Friday, 14 January 2011

61 BC. The Emperor dismounts his horse. Red cloak. Laurel wreath on his forehead. The garments show his sallow skin, scalded as a result of illness. Two aides-de-camp get him undressed, and the lord of the ancient world gradually immerses himself in the turquoise sulphur-containing thermal water. Caesar, the king of kings, lets go. He’s exhausted: his herpes has worsened and he just wants to rest. Just one session or two. Centuries have been laid to rest in this place, pila lying on a corner. A few days later, Caesar’s skin looks healthy and pink. The powerful Roman army resumes the conquest of Hispania. The Emperor, Julius Caesar, has begun the legend of the thermal baths of La Hedionda.

1936 AD. The Spanish Civil war has broken out. It’s been a month since the uprising. It’s August 11, and Seville’s piping hot in the summer. Seville-Carmona road, Km. 4. Blas Infante’s been captured at home in Coria del Río by members of the Falange. There’ll be no trial, but there’s already a sentence. The politician, writer, anthropologist, musicologist, notary, and historian is executed by a firing squad. With the death of the child of Casares, the father of the Andalusian fatherland is born.

There’re lots of stories in Casares. Legend and history blend in a network of tales populating the imagination. Thanks to their privileged location, the streets I’m walking along were trodden by the Iberians, the Phoenicians, the Romans (maybe Julius Caesar himself), the Arabs, and the modern politician before me. A stroll in the twisted streets of Casares is a journey through Málaga history. The watchtower afforded control of the Campo de Gibraltar, accesses from Ronda to the coastline, the Genal Valley, Algeciras… The impregnable bulwark has barely been affected by the passage of time. My imagination flies beyond its whitewashed walls. Alleyways and squares, uphill roads and bends, perfectly located viewpoints… a tower from the past to scan the present.

Arrival, Parking, First Impressions

Given the town’s layout, you’d better leave your car in the higher part of town or use the large parking area in the newer part. If you’re coming from Manilva, try the little square at the entrance. The best choice, though, is the higher part of town, so that you can then walk down the streets –white brooks flowing into Plaza de España, the the heart of the town centre. As soon as I set foot on the cobblestones, I get wrapped in the morning silence and its usual sounds: a coffee maker, a hushed meow, the dishes being done in a nearby sink. I think about the slow flow of time. Cobblestones on the floor and whitewashed walls. Colourful, flowery pots. And round the corner, nature untamed: Sierra Crestellina, the meadows of neighbouring Cádiz, the highest peaks of Serranía de Ronda. I saunter down Monte Street, taking note of the ingenuity of the architect who designed the cubic houses to adapt to the rugged terrain. The town is spic-and-span. You can smell the toast and olive oil in the early morning. You can also hear the birds singing.

Plaza de España

Plaza de España is the place where the main thoroughfares of Casares converge. It’s also the meeting place of youngsters and old people alike. They’re sitting on the benches, commenting on today’s strange weather. Women carry their shopping bags and the fisherman takes his stock to the nearby town market. Getting around is really easy, for the square is connected to the main attractions, as if the town were a perfect compass card. Moreover, there’re signs everywhere. In fact, three of the things I wanted to see are to be found in the square itself: the Church of San Sebastián (whose left side makes the square’s east boundary), the bust of Blas Infante flanked by the flags of Spain and Andalusia (south) and the Fountain of Charles III in the middle, composed of three spouts pouring fresh water and a façade where you can read an eighteenth-century phrase. The bust is only 20m away from the fountain. The man who presides over the lives of Casareños, the father of Andalusia, born in Casares on July 5, 1885, seems to be looking at the horizon. Blas Infante was a lawyer, a politician, a writer, a musicologist, and many other things. But basically, he was the author of the ideas that informed the Andalusian fatherland. He embraced federalism and nationalism, earning Andalusia a place in national politics. One of his most famous contributions to public life was the Andalusian anthem, which he composed in 1933. Blas Infante was executed by a firing squad in Seville on August 4, 1936. The historian and patriot is now watching me from his privileged, hieratic, position. Next to the bust there’s the Church of San Sebastián, housing an image of the Virgen del Rosario del Campo, taken on a heartfelt procession to the countryside on the third Sunday of May. Built in the seventeenth century, the church was severely damaged during the Spanish Civil War, so now it’s quite different from its original appearance. It’s quiet and calm inside: white walls and an altar dominated by Our Lady of the Rosary.

Towards the Castle Esplanade

Right at the entrance to the Church starts Villa Street, one of the most typical alleys in town, stepped on by ancient peoples when heading for one of the two accesses to the Castle. More narrow streets, more whitewashed walls miraculously adjusted to the rugged terrain along the way. I walk past the Town Hall, greet a woman going slowly up the climb and then two foreign tourists holding their usual cameras. It’s very quiet in Casares, and its peace seems to flow from the streets into your soul. I get higher and higher until I can make out the powerful tower that used to be part of the old fortress, occupying an ideal geostrategic position. The Villa Archway hid a maze of zigzagging streets and a treasure: the Museum of Ethnohistory. The €2 admission ticket can be used for Blas Infante’s birthplace too. The museum is open Mon-Sat from 11:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from 4:00 to 6:30 p.m. (phone number: (+34) 952 895 148). The museum houses the “archaeological traces of public and private everyday life from the Neolithic to the twentieth century.” I go under the archway, but before reaching the castle’s esplanade, I take the detour to the viewpoint, which shows a misty Mediterranean behind meadows that look unreal, out of a fairytale. Filled with the magic scene, I move on.

Castle Esplanade

The castle was an old Arab fortress that could have lent its name to Casares (caxara means “fortress” in Arabic). Wall stretches are still standing on the edge of ravines that double as natural defence elements. In sum, the whole premises take the shape of the rock where they have been developed. A tower sticks out, rising up against the bright blue sky. Now that I see it, I can’t doubt its geostrategic importance. The premises also contain the old Church of La Encarnación, which has been rehabilitated down to the tiniest detail, its belfry tower crowning the whole set; the Chapel of Vera Cruz, which is but a shadow of what it used to be; the town cemetery, sheltered by the headland; three scenic viewpoints… The setting is impressive: Campo de Gibraltar to the west, the Costa del Sol to the east, the Mediterranean, to the north, Sierra Crestellina, and the town centre at my feet. Casares folds up on itself, laden with smells of its eventful history. Seen from here, the streets seem to embrace themselves. I can fancy the lookouts of Al-Andalus, watching the lassoed mules or donkeys go up and down the road to Ronda, carrying the goods from the sea or the sierras, scanning the horizon and the slopes of the African coast, spotting the Strait of Gibraltar, the gateway to the Atlantic Ocean. I walk around the premises, enjoying every corner and every step. I lean out of the viewpoints and seem to fly over the town. The rocks and wall traces in the area are bound to delight young travellers.

Blas Infante’s Birthplace

Down Recinto del Castillo Street, I connect with Arrabal Street –narrow, flowery, with whitewashed walls– and then stumble upon Pepelargo Street. Down below there’s a viewpoint that leads back to the northern part of the village. Up above, the Arrabal Archway is the other entrance to the castle’s esplanade. All the alleyways starting at Arrabal come to a dead end: tiny patios, old walls, and so on. A morose stroll is the best way to capture the essence of Casares, its views alongside its smells –delicate flowers and hearty winter stews. The sunlight plays with the bougainvillea hanging down from the roofs. The sharp corners cast their shadows. I go back into Villa Street from the left side of the Church of San Sebastián, across Plaza de España and down Carrera Street to visit Blas Infante’s birthplace. “On 51 Carrera Street stands the house where Blas Infante, the father of the Andalusian Fatherland, was born on July 5, 1885. At present, the place is a tourist office and houses a permanent exhibition of Infante’s life and works for those visitors who want to know him and his thought better. In addition, there’s a little room for temporary exhibitions by local and regional artists. The house is open Mon-Tue, from 11:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and from 4:00 to 6:30 p.m. Phone number: (+34) 952 895 521 (source: Casares Town Hall website). On the outside, it’s a classic two-storey house. Despite belonging to the court secretary, it’s quite simple. Blas Infante was a notary public, a historian, an anthropologist, a musicologist, a journalist and writer. His love of Andalusia showed when he was very young. The land was then in the hands of several local leaders. Social injustice and the desire to earn an important place for Andalusia, as well as his passion for the Andalusian landscapes and peoples, informed El ideal andaluz. Infante held several offices until he was captured by the Falange and killed in Seville on August 11, 1936, without prior trial. In 1933, he composed the Andalusian anthem, which incorporated excerpts of the songs sung by day labourers: “¡Andaluces, levantaos! / ¡Pedid tierra y libertad! / Sea por Andalucía libre, / España y la Humanidad” (Andalusians, rise up! / Demand lands and freedom! / Do it for a free Andalusia, / for Spain and for all humankind). Imbued with patriotic feeling, I go back to Plaza de España and walk up Monte Street to fetch my car.

Thermal Baths of La Hedionda and El Secadero

I drive towards the coast in the direction of Manilva. The road is flanked by huge windmills. I can see Casares in the rearview mirror. The impregnable fortress rolls back as the Mediterranean opens up. In San Luis de Sabinillas, Manilva, I head for Málaga, past two roundabouts, and take the road by the shopping centre. Then I follow the signs, under the highway bridge, towards the thermal baths of La Hedionda, driving past an old aqueduct bridge which had fallen into disuse and several curious villas. At the recreational area featuring a humble chapel, you have to choose whether to drive on in the next 200m or leave your car and continue on foot. The latter is preferable, for the condition of the road is far from good and, besides, the road is crowded in the summer. I choose to walk. It’s a peculiar area. Before reaching the thermal baths, you go past some constructions that used to belong to an old spa. They’re deserted now, giving free rein to visitors’ imagination. In an open area full of reed, by the main road, there’s a white building. Inside, round arches support a vault filled with turquoise water. The water looks dense; when it moves, I can see darker streaks. A strong sulphurous smell comes from the water. This is the place where Julius Caesar is said to have bathed to cure his herpes. Upon seeing the good results, he commissioned the whole construction to be built. In the summer, many people come here to rub the mud and clay from the river on their skin. Back on my car, I hit the main road towards Málaga in search of El Secadero, that is, the coastal area in Casares. El Secadero is a district of summer residences, tourist resorts, and dark-sand beaches peppered with rocks that are among scuba divers’ favourites. There’re four beaches in Casares, along a 2.2km coastal strip: Playa Ancha, Playa Chica (sheltered from the wind by the Torre de la Sal), Playa de la Sal, and Playa Piedra Paloma (semi-wild, featuring a nice seaside promenade). I walk down the promenade in the delicate winter sun, coming across two cyclists and a runner. I skirt the little cape going into the sea where the Torre de la Sal stands –a square tower built to protect the coast from invaders, similar to others along the Costa del Sol. I watch how the calm sea laps at the sandbank. A couple walk their dog, who’s playing with a stick beyond the shoreline.


With the gleaming light of the Mediterranean still shining in my eyes, I say goodbye to Casares. I can hear the echoes of Andalusian anthem, the shots that killed Blas Infante, and the muezzin calling to prayer in the old fortress. I can smell the flowers, the stews, and the embers. I can see the endless horizon and the silhouette of Africa, the slopes of Serranía de Ronda and the Strait of Gibraltar. I can hear horses’ hooves. Looking back, I see Julious Caesar’s illustrious profile. Was he ever here? Who cares? It’s the legend that really matters.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

Blas Infante: To learn more about the life of Blas Infante, visit the Blas Infante Foundation, where you can be filled in on biographical details and get information on his thought and works, as well as on the organisation’s goals and activities (website: Also, on, you can read more biographical notes and other interesting facts.
Hiking: One of the greatest attractions for active travellers in Casares is Sierra Crestellina. Crisscrossed by many trails, it has a shelter where longer hiking tours start, or where you can just spend the night. To view the hiking routes, visit the Town Hall website. There’re signs indicating them all over the region.
Useful links: If you want to read more about Casares, visit the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Casares Town Hall.

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