Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Mi Almogía la bonita
entre olivos y almendrales
malagueñas y exquisitas
cuna de los verdiales./
My beautiful Almogía,
Amidst exquisite olives
And almonds from Málaga,
Birthplace of verdiales.

Las calles de mi Almogía
ya relucen como el sol
tienen blanco resplandor
están llenas de alegría
la llevo en mi corazón./
The streets of my Almogía
Are shining like the sun
They are glaringly white
They are full of joy and bright
I cherish them in my heart.

In the Lands of Almogía

A green landscape swollen with almond trees meets me upon arrival. A mildly rolling plateau, a zigzagging road that crawls like a tarred snake. Bend after bend. A road scattered with forsaken haciendas and renovated cortijos that resemble modern palaces. Bunches of cyclists riding slowly, the signs of tiredness showing in their faces –clenched teeth, smiling hearts for the brave only. It takes some effort to reach Almogía. Part of an old Roman road and the ancient royal way connecting Málaga to Madrid, and last stop before the capital, the village is now an idyllic place in the sierras close to the coastal area. Its privileged location has led an unusual emergence of housing developments which have managed to keep the Andalusian white essence. In the past, this location was perfect to control traffic of both people and goods. Almogía is the last town in the region of Antequera to sit on a faux plateau. Beyond there’re the slopes, ravines, and labyrinthine roads. In fact, we’re already in the heart of the Málaga Mountains.

To the Chapel of Sagrado Corazón de Jesús

The whole town seems to be on the brink of collapse, ready to roll down into the valleys from Torre de la Vela, a sort of white cascade made of houses. I park uptown, knowing that I’d have to climb my way back on my return. However, I believe it to be unwise to drive into the maze of streets and alleyways –a trace of Almogía’s Moorish past. The best way of getting around in these villages of ancient layouts and twisting hearts is on foot: walking, strolling, letting go, meeting the people, absorbing aromas unknown in big cities… Walking down Carril Street, I follow the information boards to the town centre and Torre de la Vela. I get my postcard in a newsstand (it’s a bit old but in keeping with the town’s traditional character) to write something on it during lunchtime. After the first bend, I spot the ruins of the Castle, which used to have as many as seven towers. Now only one of them stands on a mound, Torre de la Vela. Between a football club and the Moorish-style Town Hall, a house doubles as private museum of ethnography. I take a look. Old farming tools, household items of the 1920s, the replica of an old house… I walk on to Plaza de la Ermita: a flat haven where five iron benches invite visitors to take a seat under the shade of three orange trees. I give in to the temptation and sit down, facing the Chapel of Sagrado Corazón de Jesús. Built in the eighteenth century, the chapel was part of a convent. Now it’s fitted at the corner of two houses, blended into the whiteness of the adjoining buildings. Inside, the chapel houses images of the town’s patron saints, St Roch and St Sebastian. The whole place, with the square and the chapel, is really pleasant. It’s warm but not hot, far from the hustle and bustle of everyday life in town, in the delicate shade of the orange trees. I take my time before resuming my tour.

To the Chapel of Santo Cristo

Smells of hearty meals –robust dishes from the sierras– ooze from the houses into the street: chanfaina (kid in almond sauce), stew soups, salmorejo, gazpachuelo, dish of the mountains (fried eggs, chorizo, etc.)… The signs guide me through the broken streets. Down San Sebastián Street, I quickly spot the belfry tower of the church, sticking out among the roofs, just behind another bend. The door is open. The church is a mighty building. The tower is remarkably high. The Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción features a series of elaborate, complex side chapels and glazed windows whose blue light floods the high altar. The coffered ceiling is amazing, with details in each and every beam. Built in the sixteenth century, the church was expanded three centuries later, after the earthquake that shook the whole of Málaga Province, particularly Axarquía, in the late nineteenth century. I walk out. In the lower part of town I can see some flashy noble houses. After reaching Plaza de la Constitución, I saunter down Sevilla Street, where I come across two surprising features: a huge archway in front of a flight of steps and a tile mural in sepia tones on the right showing the town’s history in text and images. In the square, a refreshing five-spout fountain sings a watery song to the surrounding tables. There’re locals and visitors sitting at them, having their morning snacks. On the fountain base there’s a phrase by Vicente Andrade Fernández: “Almogía, the forsaken yet ever-loved and ever-missed town.” On Cristo Street there lies the small seventeenth-century Chapel of Santo Cristo (by necessity, renovated in the nineteenth century), some 20m away from the square. It houses a simple yet powerful religious image. Several houses before the chapel boast huge façades and hallways that add shade to the homes inside. Many doors are open, letting the warm air in. I take a peek into the everyday life of Almogía (no gossipy spirit, though): a woman stirring a pot, a boy playing as he lies on a carpet, an elderly man walking with a cane in a patio… Some of them even greeted me.

Torre de la Vela

I retrace my steps to the church. A sign on Viento Street shows the way to Torre de la Vela. There’re kids playing on the quiet pedestrian streets. They’re singing children’s songs. I talk to them. A fair-haired, blue-eyed boy and a girl with similar features speak in Spanish and English at a time. Being so close to Málaga City, Almogía is home to a high number of foreign citizens. Later, at lunchtime, I’ll meet a bunch of Englishmen and women who chat amiably with their local neighbours. Old stew smells reach my nose through the open doors from the courtyards. The uphill path to Torre de la Vela is not particularly tough, along streets that abruptly turn into viewpoints. It happens all of a sudden –a low white wall emerges in sharp contrast to the landscape in the background: green and steep, peppered with the white spots of refurbished cortijos, alquerías, fincas. I stopped, leaning on the wall and taking in the landscape in delight. Almogía sinks into the valley on the right, paths and trails marking the back of the nearby mountains and getting lost in the mist. I stay here for a while, intuiting the presence of the tower. Finally, I come to De la Oveja Street and turn left to reach the tower. It’s the remnants only, but they’re still arresting. I can imagine the entire fortress that was part of Umar ibn Hafsun’s riots against the Umayyad Caliphate. A horse grazing on the mound spurs my imagination. I need a moor to mount the horse. The tower affords great panoramic views.

Lunch and back roads

I walk down Alta Street, back into San Sebastián Street. Then I have to climb up, but there’s a reward at the end. It’s the roadside bar. The short menu includes fish fritters, chicken brochettes, and pork tenderloin. To wash the food down, a soda and a 1.5l bottle of water. I watch the cars drive past. I enjoy my meal, garnished with French fries and garlic mayonnaise. The bill = €22. Before leaving, I ask the waiter how to get to Málaga City. “Just drive ahead and when the road forks some 2km from here, take the lane on the left. It’s an old asphalt road, it’s in good shape but it’s full of sharp bends. The right lane is a huge climb. It’s shorter and straighter, and it leads to Campanillas,” he explains. “Which would you choose?,” I ask. “The climb, no doubt,” he replies.


I follow his advice. Before driving back, I stop at a scenic viewpoint affording wide panoramic views of Almogía against the backdrop of the mountains. In little tiles, the viewpoint features the coats of arms of all the municipalities in Málaga Province. I try to identify the signs of the 16 towns I haven’t been to for The Blue Colour of the Sky. I take a couple of pictures of the white hamlet, thinking of the ancient travellers who walked or rode across it: Romans, Arabs, Mozarabs, bourgeois from Madrid, citizens from Málaga. A constant coming and going. There’re lots of treasures buried in Málaga. Almogía is one of them.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

Almond Day: This fair gathers over 50 local producers in whose stands they showcase and sell homemade foods –meats, cheese, pork products and, of course, all manners of dishes with almonds. In addition, there’re demonstrations of farming and harvesting methods for this fruit that was one of the staples of the Morisco economy. Thousands of people gather in Almogía on Almond Day to sample chanfaina, porra blanca, ajoblanco, sweet wine, almond tortillas, and other delicacies, to the sound of traditional music –including verdiales. In addition, there’re shows and traditional craft workshops –saddlery, wickerwork, almond peeling and crushing, and so on. Tres Cruces
Fiesta of Verdiales: Designated as a Fiesta of Provincial Tourist Singularity in 2009, this festival of verdiales is held on the first Sunday of May near the Chapel of Tres Cruces, where Almogía, Pizarra, Cártama, and Álora converge. Verdiales bands from these four villages take part in the traditional “clash” –a competition in which they all show what they can do. “Birthplace of Verdiales” Competition: Almogía loves verdiales. Proof of this is the competition that has been held in August for 25 years now as a tribute to this music genre specific to Málaga Province. The competition grants the “Honourable Festival Maker” Award to the man or woman who has made a remarkable job in the study, collection, or performance of verdiales. (Photo: Almogía Town Hall website.)

Useful links: To read more about Almogía, go to the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Almogía Town Hall. I also visited the personal web page Almogí and the official site of the Brotherhood of Santo Cristo de la Vera Cruz, Santo Entierro, Nuestra Señora de los Dolores y María Santísima de Concepción y Lágrimas, which contains a lot of useful information.

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