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.