Beyond the mountains, farther south from Granada, lie the great valleys of the Alpujarras, first settled in the twelfth century by Berber refugees from Seville, and later the Moors’ last stronghold in Spain.
The valleys are bounded to the north by the Sierra Nevada, and to the south by the lesser sierras of Lujar, La Contraviesa and Gador. The eternal snows of the high sierras keep the valleys and their seventy or so villages well watered all summer long. Rivers have cut deep gorges in the soft mica and shale of the upper mountains, and over the centuries have deposited silt and fertile soil on the lower hills and in the valleys; here the villages have grown, for the soil is rich and easily worked. The intricate terracing that today preserves these deposits was begun as long as two thousand years ago by Visigoths or Ibero-Celts, whose remains have been found at Capileira.Read More
The Moors and after
The Moors and after
When they came to occupy the Alpujarras, the Moors set about improving agricultural techniques and modified the terracing and irrigation in their inimitable way. They transformed the Alpujarras into an earthly paradise, and here they retired to bewail the loss of their beloved lands in al-Andalus, resisting a series of royal edicts demanding their forced conversion to Christianity. In 1568, they rose up in a final, short-lived revolt, which led to the expulsion of all Spanish Moors. Even then, however, two Moorish families were required to stay in each village to show the new Christian peasants, who had been marched down from Galicia and Asturias to repopulate the valleys, how to operate the intricate irrigation systems.
Through the following centuries, the land fell into the hands of a few wealthy families, and the general population became impoverished labourers. The Civil War passed lightly over the Alpujarras: the occasional truckload of Nationalist youth trundled in from Granada, rounded up a few bewildered locals and shot them for “crimes” of which they were wholly ignorant; Republican youths came up in their trucks from Almería and did the same thing. Under Franco, the stranglehold of the landlords increased and there was real hardship and suffering. Today, the population has one of the lowest per capita incomes in Andalucía, with – as a recent report put it – “a level of literacy bordering on that of the Third World, alarming problems of desertification, poor communications and a high degree of underemployment”.
Ironically, the land itself is still very fertile – oranges, chestnuts, bananas, apples and avocados grow here – while the recent influx of tourism is bringing limited wealth to the region. The so-called “High” Alpujarras have become popular with Spanish tourists and also with migrants from northern Europe who have purchased property here; Pampaneira, Bubión and Capileira, all within half an hour’s drive from Lanjarón, have been scrubbed and whitewashed. Though a little over-prettified, they’re far from spoilt, and have acquired shops, lively bars, good, unpretentious restaurants and small, family-run pensiones. Other villages, less picturesque or less accessible, have little employment, and are sustained only by farming.