Wednesday, 21 September 2011

And when you have seen the most ingenious and fanciful shapes, you will not think they can go even further. If El Torcal shows Nature at its most eccentric and imaginative, El Tornillo del Torcal is a madman’s dream, the work of a Praxiteles older than man. Stone sheets floating one on top of the other, supported by an invisible fulcrum. They seem to be about to topple –a limestone rain falling on the valley. The composition is subtle and volatile, as if it were ready to take off –or to tumble down. But neither of these will happen. The rocks in El Tornillo have been together for thousands of years, sustaining a delicate balance. A game of emulations in which rocks seem hamburgers, layer cakes, piled-up CDs… You choose your game. El Tornillo del Torcal is a wonder to behold. In fact, it has been chosen as the icon of this natural area. But there is more behind the effigy. Let’s find out.

The Natural Monument of El Tornillo del Torcal

If eccentricity were to appear in a stronger form in a place beyond El Torcal, this place would be El Tornillo del Torcal. The suitable name (tornillo means “screw” in Spanish) anticipates an accuracy that has nothing to do with human intervention. The dissolution of layers of bedrock through the action of wind, water, or the weather has resulted in a most fanciful and unusual figure resembling a screw. A series of six stone sheets piled up so that the larger ones rest on the smaller ones are the pieces in this eroded jigsaw. In fact they are not one on top of the other, but they are all part of a whole worn away –a whole that has gradually disappeared due to the persistent gnawing of Nature. Designated as a Natural Monument in 2001, El Tornillo del Torcal covers 1,953sqm and includes more than just the famous screw, which is part of a set of formations, all of them equally flabbergasting. Just like El Torcal, in the Jurassic this area was under water, covered by the sea known as “Tethys.” After several seismic movements and the withdrawal of water, the rocks emerged to form a limestone complex in the skin of the Earth that is easily eroded. This is how El Torcal began. El Tornillo is the heart of this natural area and the epitome of this complex erosion mechanism, morphing into thousands of different forms. To reach it, you need to go past another weird formation, El Caracol. In this area you will find the same animal and plant species as in El Torcal (see previous post).

The Tour

From El Torcal Visitor Centre, El Tornillo can be reached following two different paths: the road (there is a clearly signed detour on the right some 300m away) or El Caracol (450m from the trail, also clearly marked). I choose the latter. In the summer, the patches of grass visible among the rocks are dressed in yellow. Yellow and ochre shades with thistle strokes. The trail gets too close to the rocks. You can even touch them with your fingers and feel the smooth result of the lathe of time. You can get a glimpse of some of the area’s curious fact; for instance, the bunches of snails clinging to the rocks, a twisted fossil, or plants growing inside the rock formations. I follow the path, stepping on the high grass, until I reach the karren. This is the heart of the karst formations, that is, the first stage in the emergence of El Torcal after the withdrawal of the Tethys sea. Limestone is a sedimentary rock composed largely of calcium carbonate, a soluble mineral. Like most sedimentary rocks, limestone is composed of grains, and its karstification may result in a variety of large- or small-scale features both on the surface and beneath, including flutes, runnels, clints and grikes (collectively called “karren” or “lapiez”), sinkholes or cenotes (closed basins), vertical shafts, foibe (inverted funnel shaped sinkholes), disappearing streams, reappearing springs, limestone pavements, poljes, and blind valleys. Karren looks like an arid microlandscape. It is formed by white or grey rock partially covered by a type of clay known as “terra rossa.” This is exactly what I see. A rustic yet powerful landscape. Pale and ochre, licked by the sun. The tall grass, rocked by the breeze, looks like a golden ocean whose rippling waves are made of stone. I walk across the karren and leave it behind, amazed at the shapes hidden in El Torcal: stones laid in perfect angles, like the capital of a Greek or Roman temple; narrow alleyways, chasms and scars in the skin of the rocks; tables, sinks like small lakes on the rocks, piles of buns… Piles are the most frequent type of formation in El Tornillo. The erosion has resulted in clefts that make the rock resemble a pile of small cylinders, one on top of the other. Since many of them are worn away at the base, they seem to be about to tumble down.
A bend leads to El Tornillo. A huge pile of different-sized buns. On the left, a longish eight-block formation with a thinner “waist.” It seems to be ready to embark on an exotic dance in a unique, impossible move. It is detached and aloof, separated from other formations by thousands of year of weathering and erosion. When you look at it you know that, despite its imperviousness, its having looked the same for thousands of years, it is a beautiful figure bound to topple and tumble down the hill, and maybe sweeping other formations along the way. Maybe when this happens –I do not know when and I will probably not be here to check– there will be no-one to watch the show. In the meantime, let me enjoy what I see, the majestic, slim formation that has become the symbol of El Torcal. Let me watch the screw. I make my way between the piles of buns. I notice their instability and their strength, the plants and lichens living on their skin. I imagine their shapes against the bright blue sky, daydreaming… I get stranded and retrace my steps, going uphill to reach a small plateau. I leave my backpack and camera on the floor, use a stone as a paperweight for my journal, take off my cap and sunglasses, and close my eyes. I sit down and let the breeze rock me into my Jurassic dream. I open my eyes. There it is: El Tornillo del Torcal and its clustered piles of rocks. Learning about its age and man’s effort to protect its beauty is a moving experience. Under the bright blue sky, the white and grey limestone looks brighter. I stand up and turn around. I make out the Mediterranean in the distance (so close, so far), the Málaga Mountains, Torcal Bajo and Villanueva de la Concepción, the fields, dilapidated and rehabilitated cortijos, old shepherd’s shelters, chipped roofs, dark walls. I think about the people living in these old houses. How must they have felt when they saw El Torcal or El Tornillo, before there were scientific explanations available for what they were looking at? What must they have seen? What beings lived in the rock formations for them? What legends did they tell their children in winter nights, sitting by the fireside? Would they talk about dragons and giants and extraordinary creatures? I can see them. I am with them now, with El Torcal and El Tornillo behind me and my mind bubbling with the images that are still fresh in my eyes.


Legends whispered in the alleyways have it that, in the dawn of time, a wealthy emperor had the most beautiful of palaces built on the top of the mountain: light towers, pearl squares, fabulous battlements. The Mediterranean, green with envy, sent the most power winds it could master up the mountain. They blew for days on end, for months on end, for years on end, until a thin layer of sand covered all the towers and squares and battlements. The skin of both human and animal inhabitants hardened, and they developed a stone shell to protect themselves. When the winds abated and the sand whirls rested on the floor, the Mediterranean had a look at the work of his jealous spirit. All the constructions and living beings had turned to stone. They glittered in the moonlight, as if made of polished silver. Mare Nostrum watched the beautiful picture in awe and humbly withdrew to the coast. Since then, when the moon in the sky, in El Torcal you can hear voices amidst the rocks. They are playing, talking about an old town of light and pearls that the Mediterranean turned to silver.

Travel Tips and Useful Links

Useful links: To read more about El Tornillo del Torcal, visit the websites of Costa del Sol Tourist Board and Government of Andalusia, A Visitor’s Window Into Natural Areas. Also, the websites of Villanueva de la Concepción and Antequera Town Halls contain useful information to plan your visit.

Country travel: The region of Antequera and its area of influence feature three natural areas: El Torcal, El Tornillo del Torcal, and Pinar del Hacho. If you want to visit all three without winding up exhausted, you can rent at a country house with fully-equipped facilities. You can come in the summer, for most of them have swimming pools. “El Torcal” Country Travel Southern Association offers a full catalogue of country hotels very close to all three natural areas. This time, I stayed with my usual companion and nine other travellers at Villa Alba.

Images: Here you can see all the photos of this blog entry.

Geolocation: Find the exact location of this Natural Monument on the Google map below.

Ver El Color Azul del Cielo "Espacios Naturales de Málaga" en un mapa más grande