Thursday, 17 February 2011

Long streets, slow and peaceful strolls. The winter sun warms the whitewashed and creamy-coloured walls. Everything is delicate and languorous. Some of the chestnut trees are bursting with white and lilac flowers, painting the fields. Archidona watches over its past from high up Pico del Conjuro. Archidona, the name that sounded “Ascua,” “Arx Domina,” or “Arxiduna” in old tongues. Archidona, home to the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Romans. Archidona, the town that witnessed Abd-al-Rahman being crowned as the first king independent from Damascus. Archidona, the town that belonged to the Umayyads and the Nasrids. Archidona, a town for unhurried walks. Archidona, Arxiduna, Arx Domina, Ascua. Archidona.

The streets of Archidona seem to extend in both space and time. They are long, like the arteries that carry the blood pumped from the heart of town: Plaza Ochavada. The town is wrapped in a morose, slow-motion atmosphere. I walk and look at the noble buildings, the stately homes, the shady hallways, the roofs and chimneys. The wrought-iron balconies and windows lean into the streets, insinuating worlds behind their rolled-up wood or reed blinds, painted in green. My tour today is peppered with history and monuments, church façades, museums and a town hall, faces where history has left its mark. I let go and the town guides me through. I smell the aromas, feel the elusive sun on my face, look at the sights, and never stop walking.

Starting Point: Plaza Ochavada

Park and start walking. This are the first two things you should do in Archidona. And the best things you could do, in fact. Then find your way to Plaza Ochavada and get yourself a street map at the Tourist Office. I’m surprised at the stately looks of so many buildings. They’re beautifully austere. Going through an archway, I enter a different world, a different time. The “Chamfered Square,” or Plaza Ochavada, was built in 1780 at the request of Charles III (the king responsible for the layout of modern Madrid). Life was hard in the eighteenth century too, and the square was developed with the aim of reducing unemployment. Designed by local architects Francisco de Astorga Frías and Antonio González Sevillano, the square was built in the Andalusian Baroque style to become one of its finest examples. It’s eight-sided (hence the name in Spanish, “Ochavada”) and each side is different. Throughout its history, it’s served multiple purposes: meeting point for local dwellers, home to taverns, town hall, schools –Colegio Menor Fray Martín de León–, markets and shops, cultural venue, and so on. It can be accessed from three different streets, going through three different archways. It’s majestic, some of the balconies decorated with geraniums. Take your time to go over the eight façades overlooking the centre of the square. A group of women are now talking right there, unaware of the gem where they’re standing. I smile at them. The Tourist Office is next to one of the archways. They provide me with useful information (hours and so on), brochures on Archidona’s historical, cultural, and religious heritage, and a street map where I can find the main sights (phone number: (+34) 952 716 479). I draw my route on my street map, following the Tourist Office assistant’s advice. Two main thoroughfares connect the square with Paseo de la Victoria. I better get cracking. I choose the archway leading to Salazar Street.

Up to Plaza de Santa Ana

As I walk, I can see that everything in Archidona has been taken care of. Everything looks so spic and span… The houses have kept their old flavours, courtesy of their wrought-iron balconies and windows. Moreover, all the walls are painted in only two colours: white or cream. The effect is not that of making every corner look just like the rest but quite the opposite: it brings out their distinct features –a chimney over there, a nicely decorated hallway here, a brighter flower pot across the street, and so on. The long Salazar Street leads to the Convent of Santo Domingo. It was the first convent built in Archidona, in 1531, but it’s no longer a convent. Now it’s a hotel school. The building has retained the external features of the old church and convent while boasting state-of-the-art facilities to teach all subjects related to catering and cooking. Guests can stay at the hotel and try the tasting menu at the restaurant. (For more info, check the website,, or call (+34) 952 717 070). On one of the side walls there’s a plate that reads, “In this house died Luis Barahona de Soto, one of the best known poets in Spain and the world. Scripta Legito.” Luis Barahona de Soto was a poet and a doctor. He even took part in some of the battles against the Moors in Alpujarras Granadinas. Born in 1548, he died in 1595. Here there’re some of his lines: “Las lágrimas salidas de los ojos / más bellos, que en su mal vio amor dolientes,/ y de los que siguiendo sus antojos / vagaron por desiertos diferentes, / entre las armas, triunfos y despojos / gloriosos, cantaré, de aquellas gentes / que tras su error, por sendas mil que abrieron, / del fin de Europa, un tiempo, al de Asia fueron.” (The tears coming out of the eyes / most beautiful, which in their grief love saw in pain / and of those who following their whims / travelled across the desert / amidst weapons, victories, and spoils,/ glorious, I will sing, about those people / who, mistaken, through a thousand opened paths / from the end of Europe to the end of Asia once went.) Santo Domingo Street, Plazuela de los Pollos, Carrera Street to the right. Only 20m ahead, across a narrow street called Dr. José Aguilar, there’s Plaza de Santa Ana –a secluded bunch of buildings that seem to exist in a parallel dimension, dominated by the impressive Church of Santa Ana. Built on a mound, the church is accessed climbing a flight of grey stone steps. It has a curious triangular belfry tower (there’re no rational architectural explanations to its shape). According to historians, it was built on the ruins of an old mosque in the outskirts of Medina Arxiduna. Designed in Flamboyant style in the sixteenth century, the church was renovated in the nineteenth century, when two aisles were added to the original nave. It’s an imposing building and it’s alive inside, brimming with paintings, sculptures, and religious images. Three brotherhoods –Cofradía de la Pasión, Cofradía de la Soledad, Cofradía de la Humildad– use it as their headquarters. The Church of Santa Ana peeps into the square, where several stately mansions stand without having lost a pinch of their original beauty. A few kids are playing with a ball as two women chat and a man climbs down the steps. Someone’s whistling the traditional tune of the knife grinder. Now I can see him, carrying his bike with the wood bench and whetstone he uses to sharpen knives and scissors. Surprisingly, he’s quite young. He’s wearing a white cap. The tune whines on. It’s the same everywhere. The soundtrack accompanies me as I walk across Don Felipe Street into Carrera Street.

The Church of La Victoria and the Town Museum

Archidona’s civil architecture surprises me at every step. The result of a long and eventful history, the town has managed to keep its essential elements in its stately homes: small palaces with elaborate lintels, black grilles with intricate filigrees… I wander about in no hurry, savouring everything I see. Suddenly, I stumble upon the Chapel of the Penitent. It could be a parish church in any other town, so big and great it is. It features a brick belfry tower, brick-trimmed whitewashed walls, and a façade where two big columns flank a coat of arms. Next to the chapel, connected by the umbilical cord of an archway, there’s the old seat of the Pious Schools (now a secondary school). The local atmosphere wraps me in. When it was still called “Medina Arxiduna,” Archidona had a few glorious days. It was here that Emperor Abd-al-Rahman I became an emir in 756 AD. Until the tenth century, the town was the capital of Cora de Rayya, a region whose boundaries coincided with today’s Málaga. Then, in the eighteenth century, the Pious Fathers led a cultural renaissance that earned the town a prominent place in the region, a place it kept for two centuries. The Pious Schools housed the father of Andalusia, Blas Infante. Archidona is a natural link between Granada and Seville. This makes it special. It’s always drawn merchants from different parts of the globe, and it still does. Now, in the early twenty-first century, Archidona is the central point of a “Y” connecting Málaga with Granada to the southwest and Málaga with Córdoba, Seville, and Antequera to the northeast. Archidona sees it all from Pico del Conjuro. The Church of La Victoria was a Minim convent built in 1555. Only the convent’s original façade remains, the paintings above the door and the three-bell belfry (with only two bells) being its most remarkable features. Inside, an image of Jesus has replaced Our Lady of Victories in the main altar. The church is the base of several brotherhoods and the Easter Brotherhood Association. Next to the church there’s the Edificio de la Cilla, housing the Town Hall and the Town Museum. The building has a curious history for, despite its stately appearance, it was first used as a granary. After renovation, it became the Town Hall building and then the seat of the Town Museum. The museum is open Tue-Sat from 12:00 to 2:00 p.m. and from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Sunday and holidays from 12:00 to 2:00 p.m. in the summer, and Tue-Sat from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., Sunday and holidays from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in winter. Admission is free, and the place is worth a visit. Besides going over Archidona’s history and prehistory, the museum houses popular customs and traditions: correr las latas (children running with tins to remind the Three Wise Men of their gifts) or the laces of St Blaise (tying a blessed lace, decorated with bread rolls, to protect your neck and throat). More customs and traditions in the Hall of Collective Memory, old items related to town history in the Hall of the Town (a wood and iron safe used by the town authorities until not so long ago, its three keys being in the hands of the Mayor, the Secretary, and the Administrator, or the outfits worn in major fiestas). In addition, archives, chairs, benches, and a table that used to be in the old Reception Hall, which is now used to throw wedding parties and other leading social events. A visit to the Town Museum is a visit to the memory of Archidona in which you don’t feel like a stranger but rather share in the town’s traditions. The museum’s assistant tells me everything about each item. I breathe in the air of past times and then go out.

The Minim Convent and its Delicious Sweets

There’s a before and after in my visit to the Minim Convent. Before: the town and its beautiful architecture. After: the sweets I’ve bought at the convent. The cloistered nuns of Archidona are famous for the sweets they make; I can now tell you their fame is well deserved. But this I’ll know later, when I taste their macaroons and almond cheese. The Convent of the Minim Nuns was built in 1551 in the site of an old palace owned by the Count of Ureña and a chapel. The façade is impressive, spanning a full block. Judging by its length, I can imagine the place where these cloistered nuns live. The church is a one-nave building with a barrel vault and an over-elaborate ceiling, plus a white and golden main altar. I look for the turnstile used to sell the sweets. It’s a little door on the right, some 20m from the main door. If you come off hours and the door is closed, you’ll get nothing. Bear this in mind. The nuns sell their sweets from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. As I get in, I’m faced with a dilemma: shall I ring the regular, electric bell or the traditional bell? The former. It rings three times. Nobody comes. The latter. I can hear an endless series of cogs and gears and then, in the distance, a bell. I wait. “Hi,” a young voice says on the other side of the turnstile. “Hi,” I reply. “What sweets would you like to get?” “What sweets would you recommend?” “Well, what can I say, they’re all so good.” I order a box of macaroons stuffed with sweet potato jam, a box of almond cheese, and some almond biscuits. The nuns also make fritters, sponge biscuits, and San Francisco rolls. A few minutes later, the turnstile moves and my sweets are there. “How much?” I ask. “€20.40,” the voice replies. I pay and say goodbye. “God be with you both.” How do they know I’m with someone else? I’m the only one who’s talking. I take a look at the small hall. A modern webcam is watching us. I smile at this strange mix of tradition and modernity.

The Chapel of Nuestra Señora de Gracia

I’m now ready to climb up Pico del Conjuro to see the Chapel of Gracia, the castle, the orchard of blooming chestnut trees, the green meadows, the natural balconies overlooking Archidona. I drive along Paseo de la Victoria and Virgen de Gracia Avenue and then Camino del Santuario to the right. There’re signs everywhere, don’t worry. You can park at the foot of the hill and walk your way up. The trail is in good condition, but it’s long and quite steep. Or you can also drive to the chapel. I drive up, past a pine orchard and the Virgen the Gracia Suburban Park. A misty veil hides the horizon, but the views are beginning to emerge, and they’re spectacular. As I park, I’m met by a flock of sheep. They’re bleating and ringing their bells. I walk around the remains of the old castle –a couple of wall stretches and the blunt stumps of a couple of towers. The chapel glitters in white against the bright blue sky, an abyss covered with olive trees in the background. The sheep are grazing. A two-day-old lamb (it still has remains of its umbilical cord) bleats in search of its mum. It seems to be lost. I look around: no signs of a shepherd. I try to catch the lamb, but it gambols and skips around. After several failed attempts, I manage to bring it to its mum. I smile with satisfaction. The sight of the lamb has prevented me from looking up and enjoy the views. I can barely speak. White chestnut trees silhouetted against the horizon. The town of Archidona at my feet, its heart –Plaza Ochavada– beating strong. The mountains of Málaga and Granada, and Antequera’s Lovers’ Rock in the distance. And, above it all, the chapel. A stunning landscape, indeed. The Chapel of Nuestra Señora de Gracia is the only one in Málaga that’s kept the interior arches of the original mosque. I enjoy its coquettish premises, the ruins of the old castle, the whole scene under the bright blue sky of February, the last strokes of winter. Unusually, I’m bidding farewell here today. I sit on a rock. The landscape before me is eternal and ever-changing. I have a little treasure in my backpack today. Not just the usual notebook and pen, camera, brochures. “Open them,” I ask my companion. Macaroons, almond cheese, almond biscuits. I can’t resist the temptation; I try them all. The air brushes past my skin. Green, blue, and white shades are still in my eyes. In the distance, I can hear the sheep bleating, some dog barking, the chestnut leaves rustling in the breeze. The macaroons are sooooooo good.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

The Lakes: Only 5km from the town centre, there’s a two-lake area known as Lagunas de Archidona. It’s the breeding habitat of several bird species, and a treasure for nature lovers.
Dog Fair: First held in 1993, Archidona’s Dog Fair has been designated as a Fiesta of National Tourist Interest by the Government of Andalusia. It has its roots in a traditional cattle fair that had been held since the early twentieth century and then swallowed up by the modernisation of farming. The Archidona authorities saw in the Dog Fair an apt substitute for the traditional cattle fair. Organised by the Town Council of Archidona, the Andalusian Hunting Society, the Costa del Sol Dog Society, and the Friends of the Dog Fair Cultural Association, this is a unique event at the national level, one of the leading dog and hunting exhibitions in the Iberian Peninsula, and home to the best Spanish dog breeds, especially the Podenco Andaluz. In fact, the Dog Fair was a turning point in the development of this breed, since it was here that the standards were fixed (information and photograph: Easter: Archidona has had Easter celebrations for 500 years. From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, various brotherhoods carry their floats along the streets and flow into Plaza Ochavada. A special event is the “Embajá del Ángel”: an angel boy descends from the balcony of the Church of La Victoria to announce the Passion of Jesus Christ.
Useful links: To learn more about Archidona check the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Archidona Town Hall. All the other websites included in this article can be useful too.


Wednesday, 16 February 2011

An old town speaking ancient languages –the languages of the Arabs, the Romans, the Phoenicians. An old town with an eventful history, with a past peppered with illustrious and common names, the names of ordinary men and courtiers. An old town, the town of Mariyyat Ballis, Bentomiz, Mainake, Maenoba, Ash Sharqiyah, Abul Cacim Venegas, El Idrisi, Abulfeda, Ibn Battuta, Abd-al-Basit, María Zambrano. Vélez-Málaga: a town with a long, long history. It’s an overwhelming city. It was a major town in times of Al-Andalus and during the Reconquista. It played a key role in the Spanish War of Independence. It had a glorious past and now boasts a modern present. Vélez-Málaga looks up at a double mountain and shows its double face: warlike in the Castle Tower and spiritual in the Chapel of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios. In the middle there’s a city with long, winding streets in modern districts and narrow alleyways in the old town, overflowing the limits set by the old wall. Vélez-Málaga is full of religious buildings: convents and chapels, churches and crosses outlining the skyline with their belfries and steeples. After the Reconquista, some of the old Muslim buildings were converted to symbols of Christianity and so mosques became churches, chapels, or convents. There were so many of them that Vélez-Málaga was classified as a “convent town.”

Arrival and Parking

The wide avenues leading to the heart of Vélez-Málaga can be deceiving. Streets get gradually narrower and more twisted in the Historic District as you get closer to the old fortress. The best thing to do is park on one of the adjacent streets, taking one of the various squares as a reference point, and then get around on foot with a help of a street map or a GPS. My tour begins at Plaza de las Carmelitas.

From Plaza de las Carmelitas to Plaza de la Constitución

The convent facing the Town Hall building is solemn and imposing, combining a sober body with a magnificent façade. The side door is very quiet; there’s a turnstile here used by the Carmelite nuns for contact with the outside world. This is the convent of Jesús, María y José, a.k.a. Convent of the Carmelites. It was built by the Carmelite Order in 1702, using two adjacent houses bought in 1699, which were converted to a single, unified site with few openings, thus emphasising the concept of cloister. The church was built between 1738 and 1745. Most sights in Vélez-Málaga bear signs with a useful information system: a phone number, a number indicating what sight you’re seeing, and a number for your language of choice. You just dial the number, enter the sight and language numbers, and listen. A mild voice tells you all you need to know about each monument (in this case, the convent). It’s simple, it’s effective, you learn a lot. Down the road, a fork: Montera and Téllez Macías Street. A new turn to the right and up Félix Lomas Street. I stumble upon an interesting, huge sight. It’s the Convent of Nuestra Señora de Gracia, a.k.a. Convent of Clarissa Nuns. An impossibly white rectangle with a portico entrance. The convent used to be in La Villa district, but its building there became too small to house it and in 1555 it was moved to where it now stands. It boasts a beautiful Mudejar cloister. Its church was rehabilitated in the eighteenth century. Vélez-Málaga is a classy town, its streets and buildings being very old and honouring long traditions. When getting around, it’s good to be aware of its eventful history. I take Tiendas Street to the right, a major thoroughfare connecting the older and the newer parts of town, Plaza de la Constitución with Plaza de las Indias. I walk on, greeting passers-by, looking at the façades, the flowers, the surprising architectural details. Right on a corner, as if showing which way to go, just where Tiendas Street and Piedad Street converge, there’s the Chapel of Virgen de la Piedad. It’s deceivingly simple. On the upper floor, a wooden door is open to show an image of Virgin Mary in all Her glory. Above Her, a roof and a lantern. Behind a glass case, the image of Virgin Mary is flanked by two Corinthian columns and a pediment on a round arch. Plus, lots of flowers. Back along Tiendas Street, to the left. I’m very near the city walls. I can see some stretches standing, defeating the passage of time. Defensive towers and earthen bricks. The Centre for Youth Information has been absorbed into the setting. Some 20m ahead on the right, there’s the Fountain of Felipe II y Fernando VI: a majestic, over-elaborate, white marble fountain, with water flowing out of four spouts springing out of the mouths of mythological creatures. A great place to take a splash. The fountain was built in the sixteenth century and moved to its present location in 1758. The original construction bore Philip II and Ferdinand VI’s coats of arms –hence the royal name (the latter’s been kept). Plaza de la Constitución opens up before me. Just imagine. 1487 AD. The Catholic Monarchs are in Vélez-Málaga. The town’s stainless walls witnessed the war from a distance, thanks to truces and agreements between victors and vanquished. Isabella and Ferdinand go through the gate in the thick walls that protected the district of La Villa. Since then, it’s been called Royal Town Gate. One of the four gates around the old medina (the only one standing nowadays) is protected by two towers and a thick wall that’s been rehabilitated. It gives a clear idea of the elegance and soundness of Vélez-Málaga defence system. Facing the old fortress there’s the granary, used to store grain as a precaution against bad harvests, rationing, or war. A large, white, rectangular two-storey building where a lot of stock could be stored. Its façade is formed by several arches. The granary’s fallen into disuse and taken by squatters. There’s a project under way to turn it into a cultural and leisure centre. Dominating the square there’s a peculiar church, whose huge belfry tower stands out against the horizon. How tall can it be? I guess, and I’m probably wrong. 20m, 30m? As it stands on a hillock, crowning the square, the effect is even stronger. The tower belongs to the Church of San Juan Bautista, dating back to the sixteenth century. The church was renovated several times in the nineteenth century, at the request of the local lawyer Federico Vahey, Isabella II’s Minister of Justice. This is how is was transformed from Mozarabic to Neoclassical. In front of the door, a statue of a penitent and an altar boy. The bells ring in an unconventional tune: a complex sequence of high- and low-pitched sounds that spread across La Villa and the surrounding area.

From Plaza de la Constitución to the Chapel of Virgen de los Remedios

Skirting the church and down Sevilla Street, then 20m ahead and to the left, I take Mercader Street. Then the first to the right, San Francisco Street. I go past the church of the House of Cervantes –a large old house from the sixteenth century with wrought-iron balconies, a carriage gate, and a main door behind a hallway and before a patio surrounded by round arches supported by brick columns. Plaza de San Francisco is a busy spot, mainly thanks to two buildings: the market –a constant flow of cars and people carrying food bags– and the Convent of San Francisco, founded in 1498 on the ruins of an old mosque whose only remaining feature is a minaret, converted to belfry. The Mudejar cloisters are impressive; the original style of the church was masked by Baroque renovation. Interesting inside is the Chapel of Buen Pastor. One of the sides of the convent gives access to the frontage of the Palace of Beniel. Lofty and solemn, it can be said to be the finest example of civil architecture in Vélez-Málaga. The upper floor is a terrace whose arches overlook the town centre. Commissioned by Alonso de Molina Medrano in the seventeenth century, it housed the Town Hall for some time and now it’s home to the María Zambrano Foundation, organising art and archaeological exhibitions, lectures, and so on. So here she is: María Zambrano. The most famous person born in Vélez-Málaga. A woman of her time. María Zambrano was born in Vélez-Málaga on April 22, 1904 and died in Madrid on February 6, 1991. She was a university teacher, an essay writer, and a preeminent philosopher, a disciple of José Ortega y Gasset. She wrote about politics and society, man and time, the poetic roots of life and social life, ethics, and many other topics. Her complex thought suffered the vicissitudes of exile. She returned from Chile to Spain in 1937, on the day when Bilbao was seized. When asked why she was coming back when the war had been lost, she replied, “That’s exactly why.” She went back into exile in 1939: France, Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, then France again, Italy, and back to Spain in 1984. By then, she’d been awarded the Prince of Asturias Award in the field of Communications and Humanities (1981) and the title of Beloved Daughter of Vélez-Málaga. Then she’d get an Honoris Causa Doctorate from the University of Málaga, the title of Beloved Daughter of Andalusia and the Cervantes Award (1989). After her death in Madrid, she was buried in her hometown. Hers was an interesting life, and she left a great work. From the Palace of Beniel, Arroyo de San Francisco Street leads up to the Mount of San Cristóbal, a hillock housing the Chapel of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios. It’s neither tough nor easy climb. You can also drive your way up, but you’d be missing the chance to enjoy the multiple views you get as you walk up the hill: the roofs, the fruit plots, the citrus trees in the meadows, the nearby mountains, the whole hamlet, the belfry of the Church of San Juan, the castle keep, the meadows flowing into the Mediterranean in Torre del Mar and, behind the chapel, La Maroma, the highest peak in Málaga Province. The panoramic views are breathtaking. A group of old people are sitting on the benches in the scenic viewpoint, chatting quietly against the background of Mediterranean history. Outside, the chapel is very simple, showing its whitewashed walls. But inside, it’s a living work of art. White becomes colour. Every inch has been painted. The paintings covering all the interior walls is about 1,150sqm. The frescoes are the work of Evaristo Guerra, who painted them in an attempt to make the walls look transparent, so that Our Lady of Remedies can look at the surrounding landscape –the emblematic buildings of Vélez-Málaga and the whole of Axarquía– through them. It’s impossible to describe these paintings with words. The colours, the shades, the figures, the gestures, the scenes from everyday life. You have to come and see them. They’re beautifully hypnotic. I scrutinise the murals for hidden details or concealed scenes. The more I look at them, the more details they reveal to me: impossible perspectives, natural expressions, and more. I sit on a wooden bench, blessed with the special light and colour in the church, blessed with the feeling of living inside a painting.

Up to the Castle Keep

I go down, the wonderful murals by Evaristo Guerra still sparkling in my eyes. I go back to the street that leads to Plaza de la Constitución. I could retrace my steps or, even better, walk across the district along Calzada Herra Street, across Plaza Santa Cruz, past Cruz del Arrabal (a chapel I take a picture of), across Plaza de los Sastres, up to the walls in front of the Royal Town Gate. I go under the archway to find an old world at the other side: twisted Arab buildings that used to be part of the medina, low houses, shops, small factories, water cisterns… Protected by the impervious castle keep, sheltered by the castle walls. This is how I feel as I walk down Real Street, across Plaza del Espinar and Plaza de Rojas and up Santuario Santa María Street to the Church of Santa María la Mayor, housing the Easter Museum. This church used to be a mosque, and it was converted to converted to Christianity in the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century. It’s large inside, soaring up. Its most remarkable feature is the Mozarabic coffered wood ceiling. The church looks regal, grave, opulent. It marks the highest point of La Villa district. Outside, it affords views of the whole of Vélez-Málaga at its feet. The Easter Museum contains crowns and golden cloaks, chasubles and other garments, and images of Virgin Mary which aren’t shown except when the Passion comes. Rich ornaments as symbols of the power held by the Church, and the power of art beyond the powers of the world: finely engraved pieces, filigrees to trim the figures, carefully made artwork. Leaving the spiritual behind, I walk out to be welcomed by the midday sun. I saunter down Cuesta de Santa María and reach the premises of the old castle behind a wall. The impressive keep and a few wall stretches are still standing, opening up to the meadows and the sea. The views are amazing: fields sown with fruit trees stretch out from the sea into Axarquía, reaching Benamocarra, Benamargosa, and the entrances to Canillas de Aceituno, La Viñuela, Alcaucín, and Periana. With a natural outlet to the sea, the castle dominated the whole area, controlling ships, the coastal connections with Málaga, Almería, and Granada, and the ground connections with Granada through Boquete de Zafarraya. Vélez-Málaga had, and still has, a geostrategic location which was ideal to control the flow of people and of goods. The castle keep made any movement visible. Two young boys are sitting here now, chatting, their legs dangling from the wall. They must be talking about girls and mischief in the dark of night. They’re unwittingly gazing at a beautiful and very old past as they experience their vibrant present. Carpe diem. The sun warms my skin up in its kind and delicate winter heat. I look at the horizon and fancy the whole thing: battles, surrenders, Christian knights and Arab caliphs, Egyptian chronicles, Roman expeditions, Phoenician settlements. Everything’s here.

Torre del Mar and Caleta de Vélez

Back to my car. History still reverberating in my ears. Now I need the salty taste of sea. I drive towards Torre del Mar and park in a street adjoining the Sea Promenade. I can smell the sardine skewers and the barbecues, the grilled and the fried fish. The beach bars blend into the beach; they’re spacious restaurants specialising in fish and seafood, but they also prepare a wide variety of international dishes. The blue sea and the bright blue sky come together. Bunches of young foreign tourists are lying in the sun, their clothes on, their tees rolled up, trying to absorb the delicate sunrays falling on the beach. Torre del Mar’s Sea Promenade is 3km long, running between the beach and quite a few restaurants. It’s sheltered by lots of plants and trees that paint it in green and punctuated by signs where you can read poems by Manuel Alcántara. In the far end there’s the 26m-high lighthouse dominating the coastline. From this modern lighthouse, as well as from its predecessor on Toré Toré Avenue, you can make out the Manganeta Tower by the river and the chapel in the district of La Noria. I stroll along the promenade, stop, nibble at my grilled squid and fresh prawns at a beach bar, washing them down with sodas and a beer, then I move on, stop again for more snacks (sardine skewers), take a rest, hit the promenade again, stop for more victuals, go back to my stroll, and so on.


With the light of Evaristo Guerra’s murals still shining in my eyes, I look at the Mediterranean, dressed in deep blue. Past and present colours blend, as do ancient history and philosophical reason, green meadows and high mountains. Vélez-Málaga’s well of history is like shoes to a traveller’s bare feet, food for thought to the inquisitive mind, a new skin to a sensitive soul. Every corner hides a visible treasure and a tale to be told. I soak in as much as I can, lying on the warm beach in Torre del Mar and staring at the bright blue sky.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

Easter Week in Vélez-Málaga: “Vélez-Málaga’s Easter Celebrations are considered to be among the best in Andalusia. The town’s long-standing religious traditions, which began in the fifteenth century with the building of multiple churches and convents, have naturally led the consolidation of a series of rituals that reach their climax in Easter. Early-established brotherhoods compete with newer ones to become the most splendorous for a few days, in a time when the town lives for and by processions. Religious feeling is so strong and contagious that even sceptics join the religious fraternities with genuine enthusiasm. It’d be pointless to name a few fraternities, for they all contribute their magnificent ornaments and devout crowds to turn Vélez-Málaga’s Easter celebrations into an unforgettable event” (source: Costa del Sol Tourist Board website).
Caleta de Vélez: Another population centre in Vélez-Málaga, Caleta de Vélez lies 2km away from Torre del Mar. It’s wrapped in the original atmosphere of a fishing village. In fact, it’s home to the leading fishing port in Málaga Province, where you can also engage in yachting. There’s also a top-quality golf course in Caleta de Vélez.
Useful links: For more information on Vélez-Málaga, visit the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Vélez-Málaga Town Hall.