Friday, July 27, 2018

The Excavation of Old Mojácar

The archaeologists from Granada University are winding up their first season dig on Old Mojácar, the mount that can be viewed from the village mirador. Old Mojácar was inhabited for thousands of years - in some way or other - and was a settlement held by the Moors from the 700s to around 1300 when they moved to the safer hills of today's Mojácar.
 Lara Delgado and Professor José María Martín Civantos are leading the group of enthusiastic archaeologists and they explained something of the story of the mount. The current dig is in two sites, one, half way up the hill, is at the wall of the settlement, with its gate and some nearby small dwellings places.
 At the top of the hill, where the water-cistern ('aljibe') is located, they have found a second cistern under a tower, a kitchen, a forge and a guard-house. The hill was evidently walled from around half-way up, with the wall curving upwards on the south side, like a badly-draped necklace, with perhaps a dozen fortified places along the wall, towers of a sort. The inhabitants would in fact generally live outside and return to the walled settlement perhaps at night or more in times of uncertainty.
The finds will be taken to Granada for analysis, and the excavations will be sealed until next July, when the team will return.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Almería is a Beautiful Province to Explore

Mojácar is a nice looking village with astonishing views and a residential quarter of white cubist houses and narrow streets which has been left largely in peace. The main square and surrounding alleyways are however more of a commercial mall than an attractive little pueblo: neon and hawkers, souvenir shops and blackboards. One of 'the most beautiful villages in Spain'? Well that's just marketing.
Almería has some rather less spoiled and even more beautiful pueblos. Out of its 102 municipios, more than a handful are really quite splendid. Bédar is the first one. Its views are even more dramatic than Mojácar and its streets are just as narrow. The houses though are well-preserved rather than turned into apartment blocks or commercial premises, and apart from a slightly odd statue at the beginning of the village (all Almería pueblos have at least one Junta de Andalucía funded statue for some reason), the village is very satisfying. Like almost all Almería pueblos, it's quiet and peaceful... and perched on a mountain.
Not far away is Sorbas in its remarkable setting crouched over (rather than on) the cliff. Narrow streets again - a donkey was all you needed in the old days.
Senés - a tiny Alpujarran village of just 600 souls up past a huge underfunded solar plant - is quite beautiful. Hardly any visitors ever come to visit so it is unspoiled and blessedly free from souvenir shops, disco music and quiz nights. Their Moors and Christians (August 5th and 6th) is restrained: four people mounted on horseback declaim the old poetry of the Cid. The beer is cheap, too.
Also in the Alpujarras (an excellent area which carries on towards Granada), there is Abrucena, a  quiet little village which can trace its history back some nine thousand years.
Vélez Blanco - up towards Huercal Overa and then inland, is by far the most beautiful pueblo in Almería. Better still, it has an absolutely wondrous and photogenic castle. Superb.
The castle at Vélez Blanco
(The village claims provenance for the Indalo, one of a clutch of  prehistoric drawings in a nearby cave called the Cueva de los Letreros which is of course silly - the Indalo, My Dears, is mojaquero).
Serón up in the Valle del Almanzora has many historical sites as it was founded by the Nazaries in the thirteenth century (it also has the best jamón);  Cuevas de la Almanzora with its castle and gypsy caves; Laujar de Andarax with its wineries and its fountains;  the small agricultural gem of Laroya hidden in the hills of the Filabres and the quiet old-fashioned pueblo of Ohanes, again in the Alpujarras.
For flat roofs and white houses pitched in narrow streets, the mother-lode is Nijar with its pretty main square and church. The municipality of Nijar is the second largest in Spain and hosts a number of smaller villages of interest - Las Negras, Rodalquilar and the fishing villages of Agua Amarga and of course San José in the Parque Natural del Cabo de Gata.
An old mill on the way towards San José
Lucainena de las Torres is another splendid village hidden in the interior hills of the province. Like Mojácar, it is a member of the 'Most Beautiful Villages in Spain' organisation. Again (and unlike Mojácar), it is largely unspoilt.
Just two more for now - Vélez Rubio is a fine place, a little larger than its neighbour and known for its superb XVIII C. church and its local museum with examples of local habitation going back 30,000 years.
Finally (and with apologies to Lubrín, Tabernas, Antas and Adra), there's Berja, at the foot of the Sierra de Gádor. A wealthy farming pueblo with some good architecture and copious historical sites. So much to see - and I've probably missed a few other beautiful Almerian destinations.


Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Invasive Species

We are defended from the threat of ‘invasive species’ by laws, the Ministry of the Environment and the sterling is sometimes arbitrary work of the ecologists. Without them, Spain would be full of peculiar animals, fish, birds and plant-life.
As we know, it pretty much is anyway.
To combat the uninvited guests that sometimes take over from the autochthonous species (no Briton is unaware of the Gray Squirrel that was introduced from Canada to the UK a hundred and fifty years ago, only to drive the native Red Squirrel almost to extinction), the front-line in our defence is sometimes pushed to take extreme measures.
While no one will admit it, the Black Snout Weevil (here), cousin to the palm-killing Red, was almost certainly brought in to eradicate the Agave plantation near the Almería airport – a plantation that’s been there for around 100 years and has been an indignant thorn in the flesh of every true-blue ecologist since then. Why, we have no idea, since nothing else grows there anyway. Their grub, by the way, is the thing you find in the bottom of a bottle of mescal.
The snout weevils have now been introduced – one way or another – and are doing a splendid job in reducing the agave not only near the airport, but in private gardens across the province, joining the Red Palm Weevil and the Cochineal Fly in killing Spain’s palm trees and prickly pear.
Another concern of our zealous friends are the cotorras (here), the large green Argentinean parrots that have escaped from captivity and currently infest city parks in much of the Spanish territory. This ‘green demon’ – around 30,000 of them – is taking over from the Madrid sparrow, says Antenna 3 (video).
The ecologists, including SEO-Birdlife, Amigos de la Tierra, Greenpeace, WWF and Ecologistas en Acción, are currently at odds with the Government which is allowing certain ‘invasive species’ the right to stay – as they are fun to hunt and eat. The Black Bass, carp, pike, catfish and so on (here).
Not that one should worry unduly – but there are probably some ecologists who might go so far as to consider us foreign residents as ‘an invasive species’. Just kiddin’.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

The Old Mojácar Dig

L to R: Fundación Valparaiso secretary and Beatrice Becket, President. Mojácar elder Emmanuel Aguero, local historian Juan Grima and senior archaeologist from the University of Granada José María Martín Civantos
The excavation of Old Mojácar was officially launched this week by the vice-mayor of Mojácar Emmanuel Aguero, the local Valparaiso Foundation and a group of archaeologists from the University of Granada. Mojácar la Vieja, as it is in Spanish, is now being investigated to reveal its secrets. While the 'secrets' vary according to who is telling the story (one mojaquero in the Town Hall reputedly said the dig will make the hill more famous than Pompeii - another thinks that we might discover proof of Walt Disney's Mojácar connection hidden under a rock), the presentation on Monday in the Centro de Artesanía (now called the Centro de Unos Múltiples to keep everyone on their toes) was more sanguine.
The excavation for this season - the month of July - is concentrating on the aljibe - the cistern - on the top of the hill, together with a small section somewhat below. The lower section apparently being an area of defensive wall plus part of what could be the main gate to the ancient settlement.
The archaeologist from Granada told us that Old Mojácar was a fortified town anything up to 4,500 years old and in use until the thirteenth century. Currently, they are building an easier access - that's to say, a pathway, to facilitate the arrival of visitors, diggers, volunteers, politicians and Erich Von Daniken, if he has the time.
Juan Grima, who has written a number of historical books on our area, and is the editor of Arraez Books and the Axarquía magazine, told us of earlier archaeological digs which had ended up under a thick cover of cement with nothing to show beyond some lost papers and  artefacts: Roman ruins, Moorish walls and so on, quietly bulldozed back into oblivion. Other material from Mojácar was in regional, national and even international museums, generally forgotten by the local public. Still other history  - such as the famous agreement made in 1488 at the Mojácar fuente, the base for our Moros y Cristianos festival - was nothing more than a mere invention by Louis Siret, the famous Belgian investigator who excavated various sites locally between 1885 and 1900.
This dig, he promised us, would be different, with a full catalogue and everything on view.
Slightly disturbing were the remarks from the presenters that this would benefit Mojácar tourism. Large groups of visitors decanted by bus to toil up the hill? Not, perhaps, until the Chinese discover our Corner of Enchantment.
Photo Tuesday 3rd July. Photo by Emilio Aramburu.
My own view that an ancient city would be better served nearby - where there is a spring, room for animals, gentle slopes and a good escape route notwithstanding, the archaeologists seemed convinced that our humble yet magic Old Mojácar may hold more than a few secrets.
The budget for the dig is 40,000€ and the students - some 30 or more - are bunking down in the Centro de Artesania building. 
The plan is to work this July and then return next year for another session. The cistern has already been cleaned of plant-life and one can only hope that, the moment the archaeologists' backs are turned, yet more local tomb-raiders don't climb the hill in search of lost ingots of gold, ancient mummies and some early Walt Disney drawings.

Share with your Dog

I am one of those people who rarely gets sick - much beyond a cold, a cough and the traditional annual week in bed with 'man flu' just after Christmas to catch up on my reading.
The dog is ill though - he has leishmaniasis. This nasty disease is a parasitic infection that comes from the no-see-ums that fly around in clouds over stagnant water (there's an obliging pool in our nearby dry river bed). These midges bite on the ankles in humans, without causing much more damage than a passing itch, but they appear to be mortal for most dogs in my barrio (not all, my last hound managed to bark at the neighbours for twenty two years before death took her).
My dog has the disease, and a vet recently discovered a medicine that keeps the infection in check - it's a pill that humans take against gout called Alopurinol. He's managed over a year now on one of these pills crushed daily into his doggybix and seems to be doing well on the diet.
Gout is a nasty little complaint. It's like a tiny piece of gravel behind the bone in one of your extremities. I looked it up on the Internet after my toe turned red, started to hurt and swelled up. Too much brandy apparently. I was limping around shouting blue buggery, taking a whack at any child or animal that came to close to me and wondering whether to go and see the doctor. But then, I thought, what about the dog's daily dose!
So, here we are. The dog and me are sharing the same box of tablets. One for you my dear and one for me.
Ahh, that's better.