Málaga Province - Igualeja

Crystal clear waters, the source of the River Genal. © Michelle Chaplow
Crystal clear waters, the source of the River Genal.

The junction with the petrol station and Restaurante Rincon Taurino marks the branch road running off to Igualeja on the A376 travel Ronda to San Pedro road. This is the largest pueblo of the Upper Genal group with a population of 950, many of whom commute to Ronda. Most travellers pass through this large municipality on the main San Pedro road without ever having heard of Igualeja or the Alto Genal.

 

 

From the main road, a nine kilometre winding road leads to the pueblo. The harsh limestone scenery dominates the early sections of the road, but this soon gives way to the lower slopes covered in chestnut trees. As in many of the Alto villages, these are harvested and processed by a co-operative, whose barns can be seen en route.

The village is strung along a gully and is not on a crest like other pueblos in the area. This does seem to suggest that the village was re-established after the Morisco uprising and only further research on the church minaret would determine this observation.

Before entering the village by a small bridge almost without a parapet oposite the municipal swimming pool, a small road leads down to the Nacimento Genal (source of the River Genal). The clear waters flow from a small cave and into a number of pools, before finally running into a stream. Though a number of tributaries such as the Rio Seco penetrate deeper into the limestone mountains, the town prides itself on being the source of the river. A valid claim, when Seco means dry and in the summer months this is the river’s only source of running water from the large limestone expanse.
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Almost immediately one rejoins the main road, there is a junction leading down to a lower part of the pueblo. The village itself is built on various levels, which explains its steep and winding streets. Apart from the obvious centre dominated by the church, it has two other smaller barrios. The houses are typically vernacular in style, strung along a typical medieval street pattern.

The Church of Santa Rosa de Lima
The Church of Santa Rosa de Lima

The Church of Santa Rosa de Lima was originally built on the site of a mosque, as a small chapel. The current building dates from 1604 when it was built to the plans of Pedro Diaz de Palacios, who was attached as an architect to Malaga Cathedral. It was added to in 1658 and again in 1675. It is remarkable that the Moorish minaret has survived and although highly praised, in reality only the lower regions of the tower retain details from the medieval period. Inside, a number of interesting statues survived the Civil War, including a 17 th century Granada style coloured wooden statue of St Anthony of Padua. Various other 18 th century statues exist to Jesus, along with an image of San Gregorio Magno holding in his hands a white silver three armed cross. The church must have been badly damaged during the early days of the Civil War, as it was renovated in 1972 in a neo-fascist style. As the pueblo expanded during the 18 th century, the Hermitage of the Divine Pastor was built to oversee the needs of a new quarter.

In association with a further festival the Niche of Misercordia can be seen, which resembles the front of a hermitage church, minus its nave.

So as not to forget that this pueblo was re founded in the name of Christ, overlooking the village is a hill with a large cross. Known as the Cruz de la Fuentasanta, it can be reached via two cave entrances. Both Cueva de la Fuentasanta and Cueva la Excentrica are below the cross and some the reasoning for the place name remains obscure

Driving out of the village towards Pujerra, the road bends to cross the deep-sided Rio Seco, with its tree lined valley.

In spite of this modest claim to fame, the village is virtually ignored by even the most adventurous tourists. Almost the only historical information that we have relates to the years after the expulsion of its original Moorish inhabitants and the appropriation of their lands by Christian settlers. According to the admittedly scant records, the land was divided into equal portions which were given to the incoming families - each plot intended to be sufficient to support a family, and nothing more. Predictably, this early experiment in social egalitarianism was doomed to fail, but while it lasted, Igualeja became a byword as far away as Ronda, where a piece of contemporary doggerel declared: Los de Igualeja, todos iguales, todos iguales (the people of Igualeja are all equal, all equal). Nothing there to frighten Lord Byron, but it told the tale.

The people are famed for being tough and ruthless, with such stories abound as ‘two lives for an olive tree’. Part of the pueblo’s violent reputation stems from two infamous bandits, who were born in the village. In the early days of the 19 th century, Zamarrilla probably made his name plundering the French and he certainly carried on with his ways after their withdrawal. He finally surrendered and paid his penance when he took part in the Holy Week in Malaga. A much less worthy character was Francisco Flores Arocha, who terrorised the surrounding mountains and the main Ronda-Marbella road. He was finally hunted down and killed near Benahavis by the Guardia Civil in 1932. He was 36 and left a wife and five children.

Having said that the inhabitants are ruthless, they put on a passionate and almost gruesome passion play, on Holy Thursday and Friday. The finale is the raising of three crosses on a hill outside the pueblo, with live bodies ‘crucified’ on them. Unlike their counterparts in the Philippines who are secured by nails, these individuals are thankfully tied by discrete ropes and a small parapet to support the feet. A large cast assembles around them, all dressed in Roman period costume but, surprisingly, the spectacle does not attract vast numbers of visitors.

At the end of the village there is an unmarked turning on the left on a newly tarmaced old track which secretly leads back to the San Pedro - Ronda Road. Those heading back to the coast will find this the quickest route. Otherwise the road continues throught the chestnut trees to Purjerra. Before Pujerra (at km 3,5) you can take a track to Juzcar.

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