Echoes of the past Beth Hancock | Posted: 03 April 2014
You are likely to come across shepherds on a walking holiday in Las Alpujarras
You will see many reminders of the Moors' legacy, such as flat-roofed houses, on a walking holiday in Las Alpujarras
Peppers hanging out to dry in typical Andalucian style

This may be the age of Wi-Fi and smartphones, but in Las Alpujarras – where in some villages mules still outnumber cars by two to one during harvest time – some aspects of life continue as they have done for generations.

You only have to look at the cultivated slopes to see that this is true. Running between the groves is an intricate network of sluice gates and channels which distribute water from high mountain streams. The system is impressive enough in its scale and complexity, but is even more so when you consider that it has altered little since it was first built by the Muslim Berbers who settled here from Seville at the end of the 12th century. So central is it still to agriculture here that water bailiffs are elected each year to oversee its maintenance and operation.

Engineering prowess was not the only thing the Moors brought with them to Las Alpujarras. They also introduced many of the fruits that we associate today with southern Europe – oranges, lemons, peaches, apricots and pomegranates – brought from as far away as China and Persia.

Other visible reminders of the Berber settlers’ legacy – besides the distinctive flat-roofed, rectangular houses – come in the form of large, circular threshing floors, identical in construction to those found in Morocco. Come the end of July each year, these would be a hive of activity as labourers gathered with their mules and took it in turns to thresh their cereal crops on the stone cobbles while other villagers played the guitar or sang to pass the time.

Related Holidays

Life in an Alpujarran Village

To see reminders of Las Alpujarras’ Moorish past for yourself, spend a week at the delightful Casa Las Chimeneas in Mairena to enjoy some fantastic walking in very varied scenery and gain unique insights into Alpujarran culture.

More about our walking holidays in the Alpujarras >

The days of cereal-growing are largely over, however. Instead, almonds are one of the principal crops, as are olives. Elsewhere, the harvest of this highly prized fruit is mechanised, but not so in Las Alpujarras, where December and January see the locals out in force among the rows of trees, knocking the branches with sticks to dislodge the olives and send them tumbling onto sheets spread out on the ground below.

Given all this, it will come as no surprise to learn that shepherds continue to follow the age-old farming patterns, keeping their sheep and goats on the lower slopes when there is sufficient grass and moving them up to higher pastures at the start of summer, usually in June. Although it is dying out now, there are still some herdsmen who practise transhumance even, herding their cows over long distances to and from their bases in villages such as Capileira, Bérchules and Trevélez.

This latter village is worthy of note for another reason: at 1,476 metres above sea level, it is the highest village in Spain. Be that as it may, Trevélez is no different from any other pueblo when it comes to fiestas. Their San Antonio celebrations are held in mid-June each year, which brings us back once again to the Moors – a central part of the festivities is the Moros y Cristianos re-enactment, in which some villagers dress as Moors and others dress as Christians as a reminder of the Catholic Kings’ campaign to ‘reconquer’ Las Alpujarras.

The Spanish may have resented the Moors’ presence at the time, but there is no denying that they had a positive and, as we have seen, long-lasting impact on southern Spanish culture, and there’s no chance of forgetting that in Las Alpujarras.



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