Cordoba Province - Iznájar

Lakeside sunsets from Iznajar © Michelle Chaplow
Lakeside sunsets from Iznajar © Michelle Chaplow

Iznajar

This small town of some six thousand inhabitants was transformed some years ago by the creation of an 'embalse', or reservoir, below the promontory on which Iznajar sits in the River Genil valley. Today, to all intents and purposes, Iznajar now has a waterfront, overlooking an inland sea some thirty kilometres long, and containing an estimated 900 million cubic metres of water destined for domestic consumption.

Iznajar itself escaped the submersion and if anything, the lake below has given further resonance to its unofficial title as the Mirador (viewpoint) del Genil. Surrounding countryside and communications have been radically altered, not least by a bridge built across the reservoir near Iznajar in order to continue to carry traffic on the Archidona to Priego de Córdoba road. In effect, Iznajar now offers the perfect setting for anyone wanting to live in the interior but still retain a 'sea' view.

Iznajar is situated near the southerly border of Córdoba province, and serves as a natural entrance to the Sierra Subeticas Natural Park. From the south, it is best reached from Junction 175 on the A-92 Sevilla-Granada motorway, and is only 20km from the turnoff. Town and embalse - named after it - are north of Archidona on the map. The town of Rute is to the north-west and, beyond that, Lucena. Priego de Córdoba lies to the north-east, Jáen beyond it.

Flowerpots flourish in Iznajar
Flowerpots flourish in Iznájar

HISTORY

The village was originally a prehistoric Iberian settlement, but flourished in the eighth century when Arab settlers, in the wake of the 711AD invasion by Tariq ibn Zayid and his Moorish armies, built a castle on the promontory and called it 'Hins Ashar' (hence the modern Spanish name). It became the focus of battles between various north African factions, finally being taken by the army of Abderramán III. After the fall of the Caliphate of Córdoba, then the capital of Al-Andalus, it fell under the rule of the dependency of Granada. In 1431, in the reign of Catholic monarch Juan II, it was taken back by the Christian rulers, some sixty years before Granada was to fall in 1492. Iznajar gained brief notoriety in 1861 when the town supported an uprising against the monarchy, led by Rafael Perez del Alamo, with grimly predictable consequences.

Valdearenas Beach

Near the town is a small sandy beach on the shore of the lake Iznajar where you can swim, rent pedalos and canoes and dingeys. There is a Interpretatioin Centre for the lake, a campsite and a watersports centre.  To reach Valdearenas take the A-333 north and once over the bridge, take a left turn down a narrow road to the lake shore. The area is crowded at weekends in the summer, but not at other times.

Iznajar Castle

The ruins of the 1,200-year-old castle are the obvious key attraction for the visitor, although they are in a poor state of repair. Parts of the fortified town walls can also be seen in the upper reaches of the town. Inside the town walls, a small square called the Patio de las Comedias suggests that, despite its defensive position, Iznajar once had a theatre culture that probably tracks back millennia. Also worth visiting is the Iglesia de Santiago church, built over time during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, with a remarkable late addition in the form of a Baroque altar piece. The cemetery next to the church only dates back to 1806.

The Parish Church of Santiago
The Parish Church of Santiago

Barrio del Coso

The most interesting barrio, district, of Iznajar is the Barrio del Coso, a labyrinth of typical whitewashed Andalucían houses dotted around a labyrinth of narrow lanes that criss-cross the promontory. As if often the case in these hill towns, the 'lower' part is also the newer part of town, and the central Plaza Nueva affords excellent panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. Similar views can be found at the miradores La Cruz de San Pedro and the Paseo de la Constitución. With time, it is also worth seeking out is the small barrio of cave dwellings known as El Caganchuelo.

Ermita de la Antigua

Also of interest is the shrine of the Ermita de la Antigua, o de la Piedad, which was built in the seventeenth century and features a curious domed vault, which leads on to an even more unusual eighteenth century dressing room. Iznajar also has a small but fascinating municipal museum, dedicated to its agricultural heritage and local customs.

Cuisine

Local cuisine reflects Iznajar's position in a prime pork production region, as well as variations on classic Andaluz platos. During the February carnaval, the traditional pork sausage filling is stuffed with eggs, bread, jamón and breast of turkey. Other specialities include the rich salmorejo with orange and cod, and La Porra, a cheap and filling stew of tomatoes, bread, peppers and jamón. A typical local postre, dessert, is creamed eggs.

Semana Santa

Unsurprisingly, Semana Santa, Easter week, is the most important festival here. Perhaps uniquely, townsfolk come together to present a religious theatrical epic in which amateur thespians take on the roles of figures in key scenes from the bible and the crucifixion. The inhabitants celebrate the day of San Marcos on April 25 by quitting the town entirely for a mass picnic in the countryside at Valdearenas, a recreational area close to the embalse. Iznajar's annual September feria usually takes place from September 7-10.

 

IZNAJAR LAKE


The resevior is the largest in Andalucia, and the dam when constructed over ten years in the 1960's was the largest in Spain requiring 1.4 million cubic metres of concrete. The reservior was opened by General Franco on 3 June 1969. As the now A-333 bridges were not completed in time, a ferry service was laid on.  Lake Iznajar collects water from the River Genil, for the towns of Puente Genial and Ecija, enough water for 20.000 people. The lake covers 3.000 hectares. Although 200 hectares of irrigated land and 150.000 olive trees were flooded, the water has provided for an additional 65.000 hectares of irrigation downstream.Swimming and non motorised watersports are permitted on the lake. See Valdearenas beach above. Fishing with a license is also permitted in some areas with complex limits on catch sizes. 

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