Tag Archives: Pueblos Blancos

Gaucin in the Genal Valley

Gaucin in the Genal Valley at the Southern end of the Serranía de Ronda is more than just a village in the middle of nowhere. This attractive white village founded by the Romans, and then expanded and heavily fortified by the Moors who named their village Gauzan, an Aran word meaning strong rock. These days Gaucin is better known as a haven for international artists who flock to the area for the peace and tranquility afforded them.

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With a population of 2,000 and a few more scattered outside the village, Gaucin is large enough to have a small town centre, with markets, butchers, fruit shops, clothing, banks, and other miscellaneous traders. In fact many of the residents are able to buy everything they need on a daily basis in the village without having to travel to Ronda or the Costa del Sol.

The surrounding countryside is beautiful as can be seen in this gallery of photos by Ronda Turismo.

At 626 metres, Gaucin is also high enough above sea level that the weather is noticeably cooler in summer and winter than the coast, which makes the village almost ideal for many foreign residents who choose to setup home, and then proceed to rip out the modern features of their homes and replace them with traditional wooden beams, tiled floors, and rough painted walls; to the endless amusement of Spanish residents.

For visitors, Gaucin is considered one of the prettiest of the pueblos blancos, malaga’s white villages, with narrow warren-like streets strewn together as if a large ball of twine had been dropped and houses built in the gaps between the string.

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This may in fact have been intentional for two reasons. First, the castle above the village, perched on the crest of El Hacho mountain was of strategic importance from Roman and most especially in Moorish times, and narrow winding streets make an attack more difficult as soldiers have to first battle from street to street before reaching the formidable castle defences.

The second reason is more practical and perhaps more believable; narrow streets at odd angles from each other prevent the hot Sahara winds from overly heating the village houses in the summer, and in winter offer some protection against the cold northerly winds. Certainly other Moorish towns without a castle have a similar pattern so it isn’t impossible to assume weather played a bigger role in the town layout.

The castle of Gaucin, named Castillo del Aguila, the Eagle’s Castle, is an impressive structure visible above the village from many miles away, and is open to the public in the mornings and early evening. Great birds of prey such as eagles, vultures, and kestrels have always inhabited the mountains of inland Andalucia, so it is hardly surprising the castle would take its name from the eagles which can still be seen to this day circling the parapets.

Within Gaucin visitors will also see the church of san Sebastian built in 1487, on the ruins of the mosque destroyed when the town was taken by Christian conquerers. As well, Gaucin is home to a large convent built in the mid 1700s though abandoned in 1835 and now used by the town hal for concerts and other local events. Recent renovations have sadly destroyed the historic interior.

However, by far the best reason for visiting Gaucin is not for the monuments of the village, it is instead the streets and people of the village that will appeal. A simple walk around the town centre will impress how friendly the villagers are, whilst those with a penchant for the quaint will absolutely love the cute windows filled with flowers, or the tiled frescos adorning doorways and walls, or the cobbled streets that could tell a thousand stories.

Gaucin isn’t on the way to anywhere, the village is a destination of itself. Some choose to stay, others only pass through, but no visit to Andalucia will truly be complete until the soul of villages like Gaucin has touched your heart.

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Discover Juzcar

Deep in the green Genal Valley, but only a few kilometres from Ronda, lies the tiny village of Júzcar, almost invisible as the valley roads twist and turn along the length of the Genal River. Juzcar is small, and easily walked around in less than 30 minutes, you could blink and miss this little inland Andalucia village, but don’t or you’ll really kick yourself later.

A little bit about Juzcar. It really is blue? and Smurfs live there?

Juzcar is a small village located in the province of Malaga in Andalusia, southern Spain. It gained international fame in 2011 when it was painted blue for the promotion of the Smurfs movie. The village was chosen by Sony Pictures to celebrate the world premiere of the movie, and as part of the promotion, all the buildings in the village were painted blue, making it look like a real-life Smurf village.

The village was originally a traditional white Andalusian town, but after the success of the Smurf movie promotion, the residents of Juzcar voted to keep the blue color as a tribute to the famous blue cartoon characters. The blue paint used was eco-friendly and made with natural pigments, and it has become a tourist attraction ever since.

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An Excursion to the Genal River and Genalguacil

Today I had the pleasure of journeying to the Genal Valley, specifically along the Ronda-Algeciras road until the turn off for Jubrique, and then towards the Genal river to wet my feet, followed by a stroll around Genalguacil admiring the art and relaxing in a local bar with a cold one, before returning to Ronda.

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A Short Trip to Benaojan

When visiting Ronda, getting out into the little villages is one of the must do excursions that would render your vacation incomplete if you didn’t. However, a lot of visitors to Ronda don’t have access to a car, so Benaojan is one of the options to see an authentic white village.

Located on the southern boundary of the Sierra de Grazalema, Benaojan is convenient because both bus and train visit the village, and the trip is only 25 minutes from Ronda. My own trip saw me take the train along Mr Henderson’s railway walk, a comfortable and air conditioned journey that does however stop at Benaojan Estación, a small hamlet below the main village that requires a 20 minute walk before you see what Benaojan has to offer.

Arriving by train you’ll see Benaojan to your right and up the hill, it is a steep walk but is more or less suitable for most fitness. Begin by crossing the railway line and following the signs for the Hotel Molino del Santo. You’ll have to pass the little venta next to the drinking fountain at the station, and this is a great place to have a drink or some tapas while you wait for your return train.

Continue past the hotel and just beyond you’ll see the first of Benaojan’s many small reasons to visit. Below the path you’ll see a small pool of water, which is the Nacimiento de los Cascajales, a fresh water spring that is one of the sources of the Rio Guadiaro.

At the first little plaza entering Benaojan you come across ‘Fuente del Zuque’.

Fuente del Zuque

During Moorish times this plaza was where the local market would be held, the zoco, a modern word derived from the Arabic souk. It was also a popular livestock watering station, and is historically important for being the former laundry of the village, Benaojan used to have a soap factory, and this fountain is where local ladies would wash clothes and blankets.

As you wander the streets of Benaojan you will see several factories of local pork products, and the best is a little shop at the end of the main street, in the direction of Montejaque, the shop is called Jamones Isidoro, and everything sold is made in Benaojan, from legs of ham (Pata Negra), to chorizo, and other products, and everything is hermetically sealed making it easy to take home.

Benaojan has the appearance of a modernish village, in fact people have lived near Benaojan since pre-historic times and one of Europe’s most important sites of paleolithic cave paintings is just 4.5km away at the Cueva de la Pileta, though the people who inhabit the village are a more recent wave of migrants.

Prior to the Christian reconquest of Andalucía, Benaojan was a small Moorish village, part of the defensive tower line that defended Grenadine Andalucía from Christian incursions, and her people were herders and lumber merchants. The village is named after the clan leader Ojan whose people settled the area after 712 AD, thus naming the village Benaojan.

Church in Benaojan

After the Christian conquest a Moorish uprising effectively spelt the end of Muslim people in the Serranía de Ronda, and Benaojan was not spared, in fact the entire village was cleared and on the 6th November 1571, 60 families loyal to the Spanish crown were given alotments to rebuild the village as they saw fit.

The Mosque was destroyed, and in its place the Christian church built, the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Rosario, evident by the octagonal shape of the nave and squashed outline of the church which is completely surrounded on all sides by homes.

The church has undergone several improvements since it was first built, notably in the 17th and 18th centuries as the population of the village boomed, and then again in the 1940’s to restore the church after the devastating effects of the Spanish civil war. Within the church the original gothic vault near the main altar can still be seen.

In the upper streets of the village you will also see several narrow alleys where the rock outcrop covers the street and seems to push the houses down into the valley below. In fact the village is generally quite stable, and those rocky outcrops you see have been in place throughout the occupied timeline of the village.

As you wander the streets, do not miss seeing the painted fountain, Puente Pintada, the most important of Benaojan’s many fountains, and the one which gives the main street its name, Calle Fuente. This little fountain has been retiled and decorated by the Asprodisis Association, but has been in use since ancient times, and was the main fountain on the road between Cortes de la Frontera and Villaluenga del Rosario.

Be sure to appreciate the karst mountains surrounding Benaojan while you are here, most are still growing as Africa pushes under Iberia. To return to Ronda, simple retrace your steps back to the station, or at around 1:30 you could catch the bus outside the Unicaja bank.

History of Juzcar

The Serranía de Ronda was extensively populated by neolithic and then bronze age people and Juzcar is no exception. A stone structure that could have been a defensive tower on the boundary between Juzcar and Farajan, is proof of ancient peoples living and working in the district. Very little evidence of their activities has been found, though the area has not been excavated to any great extent.

In Roman times, whilst Acinipo and Arunda were thriving, we believe the area around Juzcar was mostly unoccupied but may have possessed a local iron mine. In fact the name Juzcar, terminating in -ar is highly suggestive that Arab invaders in 711 AD encountered either Romanised Iberians or Visigothic people who would have adopted Roman customs.

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