Wednesday, January 25, 2017
The Mojácar Story
Mojácar is a beautiful town located on the coast in the Province of Almería in the south-east corner of Spain. It is small, relatively unknown and is home to several thousand northern European and Spanish settlers which, between them, make up about half of the population. The municipality is said to enjoy a micro-climate: not too hot in the summer nor too cold in the winter. The community is traditionally divided into el pueblo, the upper town; la fuente, the fountain (the lower reaches of the town) and la playa, the coast, where in fact around 80% of the population lives. Other quieter areas exist – such as las huertas (the orchards) and the small hamlets that form part of the 72 square kilometre municipality such as Sopalmo, Agua del Medio, Las Alparatas and so on. Behind the pueblo, there are mountains to climb and forgotten sites to see. The beach itself stretches for around 17 kilometres and has, as might be expected, everything from full-service well appointed Blue-flag beaches with bars and restaurants, life-guards and public showers, to quiet empty beaches where the only interruption comes from a curious seagull.
Mayor Jacinto Alarcón is remembered as the man who re-invented Mojácar. ‘It’s where the sun spends the winter’ he said in 1965 with satisfaction, as the first trickle of tourists began to visit the village. Some of these early visitors bought houses or land, at what today would be thought of as ludicrously cheap prices. They stayed and their culture and ideas were somehow assimilated into Mojácar.
The village grew slowly, as new houses were built. The beach, a little-used area reserved mainly for the tomato growers, finally became urbanised as well.
Some of the new settlers were artists. They were attracted by the remarkable village, built as it were to look like a scattering of sugar lumps on the final mountain of the Filabres chain, as it plunges from the interior of the province of Almería into the blue Mediterranean below. It is a harsh beauty: Jacinto had insisted that all the houses must be painted with whitewash and the dramatic tumble of flat-roofed white houses with narrow streets adorning a hill some 200 metres above sea-level, in the most arid surrounding, remains irresistible to artists, poets and writers.
The hills that today are adorned with the white cubist village have been inhabited for thousands of years. In nearby Cuevas del Almanzora, Major neolithic remains were discovered around a hundred years ago by a Belgian archaeologist called Louis Siret: Mojácar can probably claim a similar longevity. The nearby pyramid mountain of ‘old Mojácar’, a steep indefensible hill visible from the Mojácar viewpoint off the Plaza Nueva, may give a clue to Mojácar’s name. The hill appears to have had a religious significance, and it seems that the Roman name ‘Mons Sacra’, sacred mountain, was later transformed by the Moors who held Mojácar for many hundreds of years until the end of the XV Century into ‘Muxacra’, and from there, it changed again with Christian tongues into ‘Moxacar’ and eventually Mojácar.
Back in olden times, the sea was a potential enemy. Pirates could arrive on the beach at any moment, and villages were generally built away from the immediate coast, to make it easier for the defenders and correspondingly more difficult for the pirates – generally issuing from the Barbary Coast in North Africa (although even the Vikings managed to infiltrate the Mediterranean as far as Valencia back in the IX Century).
It was best to keep the settlement hidden, and Mojácar originally grew behind the hill it now crowns. In the event of an attack, the defenders had the option to flee inland. Watchtowers along the coast, ready with fire and pitch, would give first warning of any incursion. Some of these watchtowers and forts, carefully restored, can be seen today locally, including one of each along the Mojácar coast to the South.
The fall of Mojácar to the Christian Kings, los Reyes Católicos, in 1488 is remembered colourfully in a local festival that occurs on and around June 12th each year. Mojácar, an important local Moorish-held town, was on the route that Queen Isabela of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon were taking towards Granada, the final capital of the Moorish empire in Spain (which fell in 1492, the same year that Columbus discovered America). The story has it that the interview for the surrender of Mojácar (to avoid a siege and probable slaughter by the overwhelming Christian forces) was held at the Fuente (the Fountain) between Captain Garcilaso for the Christians and the Muslim leader Alavez who was asked for the surrender of his town. According to legend, this is his reply:
‘We are as Spanish as you. We have been here for seven hundred years and now you tell us to leave. We have never raised arms against the Christians; I think we should be treated like brothers, not like enemies and we should be allowed to continue to work our land. But know this: before we surrender like cowards, we will die like Spaniards’. Brave words!
In 1530 Emperor Charles V received such support for the house of Hapsburg from Mojácar that the city was awarded the coat of arms of a two-headed eagle. Later, Philip II added the slogan: La muy noble y muy leal ciudad de Mojácar, llave y amparo del Reino de Granada: 'The very noble and loyal city of Mojácar, key and guardian of the Kingdom of Granada'.
Mojácar was important locally during the following centuries and is recorded as reaching 10,000 inhabitants in the XVIII Century. Another source records a population of 6,000 people in 1870.
In 1911, a local census records that Mojácar had 4,979 people on the town hall register, and the town had just installed public lighting (run on acetylene). There was a café, a ‘cantina’, two butchers, a carpenter’s, three food shops, a pharmacy, a post office and a bookshop.
The pueblo maintained this number of inhabitants until round about 1920 when, slowly, the numbers began to fall, speeding its descent in the 1930s. Through the various local vicissitudes of the drop in the local water-table, the end of the local de-forestation (due to an unexpected lack of trees), a peculiar plague of locusts in 1901, the end of the local silver, copper and lead mines in the 1920s (run for 40 years in the surrounding hills mainly by the British) and the troubled times of the Civil War, the area in general eventually became depopulated with mass emigrations to Barcelona, Algeria, Germany and even Argentina, and Mojácar itself began its long descent into what was, by 1960, a moribund village of just 600 souls.
A local legend, impossible to prove or otherwise, says that Walt Disney was either born in Mojácar, or perhaps born in Chicago to a disgraced Mojácar girl, who fled the town for America around 1899, pregnant and afraid.
By 1960, as the population fell away, there were only a few hundred people left; but one of them was the irrepressible Jacinto Alarcón, chosen by the provincial governor as mayor. At the same time, attracted by the light and the views, a school of Almerian artists called ‘Los Indalianos’ (named after a Spanish saint) were frequent visitors to the forgotten pueblo.
Happily, the mayor and the artists welcomed each other. The artists named the local totem after themselves – the Indalo: a figure of a stick-man that appears to hold a bow or a canopy over its head as protection. Used in Mojácar for centuries and previously known as ‘the little Mojácar man’, the totem to be one day known as the Indalo was painted over the lintels of houses for good luck.
Jacinto began to give away houses and land to those who agreed to settle and to invest. A number of foreigners began to take up his offer and, at one point, a number of foreign ambassadors owned houses in Mojácar (giving rise to the street called ‘Calle de los Embajadores’). Jacinto also managed to contact the minister for tourism in Madrid to ask him to build a Parador government hotel in Mojácar, which to everyone’s surprise, was granted.
The beach, now known as Mojácar Playa, began to attract home-buyers. Houses and later urbanisations were built. A hotel chain came to Mojácar in 1975, bringing ‘package tourism’ with them. The town’s fortunes were guaranteed and Jacinto retired, giving way to the democratic mayors which followed Franco’s death.
Today, Mojácar has some eight thousand inhabitants, rising in the summer months to perhaps as many as twenty five thousand.
Mojácar has never truly been famous for its fish and there is no port. Hobby fishing and, more importantly, the next-door port of Garrucha nevertheless supply Mojácar with a bounty of fresh fish and molluscs. The traditional Mojácar fare is based mainly around the pig, with many types of local sausage, and of course the many products of the fields and orchards. Try the Wednesday market in the parking area behind the pueblo for the freshest local produce. For eating out, a number of local bars will offer tapas, those small nibbles that come with a beer or a glass of wine.
There are local restaurants which serve delicious meals, whether simple salads and fish on the hot plate, or chicken, pork and mutton dishes, or of course paella: that famous Spanish rice-dish. There are other restaurants who favour ‘modern cuisine’, inspired by some of the World’s greatest chefs, where Spanish ingenuity in the kitchen is a byword.
Then, we have a plethora of fine foreign restaurants, each anxious for your patronage. We have food from Germany, Thailand, the Middle East, North Africa, Argentina, Mexico, China, France, Italy, Ireland, the UK, Holland and India. Everything from a simple pizza to the best of fine-dining.
With the arrival of the first foreigners in the sixties, Mojácar’s hidden life was lost. The village soon had a number of foreign bars and restaurants, and the silver Indalo medallion was better known in far-off London or New York than was the province of Almería itself. This helped to make Mojácar a cosmopolitan town and, as more restaurants, beach bars and hotels sprung up on the beach, the town became in short order an internationally-known resort. Today, there is a mixture of local and foreign citizens, with the multicultural junior school as perhaps a worthy symbol of this high level of integration.
Mojácar, indescribably beautiful, has been chosen to join the select group of ‘Pueblos más Bonitos de España’, the most beautiful towns of Spain (there are only six in all Andalucía).
Fiestas and Attractions
There is always something going on in Mojácar. Concerts are organised both by the Culture Department in the Town Hall as well as by the many bars and beach-clubs. There are more of these during the high season, which stretches from Easter to late September. Other attractions include art exhibitions (there is a municipal art gallery and some other commercial ones). There are any number of sports activities, from aquatic sports to lawn bowls, golf, padel-tennis and bicycling: clubs and teachers/trainers are easily found. There are also walking clubs, gyms and yoga groups. There is, of course, any number of boutiques and shops to suit all tastes.
The festivals organised by the Town Hall include the Carnival week, a picnic called ‘la Vieja Remanona’ and the Romería de San Isidro. These take place in the first months of the year. Later come the Easter parades and the colourful and famous Moors and Christians celebrations in the second week of June. This festival sees the townsfolk divided into half a dozen different groups, known as cábilas, and they will dress up in astonishing period costumes and will party for three days straight. The summer continues with regular concerts in the Town Square and culminates with the town fiesta of Saint Agustín on and around the 28th of August. The final dates on the calendar are the Virgen del Rosario on and around the 7th of October and then the Christmas, New Year and Twelfth Night celebrations.
How to Get There
Mojácar is 13 kilometres off the A7 motorway, leaving either at the Vera or Los Gallardos exits. The Almería airport is around 50 minutes and the Alicante airport is about three hours away. Other airports within the region include Murcia, Granada and Málaga.