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.