The Alpujarra. The Region of the Alpujarra on the southern hillside of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is a must for anyone going to Granada, Spain.
Granada, Spain is an extraordinary city that invites travelers to explore its rich heritage and scenic attractions. Just south of the city, huddled on the southern hillside of the vast Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, sits the much lesser known magical and charming region of the Alpujarra.
Some fifty villages of varying sizes and common cultural features make up this historic area that spills over both the provinces of Granada and Almería. The villages also share a common topography; they perch along the slopes of two dramatic ravines that extend from the peaks of the Sierra Nevada and cut southeastward to form the basins of the Guadalfeo and the Andaraz Rivers.
The name for this region may come from the Arabic al-buqscharra, which could be translated as “the land of the pastures” given the abundance of water found in this fertile zone. The area is not easy to reach; the steep mountainside landscape has obliged villagers to build a network of terraces and ditches to optimize irrigation. The hilly geography does not facilitate the use of machinery for carrying out agricultural work. While this has posed a historical challenge to agriculturists, it has helped preserve a natural aura that offers observers a peek into a distant age that appears lost in time.
After the fall of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada in 1492, the Andalusia Muslims were required by law to convert to Catholicism under the Catholic monarchs after 1502. Muslims who refused to leave their Andalusia homes to go to Northern Africa were known as Moriscos. They remained in this area until 1568, when the Morisco revolt lead by Abén Humeya (whose Christian name of Fernando de Válor) was violently defeated a year later by the Spanish king’s army. After the Castilian victory, by order of the crown, two Morisco families were permitted to continue living in each town to teach new Christian settlers from Castile, Leon, and Galicia how to work the challenging terraced land and maintain the irrigation system so vital to the local agriculture. Unfortunately, the plan proved unsuccessful, and the traditional farming systems were lost in favor of methods adopted from the central and northern regions of the peninsula.
The influence of Northern Africa has been maintained in the region’s architecture, clearly related to the Berbers, with homes that appear stacked or overlapping to form passageway-tunnels called “tinaos”. Houses also have flat roofs called launa, which are covered with gravel, affording residents rooftop terrace spaces. There are no tiles here, and the home’s design takes advantage of every square meter, each one playing a necessary and functional role. Other Northern African elements that have been maintained in the Alpujarra include many cooking traditions, the use of jarapas (carpets made of recycled fabric), and the area’s place names such as Alcolea, Bentarique, La Taha, Ohanes…
The most common way to visit the area is through the town of Lanjarón, one of the Alpujarra’s entry points along with Órgiva. Beyond this spa-town (famous throughout Spain for its mineral water), visitors follow winding mountain roads to cross the historic Tablate Bridge, the scene of the last great battle between Christian soldiers and Alpujarra Moriscos, the confrontation which ended the so-called “Morisco rebellion” in the third quarter of the 16th century.
A few kilometers past the bridge and around a tight curve, the scenic Poqueira River gorge offers fantastic views. The gorge is home to three towns: Capileria, bubión, and Pampaneira, names that may sound Gaelic but which are Arab in origin.
Visitors continuing on their journey may reach Trevélez, peninsular Spain’s highest town, a place famous for its hams. Hams here are cured in the cold, dry air of the Sierra Mountains, which is where the name jamón serrano comes from.
It is not surprising that this region has left an indelible impression on many observers, such as the Granada writer Pedro Antonio de Alarcón, who in 1874 published the book La Alpujarra about this area of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In 1957, British writer Gerald Brenan published South from Granada, a story that takes place in the Alpujarra town of Yegen and which was made into a movie in 2003 by Fernando Colomo. The former drummer for the music group Genesis, Chris Stewart, who is a resident in the local mountain town of Órgiva, has recently published two enjoyable novels. They narrate the adventures of a cosmopolitan Englishman who decides to move to the seclusion of these mountains with his wife and daughter. Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucia and A Parrot In the Pepper Tree are both highly recommendable titles.
The scenic mountain atmosphere of the Alpujarra and its charming villages make for enjoyable and memorable travel experiences. This is a recommended trip for anyone visiting Spain and a must for those going to Granada.