Hidden Gems of Andalusia

Hidden gems in Andalusia are places where mass tourism has not reached yet. Some may be difficult to reach without a car or may be far from a big airport like Malaga. All of them have some sort of enchantment or beauty that can be enjoyed in peace and quiet because of the absence of large crowds. These are some of the places that this writer has visited and considers as hidden gems.

A. Province of Jaen

Jaen Province is a sea of olive trees, with millions of them. The Phoenicians were the first people to cultivate the tree around the 7th century B.C. Ever since then, the olive oil industry has been the most important industry in the province. The province lies in the northeast section of Andalusia and is just south of Castilla-La Mancha. The province is also the province with the largest area of protected natural spaces in Spain, such as the Cazorla Park.

1. Jaen City

The City of Jaen is rich in history and has many monuments, with its castle towering over the city. Today it is the capital of the Province of Jaen.

Jaen Cathedral

The Jaen Cathedral is called the Assumption of the Virgin Cathedral and was built on the site where the mosque stood. The city was conquered by Fernando II, the Holy, in 1246. The present Cathedral was built in the late 15th century and sits on Santa Maria Square. It was designed by the architect who was a genius, Andres de Vandelvira, who designed many other monuments in the province of Jaen. The style of the church is Renaissance. The facade was designed by Eufrasio Lopez de Rojas, who also built the towers. The facade is completely symmetrical, which adds to its beauty. The designer of the Sagrario was Ventura Rodriguez.

The facade looks like a Baroque altarpiece because of its many columns and sculptures. There is a sculpture of Fernando III, who was the conqueror of Jaen. He is shown with his sword and an imperial globe in his hands. There are other sculptures of the evangelists and the fathers of the church, all having been made by the sculptor Pedro Roldan.

The main altar of the church sits by itself, quite a ways from the main altarpiece at the end of the church. The chapels on the sides of the church (there are 17) are beautiful because they have columns that are painted in pastel colors, to simulate marble. The tops of the columns have beautiful gold Corinthian decorations. The choir stalls date from the 16th and 17th centuries.

The main chapel has the Gothic image of the Virgen de la Antigua and the relic of the Holy Face of the Veil of Veronica. This is supposed to be one of the three cloths that Saint Veronica used to wipe the face of Christ. Juan de Aranda decorated the main chapel in the 17th century.

In the Chapter House there is the beautiful Altarpiece of San Pedro de Osma, which was done by the artist Pedro Machuca. There is a beautiful sculpture of Our Father Jesus of Nazareth, El Abuelo (Grandfather) in the Chapel of San Ferdinand.

In the lower floor there is a huge space devoid of supporting columns, that contains the art collection of the church. This collection has many important paintings and sacred art sculptures, that are quite impressive. There are paintings by Jose de Ribera and Valdes Leal. Truly, this church is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Spain.

The Castillo de Santa Catalina

There is a mountain in the background of Jaen, and on top of it is the Castillo de Santa Catalina. There is a legend that under the foundations of the castle there is a tower that Hannibal ordered built, but there is no proof of that. The Romans came and built the fortress, which the Moors then added to. It was known to be an impregnable fortress. However Fernando III, the Holy, laid siege to the fortress in 1246 and conquered it after two months. The castle was named after Santa Catalina because it was on her feast day that the fortress fell into the hands of the Christians. Near the fortress is a huge cross to remember that Fernando III stuck a cross into the ground after his conquest of the fortress.

Today there is a parador on the grounds of the castle. The castle is nice to visit, but a stay in the parador will be inconvenient because the drive up the back of the mountain is too long on a very narrow and curvy road, and it is too far from downtown. What is very nice are the views of the city below, which are spectacular.

Jaen Provincial Museum

The Jaen Museum is quite big and is a wonderful place to visit. First there is a fine arts museum that is very extensive and shows the history of painting and sculpture of Spain, with very famous artists represented. What is good is that each piece of art has a placard on the wall beside the work of art, explaining what the artist wanted to do, and when the work of art was done. This explanation educates the viewer and it is a shame that few museums have this information available to the visitor.

There is an archaeology section that covers the first settlers, the Romans, the Moors, and the Jews. There are beautiful floor mosaics of the Romans that are displayed on the walls like paintings. There is a special section of sculptures from Cerrillo Blanco and El Pajarillo. This Iberian art is one of the largest collections in Spain and many of the sculptures look quite modern.

There are more than 40 sculptures from Porcuna which show the influence of Greek art on Iberian culture during the 5th century B.C. They are made of stone and show hunting scenes, fighting scenes, eagles, lions, bulls, and sphinxes. They were all buried in 400 B.C. There is a collection of Christian remains from Martos, which consist of stone sarcophagi with sculptures of the New Testament. The archaeology section is very good because every exhibit has an explanation that educates the viewer. All in all this provincial museum is one of the best provincial museums in Spain.

Villardompardo Palace

The Villardompardo Palace is located in the old Moorish quarter of the city, the Magdalena quarter, where the streets are very narrow, and it is difficult to find if one does not come from the direction of the Cathedral. The palace was built in 1592 and it sits on top of the largest Arab baths in Europe, which can be seen in the basement. The Arab baths are in very good condition and date from the 11th century. After the Christian conquest, all the Arab baths in the city were abandoned and not used, so most of them were lost to posterity. It was only in 1913 that the baths were discovered when work was done to extend the building. Restoration took place and in 1985 work was finished. The baths received the medal of honor from the European Europa Nostra Association.

The palace also has a very large Naive Museum, with works from the best Spanish artists who paint in this style. The Naive Museum is the first of its type in Spain. Many of these paintings are very beautiful and very enjoyable. The palace also houses a Museum of Popular Arts and Customs and shows costumes that the people of Jaen use. There is a large collection of furniture, ceramics, and farm tools displayed in this section.

The Church of San Ildefonso

Not far from the Cathedral is the Church of San Ildefonso, a Gothic church built in 1248, that is venerated by the faithful because it has the Virgin of the Chapel, who is the patron saint of Jaen. It is said that on June 10, 1430, the Virgin descended from heaven and freed the city from a Moorish siege. The high altarpiece shows the descent of the Virgin to the city and it also contains the tomb of Andres de Vandelvira, the architectural genius.

The exterior of the church is like a fortress. There are two towers beside the facade. The main facade was done in the 18th century in the Neoclassic style by Ventura Rodriguez. This facade has four columns with a cornice supporting a triangular front. The lateral facade has a Renaissace style that dates from the 16th century and was designed by Andres de Vandelvira.

There are three naves in the church with pillars that support pointed arches. The style is late Gothic. The main altar is Baroque and was designed by Pedro Duque. The sacristy contains valuable objects of art.

Plaza de las Batallas

The Plaza de las Batallas (Plaza of the Battles) has a statue of Victory on top of a tall column. The monument commemorates the battles of Las Navas de Tolosa and Bailen. The Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa occurred in 1212 and was a turning point in the Christian reconquest of Spain when the Christian kings of Castille, Navarre, Aragon and Portugal defeated the Moors. In 1808 the Spanish defeated the Napoleonic Army which had been occupying Spain and showed that Napoleon could be defeated. These two battles were very important in the history of Spain because occupying armies were defeated decisively.

2. Ubeda

The City of Ubeda is a UNESCO World Heritage City because of its Renaissance architecture. Ubeda has a population of about 36,000 today and is the economic hub of the surrounding region. It was founded in prehistoric times and later was inhabited by the Romans and Visigoths, followed by the Moors. The Moors called it Ubbadat al-Arab and it was one of the most important cities in Al-Andalus, known for its ceramics industry. In 1233 King Fernando III (the Saint) conquered the city for the Christians. After the Christian Reconquest, many nobles lived in the city and they built many impressive Renaissance palaces and churches in the 16th century. Many of these buildings have the Castillian influence because Jaen is on the border of Castille.

Plaza Vazquez de Molina

The most impressive square in Ubeda is the Plaza Vazquez de Molina, a huge square framed by impressive churches and palaces. This square is one of the most beautiful in Spain. At one end is the Cathedral, the Church of Santa Maria de los Reales Alcazares. This church was built on top of the Moorish mosque at the site. The style of the church is Gothic-Mudejar, and it was built in the 13th century, after the Christian conquest of the city. Later on it was reformed in the 16th century and the main entrance is in the Renaissance style. Currently the church is closed for reforms. This has been going on for the last 25 years and no one knows when the church will reopen.

Vazquez de Molina Palace

Across from the Cathedral is the Vazquez de Molina Palace, also known as the Palace of Las Cadenas, which is now the city hall. The architect was Andres de Vandelvira, an architect who built many of the churches and palaces in the city. Nearby is a statue in his honor. The style of this palace is Renaissance and it was ordered built by Juan Vazquez de Molina, who was the secretary of state of King Felipe II and the nephew of Francisco de los Cobos. The palace was finished in 1568. Vazquez de Molina had no descendants, so he gave part of the palace to the Dominican nuns.

The facade has three horizontal floors and seven vertical parts. The first floor has Corinthian columns, the second has Ionic columns, and the third has caryatides and atlantes. The facade has a very symmetrical and beautiful look. The ground floor has windows, the second floor has seven balconies with pediments, and the third floor has portholes. There are two thin and graceful lanterns, one at each end of the roof. The design of the palace looks very Italian. The patio is huge and has one central fountain, and a double arcade with arches that have a Mudejar design and the marble columns have capitals that are Corinthian. The salons of the city hall are decorated with many important paintings, some by the artist from Ubeda by the name of Jose Tamayo. There is a painting of San Francisco by Blas Muñoz and a painting of Isabel II by Esquivel. There is also 16th century furniture. There is an important Historic Archive with very old documents and the coffered ceiling is impressive.

Palace of Dean Ortega

 

The Palace del Dean Ortega was constructed by Francisco Ortega y Salido, who was the Dean of the Cathedral of Malaga and chaplain of the Holy Chapel of El Salvador. Unfortunately Ortega died before the building was completed. The building was constructed in the middle of the 16th century and the architect was Andres de Vandelvira. The building has a rectangular ground plan with a big central Renaissance patio that has graceful columns. The main door has Doric columns with a lintel and is crowned with the angels that carry the coat of arms of the founder. There are windows in the ground floor of the facade with triangular pediments over them. The windows on the second floor have curved pediments over them. The facade has a very symmetrical look that adds to its beauty. The patio has a mannerist style. The building has been a parador since 1930, with the name of Condestable Davalos Parador Nacional.

Holy Chapel of El Salvador

The Holy Chapel of El Salvador was created by Andres de Vandelvira and is another Renaissance masterpiece. It is the most famous building in Ubeda and one of the best examples of Spanish Renaissance architecture, also the most ambitious private religious architecture of the Spanish Renaissance.

The building was ordered to be constructed by Francisco de los Cobos, who was the secretary of the Emperor Carlos V, and it was going to be used as a funeral chapel. The construction started in 1536 under the direction of Diego de Siloe. Later Andres de Vandelvira took over in 1540.

The elaborate façade was done by the French sculptor Esteban Jamete and is one of the richest in the Spanish Renaissance. It has an enormous decorative richness, and includes the family coat of arms of Francisco de los Cobos. There is also the coat of arms of his wife, Doña Maria de Mendoza, of the prominent Manrique family. The coat of arms are held up by warriors and women. The facade has Christian themes from the Old and New Testaments and also pagan themes. The structure of the facade is like a triumphal arch, with two small round towers, one one each side of the main door. The front is divided into two bodies and topped with a triangle. The first body has the monumental door with a semicircular arch. Above the arch the virtues are holding a board. There are double fluted columns on each side of the door. The second body of the facade has a relief of the Transfiguration of Christ between two sculptures of Saint Peter and Saint Andrew inside two openings. Above are three windows. The north facade was designed by Andres de Vandelvira.

The dome of the church is very impressive with its paintings. The altarpiece is called the Christ of the Transfiguration of Mount Tabor and is the work by Berruguete. The altar is impressive because it is all in gold leaf. What calls one’s attention is the large number of sculptures and paintings of angels, of all sizes.

There is a beautiful sacristy done by Vandelvira and Esteban Jamete, with beautiful sculptures and a very decorative ceiling. The sculptures include caryatides, atlantes, angels, and medallions with allegories. In the church is a beautiful copy of El Greco’s painting Holy Family and St. Anne, done in ceramic tile. Today the chapel is private property.

San Pablo Church

In the square called Plaza 1 de Mayo is the Church of San Pablo, one of the oldest churches in Ubeda, built in the 14th century. It is Gothic Mudejar in style but has elements of the Romanesque original style. The big square has a beautiful statue of St. Paul. The church has three main fronts, a 16th century tower, and a Renaissance fountain. The church has a basilical ground plan with three naves. The original structure was Gothic, but one can find many different styles in the church.

The main facade opens to the plaza and was constructed in 1511. The design is Gothic Isabeline with pointed arches and decoration with vegetal motifs. The tympanum is decorated with the Coronation of the Virgin, surrounded by angels and presided by the Eternal Father. Below is the image of San Pablo. At the end of the 16th century, a gallery was built on top, with Renaissance designs and where church documents were read to the plaza below. This was called El Tabladillo.

There is a facade called the Portada de los Carpinteros that has late Romanesque architecture from the end of the 13th century. The archivolts of the door appear to be decorated with human heads and nails. There is a north facade that is Gothic and constructed in the 15th century. It has three arches. The tower is Plateresque and dates from the 16th century.

The interior of the church is late Gothic in style, with three naves and a polygonal design at the main altar. There are many side chapels that were constructed by noble families of the city to bury their dead. All of them have beautiful Renaissance grills. Among the beautiful chapels are the Capilla de la Encarnacion, Capilla de la Purisima Concepcion, Capilla de San Ildefonso, Capilla del Camarero Vago, and the Capilla de Las Mercedes.

Hospital de Santiago

The Hospital de Santiago is the biggest Renaissance building in Ubeda and it was constructed by the architect Andres de Vandelvira. Since it is very big, it is considered as the Andalusian El Escorial. Diego de los Cobos was the Bishop of Jaen and he ran the hospital at the time of King Carlos V, Diego being the nephew of the king's Secretary of State, Francisco de los Cobos. The bishop is buried in the chapel. The building was started in 1562 and finished in 1575. The style is late Renaissance in the Mannerist style. The facade is quite plain and has four towers that are decorative. The facade has a relief of Santiago Matamoros because many of the embers of the family were part of the Military Order of Santiago. The main door has the inscription of "Maria concebida sin pecado", which means "Mary conceived without sin".

There is a large square patio in the middle of the building and two other lateral patios, which are rectangular in form. One of the lateral patios has an impressive staircase that goes to the first floor, with a marble banister and a dome filled with beautiful frescoes. The chapel opens up to the large main patio. the central patio has a double arcade with marble Corinthian columns with Mudejar style. The staircase is monumental and the vault has frescos that show the Castilian kings, the fathers of the church, and female saints.

There is a very big and beautiful chapel inside the building. The altarpiece of the chapel is gilded and is a work of Blas Brito and Luis de Zayas. The vaults of the chapel are covered with paintings done in fresco. The sacristy is decorated with paintings showing the old gods and the fathers of the church, as well as the figure of Christ fallen and an Ecce Homo. The pre-sacristy has paintings of the four prophets in vivid colors.

The building was used as a hospital until 1975. Today the building has an exhibition space, an auditorium, library, dance school, and is the home of the Youth Orchestra of Andalusia, and is used for cultural purposes.

Palace of the Count of Guadiana

The Palace of the Count of Guadiana was built by Lope de la Cueva y Guzman, who was the first Conde de Guadiana, since 1711. The building dates from the last decade of the 16th century and the tower was built between 1611 and 1615. The style of the building is Plateresque.

The most notable feature of the palace is its tower, considered one of the most beautiful towers in Spain. The tower has corner balconies with white marble columns and there are galleries on the third floor. The tower has four floors. On top of the second floor there is the coat of arms of the family. The second and third floors have a similar design, with a white marble Doric column at the corner. The palace was a statement of the importance of the owner.

Church of San Nicolas de Bari

The Church of San Nicolas de Bari was constructed in the second half of the 14th century. The church has three naves and the main altar end of the church is in the shape of a polygon. This church is the best example of the Andalusian Gothic. The vaults are supported by thick pillars with capitals that have vegetal motifs. In 1496 the Bishop Luis Osorio added the Capilla (chapel) de la Purisima Conception. The sacristy was designed by Andres de Vandelvira in 1566.

The most impressive chapel is the Chapel of Dean Ortega. Fernando Ortega y Salido was the Dean of the Cathedral of Malaga and the head priest of the Holy Chapel of El Salvador. It was meant to be the burial place of his ancestors. The chapel was finished in 1537. The grill was made by Juan Alvarez de Molina and gilded and painted by Antonio de Aquilis. The altarpiece was made by Lorenzo Brogio. The entrance to the chapel was designed by Andres de Vandelvira. The design is Plateresque. There is a triumphal arch with Doric columns. There are praying figures of the fathers of Dean Ortega and mortuary motifs.

The main entrance facing south has concentric pointed arches. On top is the image of Saint Nicolas de Bari. The other entrance facing west was designed by Andres de Vandelvira. The design is that of a triumphal arch supported by columns. There is a tympanum with the figure of Saint Nicolas. There is a tympanum with the figure of the Eternal Father and the sculptor was Lorenzo Brogio.

Church of La Santísima Trinidad

The Church of La Santisima Trinidad was finished in 1727 after several reconstructions. The church was one of the few Baroque churches built, since most of the other churches were from the Renaissance. The church reminds one of the Baroque churches of Madrid of the 17th century. The Order of Redentores Descalzos ordered the construction of the church and convent. The floor plan is rectangular and there are three naves. There are arches that are supported by Corinthian pilasters. There is an elegant cupola also. The vault and the cupola are decorated with plaster molds with vegetal motifs. The clocktower is impressive and has a square base, but the top is octagonal and has arches supported on pillars. The convent has two cloisters and the principal cloister is connected to the sacristy with a passage with Salomonic columns. The facade has two entrances and both are characterized with having moldings as decorations, while the rest of the facades are plain. The church and convent are now used as a school.

Casa de las Torres

The Casa de las Torres (House of Towers) was constructed in 1520 for Andres Davalos, Knight Commander of the Order of Saint James and Governor of Ubeda. It has one of the most beautiful Plateresque facades of any building in Andalusia and was also the first urban palace constructed in Ubeda. The facade has the figures of savages holding in their hands the coat of arms of the Davalos Family. The square patio is an elegant Renaissance construction with arcades on both floors, with many slender columns that are very elegant and support arches. The upper gallery is decorated with sixteen medallions that have the figures of eleven men and five women.

The two towers that flank the entrance were a sign of prestige for the owner when they were constructed. The palace has been a National Monument since 1921. Today the palace is occupied by the School of Art. When the towers were constructed, Ubeda still had dangers for rich families because of insecurity, and the towers had a defensive mission also, besides being a sign of prestige.

Palace of Vela de los Cobos

The Palace of Vela de los Cobos was constructed by Andres de Vandelvira in the middle of the 16th century for Francisco Vela de los Cobos, a councilman of Ubeda and Captain of Cavalry in the war against the Moriscos of Granada.

The facade has three floors. The main entrance has two Corinthian columns that are joined by a lintel. Above this is a small balcony with a large window on the second floor with Ionic columns on each side and a triangular pediment on top. On each side of the window is a warrior that holds the coat of arms of the owner of the palace. There are other balcony windows with pilasters or columns and pediments, and with wrought iron railings. The small balconies with windows became very popular in the second half of the 16th century and 17 century.

The corner balcony was used frequently in the Spanish Renaissance. It has a slender marble column. The third floor has an open gallery that is decorated with geometric figures in the pilasters, arches, and balconies. The palace was remodeled in the 19th century and has one of the best private collections of art in the city, with an important library and historic archives.

Palace of the Marques de la Rambla

The Palace of the Marques de la Rambla was built for Francisco de Molina y Valencia, councilman of Ubeda and infantry captain in the war against the Moriscos of Granada. His wife belonged to the Cobos Family. He contracted with the stone cutters Juan Hernandez and his son Cristobal Hernandez to make the facade of the palace. He wanted something similar to the Palace of the Vela de los Cobos, which had the two savages on the facade.

The facade has two floors that are separated with fascia in the form of diamonds. The main door is framed by Corinthian columns connected with a lintel. There are windows with wrought iron screens. The second floor has balconies with windows, framed by Ionic pilasters and topped by triangular pediments. On the second floor above the main door there are two figures of savages that frame the balcony. The patio is elegant with two galleries, one on each floor.

San Pedro Church

San Pedro Church is one of the oldest churches in Ubeda. It was reconstructed in the last third of the 14th century. In 1605 the facade was given the Renaissance style by Alonso de Barba, a disciple of Andres de Vandelvira, at the request of the Bishop of Jaen Sancho Davila.

The principal facade has two parts. The lower part has an arch with Corinthian columns at each side and pilasters. There are reliefs of two virtues, Faith and Charity. The second floor has Ionic columns and a space with the image of San Pedro. On each side is a large coat of arms of the bishop. The western facade has an arch, but was bricked in when the choir was constructed. This facade is very plain and has a Gothic design.

The bell tower is from the same time period as the principal facade and is quite simple in design, with a square cross section. The interior has been reconstructed several times and has one nave with a vault and side chapels which are mostly Gothic in design. The church has a great historical value because it shows a medieval church that the city tried to turn into a Renaissance church.

 

3. Baeza

Baeza is only 9 kilometers from Ubeda and is another fabulous Renaissance city. Today it has about 15,000 inhabitants. During Roman times it was called Beatia. Fernando III conquered it from the Moors in 1227. Andres de Vandelvira was the architect for many of its emblematic buildings. It is a World Heritage City.

Plaza del Populo

One of the most prominent plazas is the Plaza del Populo, considered the most beautiful plaza in the city. It is also called Leones Square because it has a central fountain surrounded by lion statues. The Fountain of the Lions was brought from the nearby Roman city of Castulo. There is a sculpture of a woman in the middle of the fountain that represents Imilce, the Iberian wife of Hannibal. There is also the Villalar Arch, which as constructed to remember the victory of Carlos V against the Comuneros in the Battle of Villalar in 1521. The Jaen Gate was constructed in 1526 to honor the visit of Carlos V. Beside the square is the Casa del Populo, a building done in the Plateresque style that is now used as the Tourism Office. This building was constructed between 1535 and 1540. Beside this building is the old slaughterhouse from the 16th century, with its large imperial coat of arms. This building is now used to house the archives of the city and has a museum.

Baeza Cathedral

The Baeza Cathedral was built on the site of the Moorish mosque, previously a Roman temple. The church is Renaissance in style, although large modifications were made in the 16th century by Andres de Vandelvira, and it is named the Cathedral of Santa Maria. The church was dedicated in 1593. It contains a Gothic rose window from the 14th century and a beautiful choir stall. There is a Gothic cloister and has three Mudejar chapels and one Gothic chapel. The church has a tower with a square ground plan on the northwest side, that was formerly the minaret of the Moorish mosque. On top of the base is an octagonal construction that is topped with the belfry.

The south wall has a 15th century Gothic door called the Perdon Door, and this leads to the cloister. It is said that convicts who escaped from the authorities and crossed this door would be freed. There are nine chapels in the naves and among them are the San Jose Chapel, a work of Vandelvira from the 16th century, and the Golden Chapel that was founded by the Cabrera Godoy family in the 16th century.

The main chapel has a Baroque altar that was sculpted in 1619 by Alonso Rosillo and later gilded with gold. The sacristy is from the 17th century. The choir grill was made by Bartolome in 1520. The jewel of the Cathedral is the Baeza Monstrance, from the 18th century. It is two meters high, Baroque in style, and made of silver, gold, and bronze. The silversmith Gaspar Nuño de Castro (from Antequera, Malaga) was the artist who made it, and it took him 14 years to finish the work. In front of the Cathedral is the Fountain of Santa Maria, built in 1564.

Old Baeza University

Across the Cathedral on Santa Maria Square is the San Felipe Neri Seminary. This former seminary is now the International University of Andalusia “Antonio Machado”. The building is from the end of the 16th century and it has an impressive patio. The seminary was founded by the priest Rodrigo Lopez, who was a relative of Pope Paul III. Later the noted author Antonio Machado gave classes when it was a university. This is one of the oldest universities in Spain.

Palace of Jabalquinto

The Palace of Jabalquinto is located in the Plaza de Santa Cruz and is the most impressive and beautiful palace of Baeza. It was ordered to be constructed in the 15th century by Juan Alonso de Benavides Manrique, who was the second cousin of King Ferdinand, the Catholic. Juan Guas was the architect. The palace is one of the best examples of the Spanish Gothic style, with an Isabeline facade. There are semicircular pillars with capitals that resemble stalactites. There are diamond like protruberances on the facade that play with light and shadow. On the top floor is a gallery with five arches that was added in the 16th century, and is of Renaissance style. There is an impressive Renaissance courtyard and a Baroque monumental staircase.

Town Hall

The Town Hall is in a building constructed in the 16th century, finished in 1523. It was supposed to be a prison, but later was used for other purposes and became the Town Hall in 1867. The façade is very impressive and is in the late Plateresque style, designed by Vandelvira. The second floor has four balconies with one arch and two lintel openings that are held by little marble columns. There are small rose windows above these. There are pilasters, friezes and arches that have decorative figures. There is a giant coat of arms of King Felipe II. The façade is highly decorative.

4. Baños de la Encina

Near Bailen is the small town of Baños de la Encina. This town is famous for its Moorish castle, called Burgalimar, built by the Caliph of Cordoba Al-Hakam II in 968. This is one of the best preserved medieval castles in Europe. The Moors would paint their castles white to make them look stronger and more impressive. The white paint would make the castle stand out and would hide defects in the construction. The lookout points from the castle are terrific because the castle is built on the highest point of the hill.

Besides the castle there is a small church called San Mateo Church. This is a Gothic church with one nave. There is a beautiful cupola with the figures of the four evangelists. The façade of the church is in the mannerist style. The main altar was done by Palma Burgos. There is a beautiful sculpture of Christ riding a donkey that calls one’s attention. One of the side chapels has a beautiful statue of the Virgin de la Encina, the local patron saint of the town.

5. Cazorla

Cazorla is a town with a population of about 8000 people, set on a mountainside, with an elevation of 800 meters. One passes this town to go to the Natural Park of Cazorla, which is a very large and protected park, where there are many threatened species. The park is mostly a pine forest and is the source of the Guadalquivir River, the second longest river in Spain, and it goes to Seville.

The town of Cazorla had the name of Carcacena during the Roman times. It was an Iberian settlement before the Romans came and had one of the first bishoprics during the Christian time. When the Moors came, they made this town one of their strongholds and fortified it. In 1235 the Christians retook it during the Reconquest.

Of interest is the Church of San Jose, a small church with a beautiful main altar done in gold color. There is another small church called the Church of San Francisco that stands out because there are 8 huge murals that are copies of El Greco’s paintings. A local artist painted these and the paintings make this church very unique. There is also a Threatened Species Center which shows all the threatened species that occupy the park, and among them is the Iberian Lynx.

It takes an hour to go down the mountain to the valley below in the park. The drive down is a very curvy drive on a narrow road with spectacular views from a lookout point. One can see wildlife during the drive. There are restaurants on the valley floor. After that it takes a half hour drive to go to the Torre del Vinagre (Vinegar Tower), where there is an exhibition room showing a video of the park, and also a gift shop. Beside it is a botanical garden that is quite interesting. A guide explains all the trees and shrubs that are found in the park. There are shallow pools that have trout.

 

B. Province of Seville

1. Santiponce

Santiponce is a small town across the river and 7 km away from Seville. It contains the ruins of the Roman town of Italica. During the Punic Wars, the Roman general Publio Cornelio Escipion established the Roman colony of Italica, in 206 B.C. This was going to be the home of the Roman soldiers who had been wounded in the war. The colony became quite large and important. The Roman Emperor Trajan was born in this city, and his successor, the Emperor Hadrian spent his youth here. The Romans built an amphitheater that could sit 25,000 people. This amphitheater is in a sad state today and much of it has eroded badly. Much stone has been removed and used for building material for the city of Seville. What remains today are some mosaic floors that are still beautiful. One is the Mosaic of Neptune and the other is the Mosaic of the Birds. The most important sculptures and other floor mosaics have been taken to the Archeological Museum in Seville for safe keeping. The city declined with the arrival of the Visigoths, who preferred to live in Seville. When the Moors came, the river changed course and the Moors completely abandoned the place.

Also in Santiponce is the Monastery of San Isidoro del Campo. This is a huge monastery that was heavily fortified and built in 1301 by Alonso Perez de Guzman and Maria Alonso Coronel. Tradition said that this was the place where San Isidoro had been buried. His remains were transferred to Leon in 1063. The huge monastery was built in the gothic style, but has the Mudejar influence. The wall and ceiling paintings are beautiful and impressive, but the monastery needs much more restoration.

2. Carmona

Carmona is a white town of 17,000 people that is about 29 kilometers northeast of Seville. The town can be seen in a day trip from Seville. Mass tourism has not reached this quiet town yet. The whole town is located on a high bluff which overlooks the plains below. The town is a beautiful white town that is very clean. About 50 movies have been filmed in the town because it looks so authentically Andalusian. Fernando III conquered the town from the Moors in 1247, and he was impressed by the beauty of the town. During the 17th and 18th centuries, Carmona was filled with many convents and palaces.

The Church of San Pedro has a very tall bell tower that resembles the Giralda Tower in Seville.

This was built in the 15th century and completed in the 18th century, with its Baroque tower. The tower has a height of 56 meters and was patterned after the Giralda Tower. There are three naves in the church and the church has several impressive altarpieces faced with gold leaf. The Capilla Sacramental is a side chapel, and this was constructed by Ambrosio de Figueroa in 1760, with a circular ground plan. It contains the Virgen de la Antigua, which dates from the 16th century. The whole chapel is considered as one of the most impressive Baroque chapels in the Province of Seville.

There is a large gate which is located at the Alcazar de la Puerta de Sevilla, one of the town’s main attractions. The walls were built in the 3rd century B.C. by the Carthaginians, and the Romans and Moors kept adding to the walls. The gate is 3 meters wide. The narrow streets are paved with cobblestones in this old area of the town.

The Church of Santa Maria de la Asuncion is a church that was built in 1424 in the Gothic style and it has a beautiful statue of the Virgen de Gracia (dated to 1300 A.D.), which is very well lighted. The church has three naves. The principal altarpiece has a Plateresque style and it was the work of Nufro de Ortega and Juan Bautista Vazquez, built in the middle of the 16th century. The reliefs show scenes from the life of Christ, the coronation of the Virgin Mary, and the crucifixion. There is a lateral chapel dedicated to San Jose, and there is an altarpiece dedicated to this saint made by Pedro de Campaña. The church opens to a large patio, the Patio de los Naranjos, built over an Almohade mezquita that was destroyed in 1424. There is a small museum on the second floor of the adjacent building. There is a beautiful sculpture of Christ on the cross, called the Christ of the Desamparados (the homeless), that dates from the 16th century. There is also a sword of St. Ignatius of Loyola in the museum.

Close by is the Hotel Alcazar de la Reina, built in a 17th convent. The hotel is decorated in the Mudejar style and is very beautiful, with an outdoor pool. Another neighboring hotel is the Casa de Carmona Hotel, built in a 16th century palace. It has the Andalusian style and is very beautiful too, with many patios.

The Parador was built in the Alcazar del Rey Don Pedro (Pedro I, the Cruel). This castle is on the highest point of the bluff and it has thick castle walls that enclose the palace and a large parking lot. The castle was built in the 14th century by the Moors. The Parador is one of the most impressive paradors in Spain, with a very big and beautiful patio with a fountain. Outside the bar is a balcony where one can see the plains below. Below the balcony is also a swimming pool set amid gardens.

There is also the Puerta de Cordoba, which is a gate in the city walls. During the time of Caesar, Carmona was the most heavily fortified city in the province of Betica. This gate is in the eastern part of the town and was part of the Roman fortifications. There are three octagonal towers and the Via Romana between Seville and Cordoba passed through this gate.

There is a Roman necropolis at the border of the town that has tombs from the 1st to the 4th centuries A.D. There are niches in the rocks that contain urns containing the ashes of the dead. At the entrance to the necropolis is the Tumba del Elefante, which is a tomb with an elephant figure on top that measures 57 cm in height. There is a museum that shows many of these urns and figures in bronze.

Carmona is beautiful town, very clean, and very Andalusian. It is fresh and undiluted by foreigners because few foreign visitors come here. It is really a great place to visit and a hidden gem.

3. Osuna

Osuna is a town in the Province of Seville with a population of about 18,000. It is located on the A92 Highway and is 88 km from Seville. It can be done as a day trip from Seville if one has a car.

The Unesco has declared that Calle San Pedro was the second most beautiful street in Europe and the town was declared a Historic-Artistic site. Osuna's history started with the Tartessians, the Turdetians, Romans and Moors. It sits on a hill and occupies a strategic crossroad between Seville, Cordoba, Granada, and Malaga. Osuna was conquered by Julius Caesar during the civil war between Pompey and Caesar. After that it prospered. After the Arab conquest in 711 there is little news about this town. It was reconquered for Christianity by Fernando III, the Saint, in 1239. The town was later given to the Order of Calatrava. The Tellez Giron head became the first Duke of Osuna in 1562. The family constructed many churches and monasteries and beautified the town to ascend in ranking among the nobles. At the end of the 18th century, the Duke and Duchess of Osuna were very prominent in Spanish society and they were the first sponsors of Goya. He painted them for posterity and these paintings are now in the Prado.

Today the town is a beautiful whitewashed town that is a perfect place to visit, and relatively unknown to foreign or national visitors. The town is really white, and one can hardly see any other color. Many Andalusian white towns have modernized and are a mixture of colors, but this white town has kept its traditions and is completely white and very clean.

 

The Hotel Palacio Marques de la Gomera is also one of the town's most famous landmarks. This palace was built for the Marques de la Gomera in 1765 by the architect Juan Antonio Blanco. It has a beautiful Baroque facade and entrance. Inside there is a big patio with a fountain in the middle. The sides of the patio are arcaded and the second story of the building has enclosed the arcade. The ceilings are coffered in wood and there is an impressive private chapel beside the patio. At the back of the building there is an open patio that is enclosed with a wall that has vines filled with flowers of several colors. The restaurant is the best in town. One can stay overnight at this hotel if one wants to experience staying in a palace.

The palace-hotel is located at the famous Calle San Pedro. There is another palace beside it called the Cillar del Cabildo Colegial. All the buildings on this street have first floor windows with wrought iron grills that jut out from the facade, and these are called hierros. This gives the whole street a very uniform and attractive look, making this street famous. There are other attractive buildings on the street also.

Collegiate Church of Santa Maria de la Asuncion

The Collegiate Church of Santa Maria de la Asuncion is a very large church in the Plateresque style that is located on the highest point of the hill that overlooks the town. The church was built in the 16th century and was founded by the 4th Count of Ureña and is very spacious. It has a beautiful Baroque main altar and the chapels on the sides are all very attractive. One of the altarpieces was carved by Juan de Mesa. The church has a Sacred Art Museum which allows one to see the five paintings of Jose de Ribera (called El Espanolete), many of which he painted while living in Naples. His paintings are La Crucifixion, Las Lagrimas de San Pedro, San Jeronimo y el Angel Trompetero, El Martirio de San Sebastian, and El Martirio de San Bartolome. There is the famous Panteon Ducal on a lower level that contains the tombs of all of the Dukes of Osuna and their families. This is called the Panteon de Andalucia and is probably the most elaborate pantheon in the region.

Monastery of la Encarnacion

The Monastery of la Encarnacion is located just below the Collegiate Church. It is a Baroque building dating to 1547, with a beautiful chapel. The main altarpiece has a 16th century image of the Cristo de la Misericordia and a Dolorosa by Francisco Meneses. One can see this monastery only with a guide, one of the nuns in the monastery. One can see the cloisters with a patio that is arcaded. The walls that enclose the patio have wonderful ceramic tile from Seville with paintings of the 18th century. There is a second floor sacred art museum that is quite different. It has many sculptures and small altars that are fixed to the wall in a very geometric and pleasing pattern. There are little statues of the Child Jesus from the 17th and 18th centuries and a collection of historic clothes to dress the statues.

The Osuna University

The Osuna University is the third monument on top of the hill. It was founded in 1548 by Don Juan Tellez Giron IV, the father of the first Duke of Osuna, and it is located in a castle. Today the castle has been modernized and has a very large interior patio. The University is still active today and has many students.

The Archaeological Museum

The Archaeological Museum is located in a building called the Torre del Agua, a Moorish building constructed in the 12th century and refurbished by the Order of Calatrava in the 14th century. This museum has a replica of the Toro de Osuna (Bull of Osuna), the original having been appropriated by the national government for the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid. The museum has archaeological remains found in the lands around the town, some from the Bronze Age.

4. Ecija

Ecija is an important city located between Seville and Cordoba, about 95 km northeast of Seville. It has a population of 40,000 and its economy is based on agriculture, mainly olives, cereals and vegetables. It is popularly known as the frying pan of Andalusia, because during summer the temperatures during the day are in the forties Centigrade, and it cools down little during the night. Sometimes the temperature goes into the fifties. It is best to visit this beautiful city during fall, winter, or spring. The city is situated on the banks of the Genil River. The city is easily reached by bus from Seville or Cordoba or the A4 highway. During Roman times, the city was known as Colonia Augusta Firma Astigi, reaching a time of splendor. It sided with Julius Caesar in the civil war with Pompey.

Ecija is known as the city of towers, because it has 11 church towers that survived the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 and were rebuilt in the late Baroque style. The towers are very tall because when they were built, tall towers signified that the church had more money, so it had more prestige than a tower that was lower. The towers were built with stone in the lower part, and bricks in the upper parts. Many have ceramic tile facing. There are twenty churches in many styles, and the city is known for its vast cultural heritage.

The main square is called the Plaza de España and this square is popularly known as "El Salon" because it is a public place where friends meet, especially during the afternoon stroll. The plaza was built in the 18th century and has many palm trees. The plaza used to have bullfights, so the balconies of the houses and palaces on the plaza were used for viewing these. At one end of the plaza is the City Hall, which has a small museum that has a Roman mosaic which represents the punishment of the Queen Dirke.

The Palacio de Peñaflor is located at Emilio Castelar, 26, and this palace was built with a curved facade decorated with frescos, and the main doorway is very elaborate, in the Baroque style, with the coat of arms of the owners. This palace was built between 1700 and 1775 by the Marques of Peñaflor, and who lived in the palace until 1958. It was named as a Historic-Artistic Monument in 1962. The palace is called the "house of the long balconies" because the form of the palace follows the curvature of the street, with a balcony. The balconies are decorated with frescos with green and yellow colors.

Another prominent palace is the Palace of Valdehermoso, built in the 16th century in the Plateresque style, and situated at Emilio Castelar, 37. The portal has the triumphant arch and is very impressive. The upper portion has arcades with great views.

The Palacio de Benameji is located at Calle Canovas del Castillo, 4, and was built in the 18th century with brick and marble. The portal is Baroque and shows movement with curves going in two directions. There are two corner towers. Today it houses the Museo Historico Municipal, a very good museum. Outstanding in the museum is a Roman mosaic tile floor with a motif of Bacchus. Ecija had many Roman palaces in the past. In the 18th century the kings were the ones who gave permission for building towers in palaces. King Carlos III passed through Ecija and stayed at the Palace of the Count of Valverde. The King was pleased and gave the count permission to build a tower. When the King returned after some time, he was surprised that the palace had two towers. He confronted the count, who responded that the King had given him permission to build one tower, but the other tower was his right because of his title and position. At least this is the legend.

The Church of Santa Maria Nuestra Señora is located at Plaza de Santa Maria, at one corner of the Plaza de España. The building dates from the 18th century and was built over an old Mudejar temple from the 16th and 17th centuries. In the plaza in front of the church is the monument to La Virgen del Valle (Our Lady of the Valley) and to St. Paul, also dating to 1766, built by Reinoso y Espinosa. The entrance to the church was designed by Antonio Matias de Figueroa, with a triumphal arch. The outside door is made of mahogany and has huge bronze nails, while the inner door has a beautiful Mudejar design. This door is one of the most outstanding church doors in Spain. The church has a rectangular design with three naves. The church tower was heavily damaged in the 1755 earthquake, but was later restored. Its design is similar to the Giralda Tower in Seville. The top of the tower containing the bells is profusely decorated with ceramic tile. There are several chapels in the church with great artistic value. The wooden choir was made by the artist Juan de Mesa. The painting of the Virgen de la Antigua was the work of Villegas Marmolejo in 1575. In the cloister there is an archaeological collection and the best piece is the marble sculpture of the head of Germanicus, from the Roman era.

The Church of Santa Cruz is located at the Plaza Virgen del Valle. The church was built where a mosque had been located and after the Christian conquest in 1240 the new church was built. However the earthquake of 1755 damaged it and a new church in the Neoclassic style was built between 1778 and 1836. The church was left unfinished for lack of money and two naves were not constructed. There is a patio outside the church showing on the floor where the church would have been constructed if it had been completed. The church has three naves and has many Baroque altars. The main altarpiece was made in the 18th century and is one that is dedicated to the Virgen del Socorro and came from the Convento de la Concepcion de los Mercedarios. There is a Christian sarcophagus of the 5th century that is used as an altar table and it is said that it contains the remains of San Fulgencio. This sarcophagus has reliefs showing figures from the Old Testament. On the left nave is found the Chapel of the Virgen del Valle. She is the patron saint of the city and her festival is on Sept. 8.

There is a very good Museum of Sacred Art which contains a large collection of silverwork and gold vessels, paintings, sculptures, and priestly vestments. One outstanding painting is that of Christ on the Cross done by Zurbaran. In one corner is a turntable that has a very large silver monstrance and the table turns to show all the sides of this monstrance.

The image of the Virgen del Valle was made before the Arab invasion and was hidden with the remains of Santa Florentina in the wall of a convent. Legend has it that the Count of Palma Luis Portocarrero was hunting pigeons near the remains of the old convent and discovered the image of the Virgin in a wall. The image was then transferred permanently to the Church of Santa Cruz, where it is now.

Inside the church near the entrance is the statue of Ceferino Gimenez, who was a Gypsy from Barbastro. He was a good Catholic and in 1936 he defended on the street a priest who was being attacked by the Reds. The Reds arrested him and he was shot because he said he was a Catholic and would not change his faith. He has now been beatified and may become the first Gypsy saint of Spain.

The Church of Santa Barbara is located in the Plaza de España. It was built over an old Roman palace as a Mudejar building at first, but later it became the first Neoclassic church built in Andalusia. The architect came from Cordoba and was called Ignacio Tomas. There was a tower that was destroyed by a lightning bolt in 1892. This is interesting because Santa Barbara was the saint who was prayed to when one wanted to be saved from lightning. The right nave has an altarpiece in the Neoclassic style and there are sculptures of St. Joseph and St. Peter. The main altar has the image of Santa Barbara and was made by the sculptor Pedro Roldan and restored in the 18th century. The left nave has an altarpiece dedicated to St. Paul, another patron saint of the city. This was sculpted by Salvador Gomez de Navaja, a native of Ecija, in 1575. In the Sacramental Chapel, there is an altarpiece that has the image of Jesus without rope, sculpted by Montes de Oca, an 18th century artist from Sevilla. This image is used in the Good Friday processions. This church has the best choir in Ecija and was made in 1762 in mahogany, with medallions and reliefs of the apostles and the evangelists and is in the Rococo style.

The Church of Santiago is located in the Plaza de Santiago. This church has been declared a National Monument of Cultural Interest. The style is Gothic Mudejar (15th century) and is considered one of the most elegant in Andalusia. The tower was built in 1766 and was constructed of brick and decorated with local ceramic tile. The interior of the church has the Mudejar style, with a rectangular plan and three naves covered with a wooden ceiling. The main altarpiece of this church is very important and consists of paintings and sculptures that have a great harmony and its style is the transition from the Gothic to the Renaissance.

 

C. Province of Cadiz

1. Cadiz

The City of Cadiz has one sight that most tourists never visit because they are unaware of it.

Oratory of La Santa Cueva

The most important sight in Cadiz is the Oratory of La Santa Cueva (the Holy Cave). The outside of the building is not impressive and does not give a hint of what is inside the building. There is a small nominal fee to see it. Everyday there is a different volunteer guide (free) who explains everything. If one is lucky, one will get Jose Manuel Rabina, a retired colonel in the Spanish Navy. He gives the most splendid explanation of what is found in the building.

In the early 18th century, a fraternity of men met every Thursday to meditate on the Passion of Christ. In 1730 the fraternity moved to the Rosario parish church for their meetings. In 1756 they found a cave underground, which they cleaned up and where they continued their religious meetings. The group was then called the Brotherhood of the Santa Cueva. In 1771 the Jesuit priest called Jose Saenz de Santamaria started conducting the meetings. Father Santamaria was born in Veracruz, Mexico, and was the second child of the Marquis of Valde-Iñigo, a very rich man who made his fortune in business and trade. Father Santamaria decided to enlarge the cave and reform the attached Rosario church, with his own money. He hired the architect Torcuato Cayon, who had worked on the Cathedral. After Cayon died, his disciple Torcuato Benjumeda finished the work in 1783 and the place was called the Oratory of La Santa Cueva.

It so happened that the Marquis died and left his fortune to his first born, who also died soon after that. The fortune then passed to Father Santamaria! By this time, the fortune was one of the largest in Spain! Father Santamaria then decided to build the upper chapel, which was finished in 1796.

The lower chapel, where the cave was, is called the penitential chapel. There is little furniture and everything is plain. The altar has a sculpture of Christ crucified, and He is surrounded by the Virgin Mary, Saint John the Evangelist, and Mary Magdalene, Mary Cleofas, and Mary Salome. The mood in this chapel is very solemn. However one can hear the beautiful music of Haydn coming from above.

The upper chapel is called the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament. This chapel is very luxurious and beautiful, and is a jewel. There are eight large Ionic columns made of jasper, in a room with the shape of an ellipse. The altar is made of silver and jasper, with a beautiful design. The floor of the chapel has a marvelous design in marble of different colors. The most important thing is that towards the ceiling, there are five lunettes with paintings, and three of them were painted by Goya. On two walls there are huge stucco reliefs that show scenes in the lives of saints.

Father Santamaria commissioned the Austrian composer Joseph Haydn to compose the music for the oratory. Haydn composed the work called "The Last Seven Words of Our Savior on the Cross", which is now played in Cadiz during Holy Week. The cities of Berlin and Vienna wrongfully claimed credit for commissioning the work in the past! This oratory is now considered the most beautiful neoclassic work in Cadiz.

2. Costa Ballena

Costa Ballena is a suburb of Rota in the Province of Cadiz. It is a master planned community that is new and it has an impressive beach with few people on it. Ballena is the Spanish word for whale. The beaches of Cadiz are open to the Atlantic, so they have white sand. A very good hotel is the Hotel Elba Costa Ballena, which is a new 4 star hotel that just opened last year. The grounds are beautifully designed with flowers, bushes, and trees, and there are small signs identifying the names of the plants, which is quite unique for Spain. The hotel has modern stained glass windows in the public rooms and there are big lithographs of flowers in every corridor, which gives the hotel a garden motif. The breakfast buffet is stupendous. Costa Ballena is a very good base for visiting the towns of Rota and Chipiona.

Rota

Rota is the site of a naval base owned jointly by the American and Spanish armed forces and the base is its main industry. The town has about 27,000 inhabitants and summer tourism is another of its industries. Downtown Rota has a very wide beach and the town was founded by the Phoenicians. One of the main sights downtown is the Luna Castle, which was built in 1295 and given by Sancho IV to Alonso Perez de Guzman (Guzman el Bueno). The castle is now the site of the City Hall, which has a pleasing patio. There is also the Church of Nuestra Señora de la O that was built in the 16th century.

Guzman El Bueno defended in 1296 the town of Tarifa on behalf of Sancho IV of Leon and Castile. Guzman had been given charge of Tarifa, recently captured from the Moors. Guzmán held the castle of Tarifa against the siege of the Moors and the Infante Don Juan, Sancho's rebellious brother. Guzman's son had been placed under the care of Don Juan who threatened to kill the captive unless Guzman surrendered the city. According to legend, Guzman rebuffed the demand with dramatic words: "I did not beget a son to be made use of against my country, but that he should serve her against her foes. Should Don Juan put him to death, he will but confer honor on me, true life on my son, and on himself eternal shame in this world and everlasting wrath after death." Guzman punctuated his words by throwing his own knife down for the besiegers to use in killing his son. He was rewarded by large grants of crown land. The ducal title was conferred by John II in 1445 on one of his descendants, Juan Alonzo de Guzman, count of Niebla.

Chipiona

Chipiona is a small town of abut 18,000 inhabitants and is a summer beach resort. It is known as the hometown of the late singer Rocio Jurado, who died about three years ago and was one of Spain's best singers and the most loved by the public. People make pilgrimages to Chipiona to remember her. The cemetery has a statue of her over her tomb. The port has another statue of her at the entrance. Her house can also be seen from the outside.

Chipiona has a lighthouse that is the third highest in Europe, measuring 68 meters high. There is also the Sanctuary of Nuestra Señora de Regla. The statue of the Virgin Mary is one of the oldest of its kind and the legend is that St. Augustine ordered it for the Oratory at the African city of Hippo. When the Vandals overran that city, some Augustinian hermits brought it to Chipiona in the 5th century. Rocio Jurado had a special devotion to this Virgin and there is another monument to her in the form of a star on a slab of marble outside the church. A good place for lunch is La Concha at Avenida Jerez, 21.

3. Sanlucar de Barrameda

The Palace of Medina Sidonia is located in Sanlucar de Barrameda, which has a population of about 64,000. The surrounding area is planted with grape vines and wine making is one of its most significant industries, and sherry is the main product. The city is at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River and in the past it was the port used by Columbus and Magellan and one of the most important ports for trade with the Americas. Across the river is the Doñana National Park, one of the biggest parks of its kind in Spain and famous for being the home of many birds that migrate to this place from northern Europe for the winter. The city is known for its horse races on the beach, which take place a bit before sunset in August. The horse races are some of the oldest in Europe. The city also is famous for its prawns.

The Palace of Medina Sidonia is located at Plaza Conde de Niebla, 1, in the Barrio Alto, the high part of the town. It is difficult to see it because visitors can see the second story of the palace only on Sunday, with guided tours at 11 am and noon. The palace is now owned by the Fundacion Casa de Medina Sidonia, started by the late Duchess, Doña Luisa Isabel Alvarez de Toledo. The original palace was built over an existing Moorish edifice during the 12th century and King Fernando IV gave the duchy of Sanlucar to the general Guzman el Bueno for his services in the heroic defense of Tarifa against the Moors. The palace became the residence of Guzman el Bueno, who was the 7th Duke of Medina Sidonia. The dukedom is the oldest in Spain and the dukes are Grandees of Spain. During the 16th century the central part of the palace was built in the Renaissance style. Additional work on the palace occurred during the 17th century. In the 1990's, the palace was restored to its present state. The palace has a library with 6 million documents, which are available to researchers and scholars, and considered one of the most important in Spain, reflecting its history. The Ambassador's Hall is the largest salon in the palace. There is a large collection of beautiful writing desks with many drawers to hold documents and papers. The painting collection in the palace is superlative. There is a large amount of sacred art, with many polychromed sculptures of Christ, the Virgin Mary, the saints, and angels. The second floor has nine bedrooms and one of them is shown to visitors. The palace is surrounded by many gardens and the main outdoor patio is a garden. On the grounds in one of the gardens is a stele commemorating the death of the late duchess and is where her remains are buried. The palace has a small hotel of 10 rooms that helps the foundation with its economy and the rooms have plenty of atmosphere, and this is called the Hospederia Duque de Medina Sidonia.

A good place for lunch is by the river, by the beach in an area called Bajo de Guia, and a good restaurant is called Avante Claro where there are good fish dishes.

 

D. Province of Huelva

1. Isla Cristina

Isla Cristina is a city on the coast that has a population of about 20,000. It used to be called the Real Isla de la Higuerita (Royal Island of the Little Fig Tree) until 1834, when the name was changed to Isla Cristina to honor Queen Maria Cristina for her help during a cholera epidemic. Isla Cristina's major industry used to be fishing, but in 1991 the city developed a plan to have tourism on the island. Several hotels and many apartment buildings were built. There is a beach with white sand called Islantilla, which is virginal and very wide, about 70 meters wide. The hotels were built close to this beach. Beyond the beach are sand dunes that are about 80 meters wide, before one reaches the paseo maritimo, paved with brick with a beige color.

Islantilla has the Centro Comercial Islantilla, a small shopping center with a supermarket and many cafeterias. This is very convenient for hotel guests. All the neighborhood was planned properly, with many trees planted along the sidewalks and the medians. One would classify the neighborhood as very upscale, because there are many expensive apartment buildings. Everywhere there are bouganvilla plants of different colors and hibiscus planted in the gardens.

Islantilla has the trenecito, which is a small vehicle shaped like a train. The ride brings one all over Islantilla and inland, where there is a large golf course with 27 holes. Around the gold course is expensive housing and a good hotel. The people who vacation in Islantilla are mostly from Seville, since it is close to that city. During summer the area is full of vacationers, but during the off-season it is quiet.

2. Doñana National Park

Doñana National Park is the most famous natural park in Spain. The area it covers is 543 square kilometers. In 1994 the UNESCO named it as a World Heritage Site. It is a place where birds migrating between Africa and Europe stop. The park contains 45 Iberian lynx, a species close to extermination, since there are only about 200 animals of this species in all of Spain. The park employs about 400 people. The only way to see the park is to book a tour that the park gives. There are only seven tours given each day. Four wheel drive Mercedes Benz minibuses that can hold a dozen people are used.

The bus tour takes about 3 hours and we covers a distance of 70 km. One first drives along the beaches along the Atlantic. These were about 100 m wide and virginal, without any development. They are bordered by large sand dunes that are also bordered by the umbrella pine forests. There are thousands of seagulls on the beach. One is informed that when the seagulls are on the beach, they always faced the wind, otherwise they may lose feathers. There are men who are looking for mollusks on the beach, which is their livelihood. After finding some, they have to use a screen to separate the big ones from the small ones. The small ones are not legal to catch and have to be returned to the sea.

There is a continuous fight between the pine forest and the sand dunes for territory. One also drives along the vera, the dividing line between the dunes and the marsh. One sees hundreds of wild deer feeding and many of the male deer have impressive sized antlers. Most of the marsh may be dry during the dry season, but there are places where there is water in the shape of small pools. These are marked with three poles around the edge. The pools are called eyes and are very dangerous. When the marsh is full of water, if one enters the holes, one can drown accidentally because it is difficult to climb out of them.

One may not see any lynx, but one sees many bird species. The tour is very educational and one is happy to see this natural wonder.

3. Aracena

In the northern part of the province, there are mountains and one can find the town of Aracena, with a population of about 7000. The mountains are covered with oak trees and the Iberian pigs feed on the acorns, which gives the ham a nutty taste. The Iberian pigs have black hooves, so their ham is called "pata negra" (black hoof). The town has a ham factory called Conservas Jabugo, where one can see how they air dry the hams for three years. Sausages are also dried in the factory.

The main attraction in Aracena is the Gruta de las Maravillas (Cave of Marvels). The caves are located just below the hill where the Aracena Castle stands. The legend is that a boy was looking for a lost pig and stumbled onto the caves. The caves were opened to the public in 1914 and there is a circular route of about 1 km. There are about 400 steps going up and down, so one needs to be physically fit to see the caves. The route takes about an hour to see with a guide, who points out places of interest. The caves are of karstic origin and there are many places with low ceilings. One can see many pools of water that are dramatically lighted. After a group passes, the lights are turned off automatically because any light makes bacteria grow, which is a danger to the caves. There are many stalactites and stalagmites and caverns which are very impressive. These caves are some of the most best caves in Spain.

The town has many pieces of modern sculpture around the streets and plazas because they are part of the open-air Museo de Arte Contemporaneo. It surprising to see these sophisticated modern sculptures in such a small town. There is a ham store on the main street, where one can buy many products.

4. El Rocio

The pilgrimage of El Rocio is the most colorful event in Spain. About 1.5 million people from all over Andalusia walk, ride horses, ride carriages and tractors to the town of El Rocio, near the Doñana Park and pay homage to the Virgen del Rocio (also called La Paloma Blanca). The people are dressed in traditional Andalusian costumes, with flamenco style dresses with all the flounces for women, and the men with striped gray trousers, white shirts, and vests and jackets. It takes them at least 4 days to reach El Rocio. So they have to camp out of doors on the way. In the morning they pray before starting out. While walking, they sing Andalusian songs. Then they prepare their lunch, with more singing and dancing to music. Then they take a nap and at 5 pm they are on their way again. Later they prepare their dinner with more singing and dancing. At midnight they pray and supposedly it is time to sleep, but the singing and dancing continue to the early hours. Many famous people take part in this pilgrimage. Every group belongs to a brotherhood and many of the brotherhoods have houses in El Rocio, where they can sleep and prepare their meals in a group. It is like boy scout outings, but much more colorful and with a cast of more than a million people. The final act in El Rocio is having a procession with the image of the Virgin.

It all started when King Alfonso X (the Wise) ordered the construction of a hermitage (where the present church is) in the 1280. Since then there were many pilgrims who went to visit the hermitage and then in 1580 the first brotherhood for the pilgrimage was organized.

The church in El Rocio is called the Ermita de La Blanca Paloma (Hermitage of the White Dove). The Virgin is called La Blanca Paloma. The church was finished in 1969 and was the work of the architects Delgado Roig and Balbontin. It is completely white and took the place of the original church that had deteriorated over the years.

Most of the brotherhoods have houses in the town. There are many more brotherhoods that want to join the pilgrimage, but they have to wait for 20 years or more before they are accepted. They have to show that their members are pious and not there just to have fun. This is really a religious event. The ground in the town consists of gravel and sand, so that the animals like the horses have an easy time walking. There is no pavement at all, so one's shoes do get dirty with sand.

5. Palos de la Frontera

Palos de la Frontera has a population of about 8,000 and is steeped in history, because it was here that Columbus started his plans to find the new world and where he took sail. The port no longer exists by the river.

The Monastery of La Rabida is a Franciscan monastery where Columbus found refuge about 7 years before he sailed for America. After not finding financial support for his voyage in the Portugese court, Columbus went to La Rabida with his son. Columbus had just been widowed from his Portugese wife. In La Rabida, Fray Antonio de Marchena gave him refuge and support. He interceded with the Catholic Kings to grant Columbus a hearing, which happened in Cordoba. Columbus wanted 10% of the riches he found in his voyage for himself and his descendants, which the Catholic Kings did not like to grant him. So Columbus stayed at La Rabida making his plans and waiting for the Catholic Kings to fund his voyage. Fray Juan Perez in 1492 helped Columbus by getting him an audience with Queen Isabela. After the Catholic Kings defeated Granada, they finally decided to fund Columbus. The Pinzon brothers (Martin Alonso and Vicente Yañez) in Palos de la Frontera helped Columbus to find the experienced crew he needed for his trip.

There are extensive gardens in La Rabida, and at the entrance to the site there is a bronze monument to Columbus. The exterior of the monastery is not impressive, but once one enters the monastery, one is impressed. There is a room near the entrance that has frescos done by the artist Daniel Vazquez in 1930. The paintings depict Columbus and the men he found to sail with him, the paintings done in the cubist style. Daniel Vazquez was one of the art teachers of Dali. There are two different cloisters in the monastery and these are beautiful, one with many plants and flowers, and the other cloister with a geometric design on the brick floor and potted flowers plants in the small windows of the gallery. The chapel is beautiful and has a very impressive Mudejar wooden ceiling with painted panels. There is a sculpture of Christ on the cross done in alabaster and made in Andalusia in the 14th century. Upstairs there is the sala capitular, which was where Columbus worked and where he discussed his project with the Catholic Kings. There is a big room that is like a museum and which explains the voyage of Columbus.

Near the monastery is the Muelle de las Carabelas (Pier of the Caravelles), which has a big modern building that contains a museum about Columbus. There is a video room which has a video lasting about half an hour explaining how Columbus made his first journey. Outside the building is a small lagoon that contains the replicas of the three ships of Columbus, namely the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Niña. One can go aboard the ships and explore them. One is amazed at how small they were, to have made that long journey to America. Around the lagoon are recreations of an American Indian village, which has life size figures of the American Indians that Columbus found in his first journey to America.

 

E. Province of Malaga

Most of Malaga is well known to tourists. However there are two white towns and a church that may be unknown.

1. Comares

Comares is one of the most beautiful white towns in the Axarquia, east of Malaga, and is perched on one of the highest mountains, 739 meters above the sea. The road to the town passes the big town of Velez-Malaga.

The town was built in the 3rd century B.C. and later when the Moors arrived, it became one of their strongholds in the Axarquia and they built a little castle at the highest point. The road leading to the town is very winding, and with many curves. But the little town is worth seeing. Mass tourism has not discovered this place yet or altered it. Few tourists go here. The town has the most stupendous views of the countryside below. Everywhere one goes in the town, there are viewpoints where one can see the valleys below and other white towns in the distance.

What is very nice about this town is that after one enters a Moorish arch at the town entrance, one will find a ceramic tile with a footprint, showing which direction one should follow, so one never gets lost in the town. Every so often one will find a wall plaque made of ceramics, telling one story of the town's history. Everything is whitewashed and most of the houses have flowers near their entrances. The villagers are friendly and offer visitors raisins and almonds for sale.

The best views are at the little castle. One can see the countryside and also get a good view of the town. Beside the castle is the town cemetery, which is simple and beautiful. The villagers put fresh flowers beside the niches where their families rest, so it is very colorful and not depressing.

The best part was having lunch at the Atalaya Restaurant, which is at the entrance to the town. This restaurant is very good and quite inexpensive. Everything is tasty, especially the very fresh potato croquets, which are out of this world.

2. Competa

Competa is a white town in the Axarquia, 49 km east of Malaga and 26 km from Velez-Malaga, on the Sierra Almijara. To go there, one takes the A7 highway from Malaga towards Nerja and then gets off at either Algarobo or Torrox. One then follows the signs to Competa. Competa is 635 meters above sea level and is famous for its sweet wine and grape growing is the principal industry of the town. The population of the town is about 3,500, and about 1,500 of them are immigrants from other countries. Competa is one of the most beautiful white towns of Malaga.

The town sits on a mountainside and at the entrance to the town one can find the local Tourism Office. One can get a map of the town from this office. One then walks up the Avenida Constitucion to the Plaza Almijara, where one can see the Church of La Asuncion.

This Church of La Asuncion was built in 1505 in a Baroque-Mudejar style. There are three naves and the altar is simple. Behind the altar one can find the huge mural of The Assumption of the Virgin, done by the artist Francisco Hernandez in 1972. He painted a smaller mural at the baptismal font dedicated to the Baptism of Jesus. The facade is simple and there is a Neo-Mudejar tower made of brick and finished in 1893. This tower contains the bells, which ring every quarter hour.

What calls attention to the church is the very new set of 9 ceramic murals on one side of the church, in a space called "Paseo de las Tradiciones". These murals were done by the ceramist and sculptor Jose Antonio Rivas and inaugurated on April 5, 2009. The first panel is a poem by the local writer Manuel Angel Lopez.

The other panels show typical scenes of the town, such as an olive oil mill, the grape harvest, and the public washing place. These were old traditions that are now immortalized with these ceramic murals.

The Plaza Almijara has a bronze sculpture of a man carrying grapes in a basket on his head, accompanied by a little girl. There is a fountain at the end of the plaza painted in white and green. There are small potted plants with colorful geramiums everywhere. This plaza has several bars and restaurants and it is very pleasant to sit in their terraces and enjoy the beautiful atmosphere of the plaza.

One can then go up the Calle San Antonio towards the Hotel Balcon de Competa. On this walk one will find several side streets that are narrow and full of potted plants with flowers. The houses are adorned with plants with beautiful flowers and these are vibrant against the whitewashed facades of the houses. The Calle San Antonio is beautifully paved and is easy to walk on. Many of the railings on the side of the street have painted metal decorations.

When one reaches the hotel, one can go to the balcony of the hotel, which has a wonderful sight of the sea. The hotel has a very good restaurant where one can enjoy a wonderful meal at a very moderate price.

The road that leads out of town has a lookout point that is artistically decorated with glazed mosaic tiles with a design that recalls Gaudi. From the lookout point one can see the beautiful white town hanging against the mountainside. One should not forget to buy the inexpensive sweet wine produced in the town.

The town's patron saint is Saint Sebastian, and there is a celebration here from July 22 to 25. The Day of the Cross is celebrated on May 3. There is a Night of wine celebrated on August 15, when thousands of visitors sample the local wines. During Easter week this year, there was an art initiative called CompetaArt (which has a website), where for two days one could visit many of the homes and workshops of artists who live in the town, many of them of foreign nationalities. This tradition started recently and has been very successful.

In conclusion, Competa is one of the most beautiful white towns that Malaga has and it is a joy to visit it. Few white towns have done their homework like Competa and created a beautiful environment that visitors can enjoy so much.

3. The Ermita de la Virgen de los Remedios Church in Velez-Malaga

On top of one of the hills of Velez-Malaga sits the Ermita de la Virgen de los Remedies (Hermitage of the Virgin of Remedies), built in the 17th century. To get there is difficult, but well worth it once one sees the interior of this church.

Evaristo Guerra is an artist, who was born in Velez-Malaga, and later moved to Madrid, and won many art prizes. He volunteered to paint the church for free because of his devotion to this particular Virgin. He would go to Velez-Malaga every summer to do the frescos. In the last 3 years, two banks and the Andalusian Tourism department bankrolled him so that he could work 8 months of the year. He finished the project in October, 2007, after 12 years of work, doing everything himself! His frescos cover about 1200 square meters, more than the Sistine Chapel.

This is one of the most beautiful churches in the province of Malaga, and all of the frescos are stunning with their beauty! All of the side walls were covered with frescos, as well as the ceiling. The style is partially naïve, mixed with neo-primitivism. The art is easily understandable. There are religious paintings and paintings of the countryside and the towns surrounding Velez-Malaga.

This work will make Evaristo Guerra immortal in the province of Malaga. It is seldom that one finds an artist so dedicated that he devotes 12 years of his life painting all of these beautiful frescos. He must have had a magnificent obsession! The church will become the main tourist attraction of the city, and one of the best in the province. A book is already being planned about the paintings in the church.

Directions:

Look for Calle de Cristo del Cerro on internet maps.

Hours:

Spring and summer after daylight saving time is installed: 9 am to 1 pm.

Fall and winter after daylight saving time terminates: 3 pm to 6 pm.

Closed Tuesday.

The name of the caretaker is Rosa (Tel. 648888305). She probably speaks only Spanish.

F. Province of Granada

1. Guadix

Guadix is known for its cave houses and is located in the Sierra Nevada of Granada. Its population is about 20,000. Half of the people live in cave houses. The cave district is called the Barrio Troglodyte and is in the Barrio Santiago. All of the houses are white washed. The reason the people live in caves is that the caves are cool during summer and have a constant temperature of about 19C all year long. Most of the houses are well appointed with furnishings and resemble normal houses. There are about 4000 caves used as homes and is the biggest concentration of inhabited caves in Europe.

It was Julius Caesar who founded the town to mine the neighboring hills for silver, although the area around Guadix was one of the oldest settlements in Spain. The Romans called the town Julia Gemella Acci, and the inhabitants are still called "Accitanos". The town became an important Moorish town that was called Wadi Ash (an Arabic version of the name Acci). At the end of the Nasrid Dynasty there were many civil wars and Guadix became the capital of a Moorish kingdom under El Zagal, its king.

The Moors were driven out when the Catholic Kings and Cardinal Mendoza conquered the town. At that time many of the people started living in the caves to become invisible. Today one of the homes exhibited to tourists is the Cueva de Jose. Many of the cave houses have been converted to small hotels.

San Torcuato was one of seven disciples of St. James who came to Spain to evangelize it, and became the first bishop of Guadix and Europe. Guadix is considered the birth place of Christianity in Spain because San Torcuato converted all its inhabitants to Christianity after performing a miracle there.

Pedro Poveda was born in 1874 in Linares, Jaen. In 1884 he went to Guadix to study in the seminary to become a priest. While in Guadix, he taught the poor Gypsies who lived in the caves. He decided to live in a cave to be close to the people he was helping and founded the School of the Sacred Heart to help educate the poor children. He left Guadix in 1905 and later founded the Teresian Association. He was killed in Madrid in 1936 when the Civil War broke out and died as a martyr. He was canonized on May 4, 2003 by Pope John Paul II when he visited Spain. Today he is known as the Apostle of the Caves in Guadix. There is a chapel for him in the church of the Santa Cueva de la Virgen de Gracia.

The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Incarnation was founded in 1492 by Cardinal Pedro Gonzalez de Mendoza, three years after the Catholic Kings conquered Guadix. It was built on top of the mezquita that used to be there and occupies the highest point of the town. The church started out as a Gothic structure but was completed in 1796 as a Baroque church, and the exterior is completely Baroque. There are three large doors to the church and a very tall tower, which was finished in the 17th century. The exterior was remodeled in the 18th century by Vicente Acero, who worked on the Cadiz Cathedral. Diego de Siloe designed the church in 1549 and he was influenced by the Cathedrals of Malaga and Granada. The main chapel was designed in the Renaissance style by Siloe. The church has three naves. At the back of the choir there is a spectacular sculpture of the Pieta, a copy of Michelangelo's statue in St. Peter's. This statue was made in the early part of the 20th century by an unknown artist. During the Civil War in 1936, the statue was broken and thrown away. Later it was repaired by the Guadix artist Maria Angeles Lazaro and now is found in the Cathedral.

The church has a beautiful choir made of walnut and was carved by the artist Torcuato Ruiz del Peral. The main altar is found under a cupola and each arch has a big painting of the life of the Virgin Mary. There are a total of ten paintings. There is an important Chapel of San Torcuato, who is the patron saint of the town. The chapel was executed by Diego de Siloe. The Baroque altarpiece is gilded and has a sculpture of San Torcuato made by the artist Antonio Castillo Lastrucci. The church is famous for a Monstrance created by Alonso Cano and this is considered as one of the jewels of Spanish silver work. Carlos II paid for it after his stepbrother Carlos Fernando of Austria, the canon of the Cathedral, commissioned it at the end of the 17th century.

2. Trevelez

The Alpujarras is the name of the region in the Sierra Nevada National Park. Part of it is in Granada and the other part is in Almeria. There are 55 towns and villages in this region, which is one of the highest regions in Spain, and one of the coldest. All of the houses of the towns face south, to take advantage of the sunlight. In this region is the Mulhacen Mountain, which is 3479 meters high and is the highest mountain in the Iberian Peninsula and the Sierra Nevada. The mountain was named after Muley Hacen, the last Moorish King of Granada in the 15th century, and who was buried on the summit of the mountain, according to legend.

Trevelez is a small town of about 800 people and is located by the Mulhacen Mountain. The height of the town is 1486 meters and it is considered the highest town in Spain. To reach this small town, one has to drive a very long road with many curves, but the town is worth it. The Trevelez River runs through the town and the bridge that crosses it is a good place to take photos. The upper part of the town is 200 meters higher than the lowest part of the town. The Barrio Bajo is the lower part of the town and is a tourist center. The town is famous for its air-cured hams, and the hams are cured by salt and the cold climate. This town is one of the most scenic and unique towns in Spain. It is completely unspoiled by tourism because few tourists ever go to see it. The surrounding region is full of trees and one can get intoxicated by nature in this area.

There is a ham company called La Solera de la Alpujarra. There are four floors, with a total capacity of 75,000 legs of ham. The hams come from white pigs and come from other parts of Spain, which send them to Trevelez to be air cured. Many of the hams are cured for a year. There is a very good store selling many hams and products of the region.

A good place for lunch is the Asador Despensa de la Alpujarra (Calle El Puente), which has a very good restaurant across the ham curing company. This beautiful and unique restaurant was designed by a Belgian architect named Colin. He put many Jewish symbols in the building, such as the menorah and the Star of David, with six points. He also used the eight pointed Muslim star to decorate the bar and the walls of the building. The service at the restaurant is very friendly and the restaurant serves hearty traditional food of the region.

There are many small villages in the area that one can visit, all of them with outstanding views of the countryside. An interesting observation is that the cemetery of each town is usually separate from the town and in a higher location than the town.

 

G. Province of Almeria

1. Tabernas

Tabernas is a desert 30 km north of the Almeria City and it was declared a wilderness area in 1989, including 280 square kilometers. It gets only 14 cm of rain a year and is one of the places in Spain that has the most sunshine. It is isolated from the humid winds of the Mediterranean by two mountain ranges. Tabernas was the place where many Hollywood movies were filmed because the landscape resembles the American West, and filming started in the 1950's. Many of the spaghetti westerns were filmed here. Among famous movies filmed here were Fort Bravo, The Magnificent Seven, El Cid, Lawrence of Arabia, Cleopatra, A Fistful of Dollars, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, 2001, and Dr. Zhivago. There are films still being made here because of the abundant sunshine and one can visit the studios as tourists.

2. Cabo de Gata

Cabo de Gata is a large natural park that has an area of 49,630 hectares of land. The park includes beaches, reefs, mountains, desert, dunes, a salt pond, and many native plants and animals. No development is allowed on this wild land, although there are many green houses, that were already on the land when the natural park was created in 1987. There is a little town called San Jose where there are houses and a beach that is used for tourism, but otherwise the land is allowed to remain wild. Cabo de Gata contains 63 km of coastline and this is the best conserved in the Spanish Mediterranean. Other parts of the Spanish Mediterranean have been overbuilt with hotels, apartment buildings, and houses, so this coastline is wonderful for preserving it in its wild state.

The park has a great diversity of animal life, including more than 1,300 different species. At one part of the park one can see flamingos, who come here to nest. There are more than a thousand plant species, including the palmito, azufaifo, and esparto. Many scientists come here to study both the animals and plants.

The original name of the area was Cabo de Agata, because agates were found in the area. Later the word Agata was shortened to Gata. Gata means cat in English, so the new name may be misleading to those who understand Spanish.

Most hotels in Almeria and Roquetas de Mar can offer the tourist a half day excursion to the park.

3. Mojacar

Mojacar is a small town by the sea, near Garrucha, and it has a population of 6000. The town is set on a high hill that is 175 meter high and that has lookouts with very good views of the surrounding countryside. It is completely white and looks beautiful. Mojacar preserves its Moorish legacy quite well. When the first tourists arrived in the 1970's, they found that the women wore veils to hide their faces. At the bottom of the town there is a public place for washing clothes and the women would gather there to wash their clothes. They would lift up their skirts to prevent them from getting wet, yet they would hide their faces with veils. This incongruous sight made the town a tourist attraction. In 1987 a law was passed to preserve the Moorish look of the town, which brings in many tourists.

There is a cave painting in the nearby town of Velez-Blanco that shows an anthropomorphic figure of a man holding a rainbow between his outstretched arms. This figure has been given the name of Indalo, and is supposed to protect people from the evil eye and from storms. It is supposed to give people good luck. Many of the houses of Mojacar are painted with this figure, and many of the tourist stores in the town sell many versions of the Indalo.