The peaks of the Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama Mountains

Axarquía

The area of “La Axarquía” (pronounced “a shar key a”) lies in the south east corner of Malaga province where it borders with the province of Granada. The origin of the name “Axarquía” is Islamic, meaning “the territories to the east”.

Many villages are sprinkled throughout this wedge shaped area with the largest town being Velez-Malaga and arguably the most famous is Nerja, due to its stunning cave system. A man made reservoir, “Embalse de la Viñuela” lies near the centre of the open rolling hills of this irrigated agricultural area.

The cultivation of almonds, lemons, olives and grapes gives a feeling of tamed beauty to the land and the protected valleys are used to grow kiwi, cherimoya, avocado, peach, fig and mango fruit trees which thrive in the sub-tropical climate. Small amounts of sugar cane are still grown today, whereas traditionally it was a more important crop. There is a ruined 18th century sugar factory at Maro to which water was fed by the beautiful four story aqueduct called “Las Águilas”.


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The Axarquía area is steeped in history and prehistoric cave paintings can be admired in the well known and impressive Nerja caves. Another cave which holds details of the history of man can be found to the north of the area at Boquete de Zafarraya near Alcaucín. After the discovery of the cave in 1979, years of exploration and research have pieced together the lifestyle of the Neanderthal people who hunted and traveled through here. (The finds from this cave are still in stotage at Malaga museum awaiting display.)

Also near Alcaucín, next to the river Zalía are the ruins of a fort built by the Phoenicians. Originally from the eastern Mediterranean, the Phoenician people were great seafarers and tradesmen. From around 1100BC they founded numerous ports and settlements along the North African and Spanish coastlines. Mineral rich Spain gave them two of the ingredients needed to create bronze, these are tin and silver. (The third mineral, copper, they collected in Cyprus).

Around 200BC the Romans conquered the area and from this era there are many remains of bridges and roads. Some remains that are well preserved can be seen next to the lighthouse in the town of Torrox where there was a factory to preserve fish, ovens for baking ceramics, baths, houses and a necropolis.

In the 8th century, Spain was conquered by the Moors and this influence is still visible in the architectural style within the original steep streets of the villages. The “Baños de Vilo” are recently restored sulphur baths which they founded for their medicinal properties, they are situated to the north of the village of Periana.

The Arabs also created a system of protection along the coast in a series of watch towers, remains of these are still standing.

Traditions continue in these lands such as the age old method of collecting grapes, mainly muscatel, and drying them on long open air “paseros”. Carefully laid out in their bunches facing the sun to dry naturally, they are covered by canvas at night and after several weeks are collected and sorted manually. Other local crafts include lace, pottery, basketry and metalwork. The area is also renowned for other local products, in particular the wine, dried ham, honey, pollen and cheese. Resin extraction from living pine tree trunks and charcoal made from partially burning felled or pollarded trees are other traditional land uses.

The “Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama” mountain ranges form the eastern border and were declared a Natural Park in 1999. The park covers a surface area of 40,663 hectares and is listed as a special area for the protection of birdlife. Z.E.P.A (Zonas de especial protección para las aves).

The parkland is limited in the south east by the Mediterranean sea and rises in craggy mountains towards the north west. 52% of the park is in Granada province with 48% in Málaga province.

The combination of various altitudes from sea shore to the peak of La Maroma at 2,080m encourages a diversity of vegetation. The geological structure is mainly limestone with quartzite and gneiss, it is also rich in dolomitic marble. The latter being high in calcium and magnesium is only suitable to vegetation that is well adapted, giving rise to specialized niches of endemic plants. (Several examples of this rock structure occur in the Baetic mountain range which traverses east to west across Andalucia.)

Flowering plants that can cope with this, plus the arid conditions, include a mauve Toadflax (Linaria amoi), a fine leaved Wallflower (Erysimum myriophyllum), pink Fairy foxglove (Erinus alpinus), yellow/red Kidney vetch (Anthyllis tejedensis), white Saxifrage (Saxifraga erioblasta), purple Columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris) and the carnivorous Butterwort (Pinguicula submediterranea). The Hawkweed, Hieracium texedense, which is only found locally, is a plant in danger of extinction.

The pine tree woods are predominantly Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) while on the upper slopes of the sierras grows a mixed Mediterranean woodland with Junipers (Juniperus sp.), Cork (Quercus suber), Holm (Q. ilex) and Gall oaks (Q. faginea), the undergrowth includes Dwarf fan palm (Chamaerops humilis) and Boxwood (Buxus balearica).

At one time dense areas of Yew tree (Taxus baccata) grew, but as they are toxic to animals, have been cut back to allow more grazing. The remaining ones are the best example in Andalucia and the furthest south on the Iberian Peninsular.

Small trees that are more characteristic of the coastal zones are Whitebeam (Sorbus aria), European serviceberry (Amelanchier ovalis), Silver Broom (Adenocarpus decorticans) and Pyrenean oak (Quercus pyrenaica).

The exposed high, rocky slopes hold what is known as the hedgehog zone due to the low level prickly plants including the yellow flowering crucifer Hairy hedgehog broom (Echinospartum boissieri), spine covered Vella spinosa, the beautiful blue, spring flowering Hedgehog broom (Erinacea anthyllis), pinky/white flowers of Spiny alyssum (Hormathophylla spinosa) and although without spines, the unusual rock hugging, miniature Prostrate plum (Prunus prostrate).

There are large numbers of Spanish ibex (Capra pyrenaica hispanica) which are wild mountain goats endemic to much of Spain. They have made an excellent recovery in numbers since the hunting of them has been strictly controlled. These goats can be recognized from the domestic stocks as they are a uniform brown colour with black markings rather than a herd of mixed colours.

Another success story is the Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) which only arrived in recent years but has already spread to both extremes of the mountain range.

Large birds frequently seen gliding through the skies are eagles including Golden, Bonelli’s, Booted and Short-toed, other raptors are Peregrine falcon, Goshawk and Kestrel. Listen out for nocturnal Red-necked Nightjar and common Nightjar, they can sometimes be seen laying on quiet road surfaces after dark but are more frequently just heard.

On the rocky outcrops you may see Black wheatears which look like a blackbird with a white tail, Rock buntings which are mainly brown with black and grey stripes across the face or Blue rock thrush which are blackbird size but with a dark beak and a blue sheen. In the trees and undergrowth near rivers and streams you may catch a glimpse of Nightingales, Golden orioles, Warblers and Grey wagtails. Dippers are birds that often stand silently on rocks in the water, easily recognized by the white patch around the throat area.

There are a myriad of places to explore in Axarquia, be it within the narrow streets of the white villages breathing in the culture or absorbing the views of the valleys and Mediterranean sea from the mountains.


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