –proof of Torrox’s importance after the discovery of America. Did Luis de Torres play a role in his town’s ascent? I don’t know. Born a Jew, De Torres was Columbus’s lenguas (that is, interpreter) on his trip to America. He had already relied on his knowledge of languages at the court of the Governor of Murcia. There’re legends about it. “Books in English said that Torres had discovered the turkey, which he named after the Hebrew word for ‘parrot’ (tukki). Likewise, they say that, when he returned to Spain, he was accused of witchcraft by the Inquisition for smoking tobacco. Muslim websites mention an ‘Arabic-speaking Spaniard’ on Columbus’s first trip as proof of the long presence of Arabs in the Americas. These conjectures are based on Phyllis McIntosh’s article in Washington File, a publication of the US Department of State (August 23, 2004): ‘Christopher Columbus, who discovered America in 1492, might have drawn his itinerary across the Atlantic Ocean with the help of an Arab sailor’” (source: Wikipedia). Now, the Mint houses a museum of small-sized Torrox. Before getting to Plaza de San Roque, I turn left and walk into Calle del Portón, a narrow alleyway leading to a new maze of streets. Then I head for the square, a secluded place full of blossoming orange trees, where I can hear the murmur of a neighbouring fountain. The Chapel of San Roque has a remarkable belfry and a brick façade. It was built in the sixteenth century, in the Neo-Mudéjar style.

In the Maze

Despite following signs and clinging to the street map I downloaded from the Town Hall website, I keep getting lost in Torrox. From the chapel, I walk up Fe Street to enter the real maze. At this point, it’s no longer possible to follow a single street. They vanish and reappear some metres ahead, fork mysteriously, bend into one another. I get glimpses of the flowery patios under vines, I look at the colourful windows: turquoise, green, etc. There’re loads of flowers in Torrox. Bougainvillea climbing down from the roofs to kiss the floor. Houses with names of their own, some of them bearing Nordic or Anglo-Saxon echoes. It’s a pleasure to get lost here, greeting locals, watching the children play hide-and-seek in the ancient walls. I could say I’ve been to Fe Street, Alegría, Espada, Calvario, but I’m not sure, for I haven’t seen a Route of Almanzor sign for quite long. Stairs leading to private homes. Weird entrances out of Tolkien’s imagination. Back to Beso Street. I can now find my way around.


I’ve bought a few postcards in a shop adjoining Plaza de la Constitución. The kind assistant there has recommended Asador Torrox for lunch. I took her advice. The restaurant is on my way to the car. I order a full salad, swordfish in Málaga wine, tripe with chickpeas, two 1.5l bottles of water. The place affords views of the coastline and the sea. The tripe is hot, and this makes it delicious.

Torrox Costa

I go back to my car and drive under the highway to reach Torrox Costa. I turn left after the roundabout and easily park facing the lighthouse. In the 1970s, Torrox experienced unprecedented growth. The area is similar to the neighbouring town of Algarrobo; many foreigners have chosen it as a place to live in. The main attractions in Torrox Costa are, of course, the beaches. There’re seven in a 9km-long coastal strip: Calaceite, El Cenicero, El Morche, El Peñoncillo, Ferrara, Mazagarrobo, and Wilches. Torrox’s dark-sand beaches have been granted the Blue Flag year in, year out, which places them among the best in Europe in terms of the quality of their water, the services they offer visitors, and their accesses. Locals and out-of-towners are taking a stroll along the sea promenade in Ferrara, as they feel the autumn breeze. The blue sea, a little bit choppy this morning, crashes on the shore. At the start of the sea promenade there’s a large scenic viewpoint. Below, an archaeological site: a series of tombs that could be part of the Roman villa a mare next to the lighthouse. From the viewpoint you can see most of coastal Axarquía, stretching eastwards and westwards. The wind blows between the platform braces, howling past them. Next to the viewpoint, the lighthouse and a good story. “The site contains the remains of a villa, a salting plant where the famous garum was made, hot springs, a furnace, and a vast necropolis. The ruins were discovered by lighthouse’s keeper Tomás García Ruiz, whose excavations in the early twentieth century laid bare most of the archaeological items that were afterwards studied by experts: mosaics, sculptures, amphorae, urns, coins, etc. The Lighthouse Villa in Torrox is one of the few examples of a Roman villa a mare in Spain. The lighthouse, dating back to 1864, emerges from the ruins. Its first signals were made using olive oil lamps. In the early twentieth century, these were replaced by petroleum lighting. Electric power was first used in 1922” (source: Costa del Sol Tourist Board website). Skirting the lighthouse, I can feel my face being splashed by approaching waves. No wonder the Romans had their villa here. It’s a privileged location. According to historians, this villa is Mansio Caviclum, which was part of Antoninus’s Itinerary. It could’ve been built in the first to fourth centuries A.D. I continue my stroll under the warm sun in Ferrara.


I’m still within the maze. I can hear children’s voices, women’s greetings, cats’ purrs. I can see the folding and vanishing streets. I can smell the delicate flowers and the autumn dishes. Maybe Almanzor or Luis de Torres played in these streets when they were kids, before being a leader and an interpreter in the New World. I bring them together in my mind. De Torres being Almanzor’s interpreter before the Prior of the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. It’s just fiction, but it’s free. And it feels good.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

What to see: Convent of Nuestra Señora de las Nieves: By 1646, the Torrox Town Council had already asked the Minim friars to establish a religious building where children could be educated. The building was established, but the friars moved in only in 1670. It was first used as an hospice and then as a convent. The convent you can see today was built in the late eighteenth century on the ruins of the original chapel. The official foundation document (General Chapter, Genoa, 1710), describes it as “Convento torroxensis Madonna della Neve” (source for text and image: Torrox Town Hall website). Güi/Huit Watchtower: A 40m high conical masonry and lime mortar tower dating back to the fifteenth century (height: 9m; base circumference: 22.30m). It was part of the coastal defence system. It lies in the area of Calaceite, road N-340 to Nerja. It can be seen from the road (source: Torrox Town Hall website).
When to come: Migas Day: Designated as a Fiesta of National Tourist Interest in Andalusia, this annual celebration pays tribute to the most typical dish of Torrox’s cuisine. Everyone is invited to taste migas and wash it down with a glass of wine on
Migas Day. For their ingredients and seasoning, migas are a very popular meal with field workers. In the past, when they were working in the vineyards or the olive orchards, they were summoned by the boss, who sounded a conch to let them know that lunch was ready. Migas Day is on Sunday before Christmas, by the Olive-Oil Mill Market. A conch is still sounded to tell all and sundry they can fetch their plates of migas, garnished with “arriera” salad. Then everyone eats in a festive atmosphere. The party continues in Plaza de la Constitución, where there’s music and dance (source: Torrox Town Hall website).
Useful links: To find more about Torrox, visit the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Torrox Town Hall. The latter contains a lot of useful information (section: Patronato de Turismo, in Spanish).

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


Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Sayalonga embraces herself with its alleyways, spreading through the town centre and folding upon one another as they take in a white village in their bosom. A town of powerful essential aromas and quiet sounds, fitting the geography of a ravine, adjusting its cubic houses to the slopes of the terrain. “Sayalonga”: a sanguine, delicate name evoking tropical fruit, Latin conjunctions, long sayas. The origin of the name is a mystery, but in the reason underlying lies its genesis. Muslim and Christian chronicles mentioned the annexed village of Corumbela more often, or even the extinct Batarxis. But here it is, just behind a sharp bend, a white ghost, a shred of autumn mist, white plumes rising up from chimneys against the bright blue sky. Welcome to Sayalonga.

Zooming in

Sayalonga is the gateway to inner Axarquía from Torrox, Nerja, Algarrobo, or Frigiliana, the easternmost coastal towns in Málaga Province. It opens up a brave new world of gorges snatched off the mountain slopes to make roads –now negotiated by cars; in the past, by mule drivers, carts, and horses. The white villages of Axarquía, standing on a rugged terrain, make some of the finest pictures of Málaga Province. They’re very small towns –Salares, Sedella, Canillas de Albaida, Árchez– glued to the ground since time immemorial. Larger towns like Cómpeta are the spearhead of a region crisscrossed by the Mudéjar Route and the Route of Sun and Wine –to travellers’ delight. The whole region deserves a well-planned, careful, unhurried visit, to get to know its amazing corners, impossible layouts, minaret gems, old mosques, secret squares preceded by narrow walls. Sayalonga is part of the Route of Sun and Wine, but it could also be one of the points in the Mudéjar Route, courtesy of the minaret that’s come down to us in Corumbela.

Tour Start

Coming to Sayalonga from Algarrobo, I ignore the first parking sign and drive higher up, stopping in the higher part of town, in a parking area on a hill. This short ride has given me an idea of what the village looks like, adapted to the terrain and clinging to it. I get ready for my downhill walk to the town centre. The Sayalonga website makes life easier for visitors. It shows the sights worth seeing and their opening hours, it tells interesting stories about the town, and contains a downloadable PDF streetmap that is updated and user-friendly. Likewise, there’re signs and boards on the streets and building façades that can also help you find your way around.

The Church, the Chapel, and the Alcuza

Following directions, I reach Plaza de Rafael Alcoba, a large square. There’re two kids playing with a ball and a group of elderly men chatting in the autumn sun. The Town Hall is next to the square, marking the starting point of a street maze that is, surprisingly enough, quite easy to negotiate. The street name plates bear a loquat. In fact, loquats are one of Sayalonga’s greatest attractions. The first Sunday of May, the town celebrates Loquat Day, a Fiesta of National Tourist Interest in Andalusia. On Loquat Day, anyone can taste loquats and various dishes made with them. Only 20m away from the Town Hall there’s the Church of Santa Catalina, flanked by the Chapel of San Cayetano, facing Callejón de la Alcuza, the narrowest alley in the region of Axarquía. Both the church and the chapel are extraordinarily simple. White on the outside, of pure shapes, with wooden and iron-bar doors, respectively. On the roof of the church, built in the sixteenth century over the ruins of an old mosque, there’s an eight-sided belfry tower. The chapel is as old as the church. It was built in the times when Christians and Muslims lived together in the area. It houses an image of St Cajetan, an eighteenth-century sculpture of great artistic value. Opposite both buildings there’s the Callejón de la Alcuza. Alcuza is a word of Arabic origin meaning “funnel.” “Callejón de la Alcuza. Being 56cm at the ends, this is the narrowest alley in the region of Axarquía,” reads a plate at the entrance. And narrow it is. An average person brushes past the side walls when they walk through. It reminds me of the Callejón de Araceli in the neighbouring village of Canillas de Albaida. I’ll come back here later, to get to the Circular Cemetery via Callejón de San Cayetano. But before this, I need to take a look at the scenic viewpoints.

The Scenic Viewpoint in Morales Street

I move on, following the signs that lead to the Morisco Museum. A fork in the road opens up two possibilities: to the left, the museum; to the right, the viewpoint in Morales Street. I take the latter. “Overwhelming” is the word that came to my mind when I looked at the landscape from the viewpoint. The zigzagging mountains, peaks, and ravines of Axarquía to the right. The annexed district of Corumbela floating about, its minaret tower sticking out. The Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama Nature Park beyond, making visible the highest peak of Málaga Province, snow-capped La Maroma. Next to Corumbela, in the background, the farms and estates (fincas and cortijos) of Cómpeta and Canillas de Albaida, although the town centres are not easy to make out. The valley down below. On the river banks, Árchez. I take a seat and let the fresh morning air fill me in. Fruit orchards, oranges, lemon trees. I can hear dogs barking in the distance. The smoke from the chimneys rises up to the bright blue sky and disintegrates in the air. A board at the viewpoint tells an interesting story: “This street is called ‘Morales’ because the area used to be mulberry tree plantations. (…) The trees were used for silkworm breeding, and the silk was exported from the jetty in Torre del Mar to several European countries, including Holland, England, and Italy. Produced in large amounts, it was high-quality silk, which made the region one of the most thriving in the Kingdom of Granada.”

The Morisco Museum

Retracing my steps to the fork in the road, I take the right lane to the Moorish Museum of Sayalonga. “The museum’s location has a historical origin. The building, owned by the Town Council, has been used for multiple purposes. It was a school, the Town Hall building, an oleander craft workshop… It now houses the museum. The renovation work done has kept the original structure to create a place where modern facilities can be developed in a rustic style. The result is powerfully beautifulThe building is visually interesting already: horseshoe arches, carved doors, walls decorated with Morisco motifs, striking colours. Variety, multifunctionality, and interesting contents turn the building into a showcase of Sayalonga’s cultural heritage, which gives visitors information on all aspects related to the town’s culture and history. What’s more, the building is equipped with state-of-the-art audiovisual technology, for it’s also a cultural centre housing a wide range of events. In sum, a venue with multiple purposes and a lot to offer visitors.”

The Circular Cemetery

From the museum I return to Plaza de la Constitución, where the church and the chapel are, and head towards the Circular Cemetery. It’s a really curious place, and it’s circular. Its outer walls make an imperfect circle (an octagon, in fact). The niches behind the walls somehow resemble those in the graveyard of Casabermeja. They are simpler, perhaps rougher, but equally amazing. Their overlapping pattern –three or four irregular rows– lends the cemetery the looks of a honeycomb. Legend has it that the cemetery’s layout reflects the wish of Sayalonguinos not to be buried back to back. In the central part there’re more conventional niches. The cemetery of Sayalonga is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Axarquía, welcoming over 3,000 visitors every year. Next to the gate on the left there’s the Visitor Centre. The alleys are overwhelmingly quiet and overwhelmingly white, in sharp contrast to the bright blue sky. You can feel the enclosing structure. Before going to Corumbela, I make a stop at the cemetery’s viewpoint, where I get excellent views of its circular structure.


“The White Dove.” This is how the Romans described this place, naming it after its appearance. Corumbela is a pedanía, that is, an annexed district, inhabited by some 300 people about 7km from the centre of Sayalonga. Sitting on a hillock, it can be reached via the road to Cómpeta, the Árchez detour, and the local signs giving directions. It’s a narrow road, full of bends, but the place is worth the ride for two reasons: amazing views and a fabulous minaret. The Blue Colour of the Sky loves towers, especially those which, having been part of mosques and used by muezzins to call to prayer, were later attached to Christian churches. We’ve seen them before in Salares and in Árchez, always in very good condition. Corumbela’s adjoins the Church of San Pedro. It’s a simple brick tower, but it’s simplicity makes it so beautiful. The church itself has a white façade with a deep red baldachin. As if the whole district were a watchtower, Corumbela affords panoramic views of the Mediterranean, Sayalonga, Canillas de Albaida, and Cómpeta. A secluded place, ideal if you’re looking for peace –and for a good restaurant.


I imagine the silkworm weaving in the viewpoint on Morales Street. Weaving the fine raw materials that would become the robes of Nasrid kings. Or that would go to Granada, Naples, Venice, Rome, or Flanders, to Provence or the Far East. I sit in a black wrought-iron bench and stare at the landscape. I can smell the orange firewood logs and the autumn stews. I can see Corumbela, The White Dove, ready to take off. I enjoy the silence and the peace. I imagine the silkworm weaving. Weaving the fine raw materials that will make delicate clothes.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

Loquat Day: Held the first Sunday of May, during the loquat picking season, when loquats are ripe and at their best, it’s a major event in town. Typical foods and dishes made with loquat are offered to locals and out-of-towners alike. They include loquat jam and loquat liqueur. Other local products, like wines made in the region, are also available for sampling and buying. The celebrations include the granting of the Golden Loquat Awards for individuals and institutions at the local, regional, and Andalusian levels. Finally, the crafts made in the various workshops throughout the year are put up for sale as well (source: Town Hall website).
Sopas cachorreñas: One of the most curious dishes of local cuisine. They say this soup was first made in Sayalonga and then spread to the rest of Axarquía. Ingredients: 2 or 3 garlic cloves, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 green pepper, slices of bread, water, vinegar, salt, 1 egg per person. Preparation: Boil the water. Add the green pepper, the crushed garlic, a pinch of salt, and the olive oil. When cooked, add the eggs, let it set, and serve with chopped bread and vinegar (source: Town Hall website).
Useful links: For more information on Sayalonga, visit the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Sayalonga Town Hall. The latter contains a lot of particularly useful information.

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


Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Casabermeja is a solid hamlet, a cluster of houses, crowned by a belfry tower. The pinnacle seems to scrape the bright blue sky, a lighthouse jutting out to welcome visitors from Antequera, Córdoba, or Granada. Casabermeja greets people like the gateway to Málaga, showcasing its mighty whitewashed streets, its impressive church, its impossible layout –everything at a glance. It’s the password to enter the Costa del Sol. And when you leave the first moment behind, you can see the burial mounds and tombs and cylinders lying on the ground in your rear-view mirror. Everything looks glittering white. Your rear-view mirror shows the crosses sticking out. You ask what this is all about and Bermejos answer, “It’s the cemetery of San Sebastián.”

Zooming in

Casabermeja is a knot in the regional communications network, crisscrossed as it is by roads that connect with Antequera, Córdoba, or Granada. It’s the first impression many visitors get of Málaga Province, and it’s unequivocal: steep, narrow streets, white all over, a totem-like church… all the ingredients of the Andalusian recipe, of the imagery of Andalusia that squares with reality. Casabermeja is a lighthouse guiding travellers along the winding valley of the river Guadalmedina and across the Mountains of Málaga, to the promised land of the Costa del Sol beaches. Today I’m going in the opposite direction, so the first thing I spot before coming to the port of Las Pedrizas is the niches of San Sebastián graveyard. I really want to have a look at it. It was designated as an Asset of Cultural Interest in 2006, being the first cemetery in Andalusia to be granted such high-degree protection. I stop under the highway and climb up the way to the town centre. There’s a parking sign on the right. Leaving my car here, I’ll need to negotiate a couple of climbs, but the views of the church-dominated hamlet are unrivalled.

The Church, the Fountains, the Castellum

The church of Casabermeja is really impressive, with its impossibly high belfry tower supported and raised by the rest of the building. I can see four of the five superimposed parts, as if in a children’s construction game. A curious detail I notice: in street name plates (tiles), the streets’ names are illustrated with matching drawings. The plate of Calle Palomo, for instance, bears a pigeon; Callejón de la Luz shows a streetlamp, and so on. I soon reach the square in front of the church. There’s the Tourist Office opposite –a good place to get yourself a few maps and brochures. I ask the assistant how to get to Torre Zambra, a natural viewpoint and tower affording great panoramic views of the Mountains of Málaga, El Torcal, and the coastline. She explains you can even get the key to the tower for even better views; you just have to call in advance. I take a few minutes to know where I am. The parish church of Nuestra Señora del Socorro is the most important sight in downtown Casabermeja. It’s undeniably beautiful… and really big. The austere white and red brick façade includes a simple stone round arch. You can see the interior from outside, with its three distinct naves. At the far end you can spot a more elaborate part, with a dome above the high altar. The tower stands out, with its five superimposed parts. The church was built in the sixteenth century and renovated 200 years later. Inside, a black-and-white diamond floor pattern, barrel vaults, three large naves, and the side chapels of Our Lady of El Carmen (left) and Jesus of Nazareth (right). Upon walking out, I can hear the bells ringing, sending pigeons away. There are many old houses in Casabermeja, with long hallways and courtyards converted to large halls or living rooms. I can make out a fireplace, a man reading the newspaper as he’s sitting at a small round table. I can smell the embers, with distant olive and almond notes. By the church there’s a map board showing where you are. I take a look. I walk down the street on the right, San Sebastián, which leads to the town cemetery. But I want to visit the Castellum Aquae first, an old Roman construction used as a fountain for decades. Only the vaulted entrance and the garden have come down to us. These elements are enough to imagine it must have been a curious place.

San Sebastián Graveyard

The visiting hours are at the entrance gate: 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Walking through the gate, you enter a realm of mournful silence. A couple of workers nod their heads at me. A family are carrying flowers. One of the first signs I notice highlights the importance of the place I’m about to visit: “In an attempt to keep the cemetery’s traditional aspect as an Asset of Cultural Interest, the town authorities inform that, in order to carry out works (tombstone replacement, niche renovation, etc.), you should contact the technical service.” A cypress-lined walk leads to the chapel. It’s a simple yet stout building, as white as the surrounding tombs. The journey through the cemetery can be undertaken in two different spirits, both equally respectful: curiosity for history, culture, funerary architecture or religious feeling and interest in death rituals and ceremonies. Far from being just a graveyard, the Town Cemetery of Casabermeja is worth a visit. It’s a curious place, where tombs, a.k.a. nicheras, have taken a weird form with time. “Given the shape of niches, three parts can be identified: bottom (door through which the deceased is introduced), middle (tombstone and ornaments), and top (frontispiece). This has misled people to think the dead were buried standing up in Casabermeja” (source: Town Hall website). Before becoming an Asset of Cultural Interest, the cemetery had been designated as a National Monument in 1980. The wrong idea about burials in Casabermeja came from the shape of the graves –a half cylinder lying on the ground preceded by a standing frontispiece. All niches are crowned by an iron cross, and all the crosses are different (there’re hundreds of them). The graveyard was developed after a decree by King Charles III that forbade burials in the “sacred ground” of churches in 1787, ordering the people to bury the deceased far from town centres. In 1786, the town had got 400 reales to start developing a new graveyard, the one adjoining the church being fully occupied. This is how the cemetery of San Sebastián came into being. At first, only the poorer citizens buried their dead there. Their graves where simple white stone mounds, decorated with flowers and bearing a small cross. The rich kept burying their dead in the parish church until a new decree prohibited this practice in 1804. As a result, the cemetery saw its graves become more elaborate, vaulted, and featuring peculiar frontispieces. Moreover, the rugged terrain led to the development of winding paths and an irregular layout, full of slopes and secluded places. I walk around. The grey sky looks stormy. I take pictures of the nicheras. The crosses stand out against the stormy sky. There’s a surprise round every corner, and the half cylinders of the graves give rise to a large funereal field. The elaborate frontispieces are covered with flowers. I read the names and dates. I think of the people lying there: Who were they? What did they do? What did they like? In the higher part of the cemetery, by the entrance gate, there’re some of the old graves, the little white stone mounds. They’re overwhelming.

Chapel of El Chorro and Zambra Tower

Leaving the graveyard behind, I go back to the public car park where I’d left my car. A road sign shows the way to the recreation area and the Zambra tower. I follow it, driving up the road and past the chapel of El Chorro, next to the recreational area bearing the same name. The chapel is a modern temple, built in 1989, a part glass structure where you can take a peek inside. It’s surrounded by tall cypresses, beyond which you can make out the town itself. I drive on, making a few more stops to take pictures. I get panoramic views of Las Pedrizas, El Torcal, and the town below. I ask for directions to get to the Zambra tower. Then I have to choose between climbing by car (1.5km dirt road slope) or on foot. I decide to go walking, but the weather is far from ideal. The earth is wet, but I’m sure the views are worth the effort of climbing up. Slowly, enjoying the climb, I make it to the summit. And it’s really a summit, for the Zambra tower stands on a hillock. It’s a well-kept tower whose door is accessed through an exterior iron staircase. As it begins to rain, the mist rising up from the sea steams my panoramic views. Maybe next time. Still, I sit down and feel the first drops fall on my skin.


Silence dressed in white. The graveyard in Casabermeja has a lot of stories to tell. Stories of the past, present, and future. Names and facts and dates and memories. Withered and booming flowers. Alleys and corners. Lots of different crosses –proof of blacksmith’s ingenuity. Nicheras: Why like this? Who was the first to make a vaulted tomb that looks like a cylinder? Maybe there’s no answer to these questions. Or maybe I should ask experts. The questions remain in the air, hovering in the lanes of a fairytale graveyard.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

All Saints’ Day (November 1): “Casabermeja is a town that worships the deceased. The worship reaches its climax on All Saints’ Day, when local women whitewash the niches and tombs, bring new flower to them, and lit candles for their dead” (source: Town Hall website).
Cante Grande Festival: “This festival dates back to 1969, when the Board of Town Celebrations replaced the traditional flamenco number on the fair’s programme by a festival of flamenco singing, dancing, and guitar playing, which came to be known as Festival de Cante Grande. At present, the festival is considered to be one of the most important flamenco events that take place in Andalusia throughout the year, gathering the best of cantaores: José Menese, Camarón de la Isla, José Merced, and many others. The best thing about this festival is the audience. Locals are respectful of flamenco. Their respect stems from their knowledge of the genre. They have made the saying ‘Listening is an art’ their own. They sit at tables in groups and listen to the songs as they sip their drinks. On open-air stage is set up, the illuminated belfry tower being its only scenery. Rosemary and mint are scattered on the floor, adding pleasant, refreshing smells” (source: Town Hall website).
Useful links: To learn more about Casabermeja and its graveyard, visit the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Casabermeja Town Hall.

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