White Villages Chapter V - Andalusia Spain - Cadiz - Zahara de la Sierra

Dec 15, 2021
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Sunrise in Zahara de la Sierra, in the interior of Cadiz in the Sierra de Grazalema (Spain). A slow dawn in a parenthesis of white houses between mountains. The sky is clear, illuminated by the rays of sunlight that caress the silhouette of the castle rising from its promontory. A few white clouds are outlined between the fleeting reflections of the village on the mirror of the reservoir.

The land transpires all that has been lived over the centuries. Conquests and reconquests settled on the slopes of a rocky mountain where the Mediterranean forest is in all its splendour. Zahara de la Sierra is a natural viewpoint open to the blue air, to a past carved in narrow, staggered streets stained with lime and centuries.

The past of Zahara de la Sierra is latent throughout its geography. It is possible to pronounce it, in the syllables of its name. You can still contemplate it in the remains of the Muslim fortress that crowns the town. The history of this small white enclave, immersed in the immensity of the Sierra de Grazalema, is intimately connected with the nature that surrounds it. Its border location made Zahara, in the past, a longed-for and disputed place. It became the protagonist of episodes of conquests and nocturnal surprises.

But before all this, before ancient chronicles, before Catholic Monarchs and Muslim monarchs, others inhabited Zahara de la Sierra. Proof of this are archaeological remains, such as the polished granite axes found in different areas, pieces of a puzzle that dates back to the Palaeolithic period.

Zahara de la Sierra was the ancient Lastigi, belonging to the Conventus Juridicus de Gades. The site of Tesorillo remains from Roman times, very close by in Arroyomolinos.

Later, in Muslim hands, it became the scene of the meeting between King Alfonso X the Wise and the Sultan Aben Yusef. In response to the king's request for help to fight against the uprising of his son Sancho IV, the sultan summons him to this border town. Talking under the shade of a silk and gold shop, they agreed to give the Castilian monarch 60,000 gold doubloons. In exchange, the Sultan received cows to improve the Moroccan livestock. The castle was erected as part of the Nasrid evolution in these lands. Parts of its walls are still standing, as well as the keep, under which there is a Moorish cistern.

The 15th century began with the first Christian capture of Zahara de la Sierra. This was part of a military campaign led by Ferdinand I of Aragon, "he of Antequera", who also recovered the lands of Torre Alháquime and Pruna. The Christian domination came to an end on the night of 28 December 1481, when the Muslims surprised the inhabitants of the town. This accelerated plans for the reconquest of Granada by the Catholic Monarchs. Two years later, Isabella and Ferdinand took the area back and included it in the lordship of "Ponce de León". But the Muslim influence remained. Even now, to the south of the village, in the Loma del Calvario, the remains of a necropolis can still be seen.

These were turbulent times, during which its location turned it into a territory with a marked military and defensive character. In the 16th and 17th centuries, there was a transfer of population to the towns of Algodonares and El Gastor. But the construction of the Church or the Clock Tower reflects the importance that Zahara maintained throughout those years. Today, a stroll through its streets tells that there was an after for anyone who wants to contemplate it.

An aftermath translated into churches and towers that rise above the houses, such as the 18th century Church of Santa María de la Mesa. A sample of Andalusian religious architecture, in baroque style, and neoclassical influences. It is worth passing through the entrance and touring its Latin cross floor plan, where the choir stands out.

Zahara de la Sierra belongs to the Sierra de Grazalema and Grazalema belongs to Zahara. They palpitate in the same frequency, one beyond centuries or reconquests. The inhabitants of this Sierra understand nothing of sultans, kings or betrayals. They do not care about wars or Atlantic invasions. They only breathe to the rhythm of the seasons. They are nourished by a millenary soil, they drink on the banks of the Zahara-El Gastor reservoir, they pierce mists and fogs as they glide.

The whole area is a gateway to nature in its purest state, within the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.

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