Antequera and beyond
Casa Celeste was a great place to recuperate from our colds. At the beginning of our stay the sun was shining and it was reasonably warm; warm enough to get the loungers out by the pool and nod off on them for half an hour or so.
When we were feeling better we ventured further afield to Laguna de Fuente de Piedras. For once this was a natural lake rather than a river valley that has been dammed. It has to be said that the birding in Spain has been rather poor. It is winter of course and the best times for birdwatching here are Spring and Autumn migrations. But we did expect a little more from the laguna as it is the largest wetland area in Andalucia. We did get to see a small number of the Greater Flamingo which is resident here all the year. In the breeding season up to 24,000 birds arrive at these wetlands making it one of the most important sites in Europe. We also saw a number of Black-winged Stilt which is a rare sighting in the UK.
As we were driving back home we passed massive plantations of Olive trees and were bemoaning the fact that such a monoculture is no good for wildlife. We had to eat our words when a grassy field between two plantations appeared. In it were 8 Common Crane feeding and a Peregrine Falcon which was having a rest on a rock in the ground. The cranes roost in the Laguna in the evenings and then flock to the fields in the daytime. On another drive through the same area we saw several hundred cranes feeding in between the Olive plantations which was a magnificent sight.
We were both feeling better and up to a bit of walking. But the weather had turned rather cloudy and it was noticeably cooler and windier. El Torcal, the high mountain behind Villanueva which we wanted to explore, became wreathed in cloud and it was obviously going to be no use going up there for the time being. But we did notice that the sun seemed to be shining down on the coast towards Malaga and the weather forecast said the temperature would be about 17C down there.
I have mentioned in a previous post that we are not lovers of the Costa del Sol. It’s overdeveloped, too busy and a bit tacky. So we settled on a visit to the mountain village of Mijas, a few miles inland from Fuengirola. It seems that the village is where expats move to once they’ve had enough of the coast. But for all that it was a rather lovely village to wander around. There was even a free Flamenco show going on in the main square.
There are great views of the coast from the municipal park. You can see Benalmadena and Fuengirola. Torremolinos is just out of sight one way and Marbella the other. All of these are well known tourist destinations – and we didn’t visit any one of them!
One of the walks we had read about before coming out here was El Caminito del Rey – the (small) walk of the King. It is sited at a place called El Chorro and we took a tiny mountain road across country to get there. The views of the Sierra de Aguas were impressive even under a layer of cloud.
El Chorro is a mecca for rock climbers. The rock faces looked near vertical to me and I did wonder how those we saw climbing managed to stay on. But it is also a must see place for other tourists and, being a Sunday, it was packed full.
The big draw here is the Caminito, which started life as a footpath enabling workers constructing the hydro electric plant and their pack animals to move materials and equipment in the early 20th Century. Surprisingly, given that it clings to the almost vertical sides of the Gitaines Gorge, only two men died during construction.
King Alfonso XIII visited to open the hydro plant in 1921 and walked part of the path, though how far no one knows or is saying. The path remained in place when the workers had completed their job but by the 1970s it had fallen into disrepair and became known as a bit of a daredevil path for foolhardy hikers to attempt and earned the title of ‘most dangerous footpath in the world’. Climbers even installed ropes onto which people could clip themselves to save them plunging to certain death into the rocky waters far below.
After several people were killed attempting the walk the authorities closed it but then restored it as a thoroughly safe adventure for anybody, young or old, to walk. We hadn’t booked tickets as we hadn’t figured on doing the walk and when we saw the crowds of hundreds of people waiting to go on the trek we decided it was something to save for another day. Which in the end never came but you should always leave something for which to return.
It was only towards the end of our holiday that we visited the city of Antequera, apart from the odd shopping trip for things we couldn’t get locally. Which wasn’t much as Villanueva has a good if basic supermarket and excellent butchers, veg shop and pescaderia – fresh fish shops. One thing Spain doesn’t seem to have lost is the small village shop.
Antequera has been dubbed the crossroads of Andalucia because it is roughly the central point between Seville, Cordoba, Granada, and Malaga. It certainly has a large commercial zone with the usual distribution depots. But it is steeped in history. The Romans established a town there called Anticaria and the Moors also established a stronghold there.
The narrow streets of the town hint at its medieval past and you can’t go anywhere without coming across one of its 33 churches.
But, for us, the appeal of the city lay much further in the past – to the Neolithic and Bronze Age. The Dolmens of Antequera are remarkable works of European prehistory and are a UNESCO World Heritage site. They may not be quite so world renowned as Stonehenge but they are incredibly important sites. And, unlike Stonehenge, you can not only get right into the heart of the structures but entry is also entirely free of charge.
The dolmens are megalithic structures buried beneath mounds of earth. Because of this the original structures are almost intact. So when you enter one of the dolmens you are stepping back 5,000 years. The first one you come to is Viera. It is entered through an open passageway and then into a 21 metre long passageway formed by large upright stones and capstones. At the end of the corridor is a single monolith stone with a square hole cut into it which gives access to a small rectangular chamber.
The entrance to the dolmen is aligned at exactly 096 degrees south east so that on the summer solstice the rays of the sun hit the very back of the chamber. It would be a special thing to witness that event.
Just a short distance away is another monolithic chamber called Menga and it is one of the largest such structures in Europe. Its largest stone is 180 tonnes. For comparison, Stonehenge’s largest monolith is a tiddler at only 40 tonnes. There are three upright slabs of stone supporting the roof in the middle of this dolmen and it is quite awe inspiring to stand inside it.
Unusually, the entrance to this dolmen is orientated 045 degrees to the north east. And, uniquely for continental Europe, it is aligned to a natural feature on the horizon – the mountain of Pena de los Enamdores. This mountain itself is fascinating as it is shaped like a head lying on its back. And at the summer solstice the rays of the sun rise exactly where the eye of the face lies.
Whilst the first two dolmens are within 50 mtrs of one another the final one, the Tholos de El Romeral, is 4 klms away and was constructed at a later date. At Tholos you really get a feel for the tumulus under which the stone chamber is constructed. It makes these dolmens a very natural part of the earth.
El Romeral was using drystone walls rather than monolithic pillars and inside it is like being in a very large beehive. The corbelled walls are capped by a huge capstone and it is incredibly warm inside the tomb. Bones and grave goods were found in this dolmen unlike the earlier two which means they may have just been used for ceremonial purposes.
Like Menga, El Romeral has an anomalous orientation. Astronomer Michael Hoskin noted that whilst all of the other dolmens in the Mediterranean area are aligned to celestial features these two are unique in being aligned to a natural feature. In the case of El Romeral its orientation is to the highest point of the El Torcal mountain range and to sunrise on the Winter Solstice. And it is to the strange and wonderful landscape of El Torcal we shall venture in the next blog
3 thoughts on “Andalucian Adventures – Part Ten”
Just caught up with a few posts and still very jealous! Looks really interesting and varied. Looking forward to the next one.
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Thanks Rob. Just devoured all ten episodes so far in one sitting. Takes me back to visits by Ana and Me, fills in all the gaps of historical information I was too lazy to learn, brilliant photos and best of all we can imagine being with you both every step of the way. Knowing you so well means I can hear the conversation and the banter in my head as I read. The next best thing to seeing you both for real.
Thanks Andy and Ana. I’m rather flattered you would want to binge read the blog and glad you liked it. A warning though – there are still two episodes to come! We had a really good time in Andalucia and it was well worth getting away for (hopefully) the worst of the weather. We’ll try and catch up with on video soon.