The ghost village that was brought back to life
Arabic origins of El Acebuchal
The history of El Acebuchal is similar to many other Andalucian villages.
The name comes from the Arabic ‘acebuche’ meaning wild olive tree, and though there is documentation which confirms the origin of the hamlet back to the year 1569, it is thought to have been inhabited long before then.
While there have been archaeological finds in the area indicating the presence of the ancient Iberians thousand of years ago, as well as coins from the Roman period, the settlement really started in Arabic times.
There are little architectural remains of this period, though a short distance from Acebuchal is the 11th century Hermitage of Calixto (photo, right), believed to belong to Mozarabs, Spanish Christians who lived under Moorish rule in Al-Andalus between 711 and 1492.
Ancient staging post to Granada
Situated on the border between the provinces of Málaga and Granada, Acebuchal was an important muleteers’ staging post on the ancient trading routes through the often snowy mountains between the neighbouring villages.
Mule trains would have paused at the inn here on their journeys, laden with fresh fish, or locally grown fruit and vegetables. The arrieros (mule drivers) would probably not have slept here, especially if they were carrying fish caught that day from Nerja, they would have just given their animals a short rest, while they ate something and perhaps drank a glass of anise, before continuing on through the night.
Houses and farms grew around the inn in order for the place to become self-sufficient. Life in Acebuchal revolved around raising goats, making lime for fields and for coating the outside of houses (with the ubiquitous ‘cal’), making firewood and charcoal, and working with esparto grass. They would have traded these good with the surrounding local villages.
Life was tough for the inhabitants of this little hamlet. Back then, Acebuchal had no running water, sewage, and of course no electricity. Unlike the villages on the coast, Acebuchal can get very cold in winter because the sun doesn’t appear over the mountain tops until 11.00 in the morning, and then goes down quickly, so the fields get very cold and hard, and some years it even snows at this altitude (about 1700 feet above sea level).
Mass expulsion from Acebuchal after Civil War
One of the most disturbing stories in the history of El Acebuchal is during the Spanish civil war. In the fateful summer of 1948 a whole detachment of Guardia Civil officers came and forced everyone to leave their homes in Acebuchal.
Although General Franco had won the Civil War in Spain some eight years earlier, there were still pockets of guerilla resistance. Nearby Frigiliana was quickly overrun by Franco’s Fascistas by February 1937 and revenge was taken on anyone suspected of being a ‘red’. The summary executions and reign of terror drove many villagers into the surrounding Sierra Almijara mountains where they joined up with rebels who called themselves the ‘Maquis’.
In this area the Maquis were led by Juan José Muñoz Lozano, known simply as ‘Roberto’, and his Novena Agrupación Guerrillera (Ninth Guerrilla Group) with a force of between 100 and 200 men. The authorities had long suspected that he and his rebels were receiving support from Acebuchal. Whether they actually were or not, they were geographically on the front line between the Maquis and the Guardia Civil; thus, to remove any doubt, it was declared that the citizens of this poor tiny village should go. In truth though, the villagers had been harassed from both sides.
El Acebuchal slowly becomes a ghost town
The decree actually only forbade the people of Acebuchal to occupy their homes during the night-time, they could live there during the day to tend to their livestock and crops.
This meant that the evacuees had to walk miles there and back from El Acebuchal which proved to be quite impractical, and many opted to seek work elsewhere. Acebuchal started to become derelict.
There was a brief attempt in the mid 1960’s to re-establish the village, but it came to nothing.
El Acebuchal finally fell into ruin, becoming a ghost town, known locally as ‘Pueblo el Fantasmas’ (the village of ghosts).
The village of Acebuchal rises from the ashes
Acebuchal lay undisturbed, a ghost village, remembered only by a few, until 30 years later, when it got a reprieve. In 1998 a couple, both of whom had family links to the village, decided to attempt a restoration of El Acebuchal.
Virtudes, and her husband, Antonio García Sánchez bought several houses including the local tavern which were by then just piles of rubble. They laid the pipes to supply the village with water from a nearby well with their own hands.
The council of Cómpeta gave them the necessary restoration permits, but the effort and the millions of pesetas it cost to develop was down to them. Not just the houses, but also the street surfacing, lighting and pavements.
Electricity cabled from Cómpeta, arrived in 2003, and the roads were done in 2005. They used the foundations of the old buildings as guides, plus old photographs of El Acebuchal taken before the war to restore the village to its former glory.
Their effort attracted other former residents to restore their old family homes and today, all 36 houses, the chapel, the tavern and even the cobblestone streets have been returned.
Thanks to rural tourism – without which Antonio, Virtudes and their children would probably not have been able to complete the project – the village has literally risen phoenix-like from the ashes.
Acebuchal pages guide
Use the links below to explore what you can see and do in Acebuchal, what festivals take place through the year, and to read about the area’s fascinating history.