Moors and Moriscos
While there is some evidence of ancient habitation in the cave on the river outside Almáchar (called the Cueva del Toro), really its history dates back to the Moorish period.
The name Almáchar comes from the Arabic word ‘Al Maysar’ which means ‘the meadows’ or ‘land of meadows’.
The Moorish settlement belonged to the Comares Taha, alongside the neighbouring towns of Moclinejo, El Borge, Cútar and Benamargosa. Together they were known as the Cuatro Villas, and even after the reconquest of the region after the fall of Vélez-Málaga in 1487, they continued to depend upon the protection of Comares.
[Above: Recreation of Comares Castle. A still from “Castillos de la Axarquia”, by the Axarquía Tourist Product Development Plan – see YouTube video right – financed by the Axarquía Tourist Product Development Plan].
As the lands around Almáchar and El Borge already had a reputation for the quality and quantity of raisins it produced, there was a land grab by the Christians, who displaced the existing farmers – often with the tacit encouragement of the authorities.
It should be remembered that by the early 16th century, the farmers were no longer Moors but rather Moriscos, those who had converted to Christianity. But they were still regarded as second class citizens; this was, after all, the era of the Inquisition, set up by Queen Isabella, to interrogate those that professed to have converted – eventually both Jews and Moors. Thus, the first real historical written evidence of an incident in Almáchar comes from the 16th century when a number of Morisco families occupied the town, angry about an agreement by which they used to cultivate fine grapes, had been abandoned.
The placing of a huge cross on a nearby hill by the new Christian townspeople resulted in many writers referring to the place as Almáchar de la Cruz, a symbol which is still incorporated into the town’s coat of arms today (see image above). During the 16th century there were just under 250 inhabitants in the village.
Earthquakes and the 18th & 19th centuries
In May 1754 the village was hit by a series of small earthquakes that forced the inhabitants to take shelter in the surrounding farmsteads. (Left, photo taken in nearby Alcaucín after the earthquake in 1884).
The Almachareños asked for protection from Santo Cristo de la Banda Verde, and as none perished as a result of the tremors, then by popular acclaim Santo Cristo was appointed in 1797 as protector of the town.
As well as giving him a special niché and room in San Mateo church, a festival was also held in his honour to commemorate the day, which takes place to this day on the first Sunday of May.
No doubt, because Almáchar was spared from the terrible earthquake that hit the Axarquía in Christmas 1884, this naturally gave added impetus to the faith of the locals.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries Almáchar was renown for its cloth making, with more than a hundred small textile mills involved in the industry. The excellent quality of manufactured cloths made it famous far and wide.
However, with cloth being produced elsewhere cheaper it became less economically viable, and over the course of the 20th century Almáchar’s citizens once more turned back to farming, especially to cultivating muscatel grapes and producing raisins.
Almáchar and the Civil War
One of the saddest periods in the history of Almáchar was during the Civil War (1936-1939), when families were divided and friends were pitted against friends as a result of differing political beliefs.
Franco and his Spanish Moroccan army, with the help of the Italian infantry and air force, concentrated on Málaga during 1936 and killed thousands of loyalist democratic civilians.
This spared hill villages such as Almáchar for a while, which were not occupied until 1937.
Left: Photo from the book “Almáchar la memoria dormida” by Antonio Oliver and Andrés Fernández.
Almáchar mayor tortured to death
However, Almáchar was a Republican community and its mayor, Juan Muñoz Fernández (photo right), who was a politician of the ‘left’, initially fled with his wife and six children towards Almería.
Fatefully, he decided to turn back though, and was arrested in Torrox and taken first to Vélez-Málaga, then back to the village. There, Fernández was tortured to death, though ‘cardiac arrest’ was recorded as the cause of death. His corpse was desecrated by being buried in a ditch across the entrance to the cemetery, so that all bereaved visitors would have to walk over his body to enter it.
In December 2011, Fernández’s remains were recovered and given a proper burial and a plaque put up in his memory. These and other atrocities are only now starting to come to light through Spain’s recent law of ‘Historical Memory’ (for a full account see – www.todoslosnombres.org – a database of reprisals by Franco in Andalucia, Extremadura and North Africa).
Precious relics destroyed
A lesser casualty of the Civil War were many of the town’s precious religious icons, and many of its parish archives, though a few survived including a wedding and a baptism certificate from the 1500’s.
Second half of the 20th century
After the Civil War, Almáchar, like so much of the region, suffered from deprivation and the village suffered from depopulation as many left to find work, some going to northern Spain, while others travelled to Europe.
In the Paséo de la Axarquía there is a tiled plaque commemorating the twinning of the village with two of the Spanish communities that took in those emigrant Almácharños – Barakaldo, a city in the Basque country, and Cornellá in the province of Barcelona.
In the same square there is also a sculpture erected by an association called Los Hijos de Almachar (the children of Almáchar), an organisation founded in 1978 – see photo below.
While many of those from Andalucian villages that had gone seeking work subsequently returned, some from Almáchar didn’t. However, their ingrained fondness for the culture of Andalucía remained, especially performing Flamenco, so one of the aims of Los Hijos de Almáchar, formed by the children and grandchildren of the émigrés, is in keeping it alive in these far off corners of Spain.
Some of those that went abroad to France and Germany did return, and there are still a few old chaps that can still speak the languages they had to learn then!
Tourism, another reason for raisins…
In the 1960’s, as other parts of the Costa del Sol started to enjoy a boom in tourism, a group of Almachareños got together to work out how to put their village on the tourist map. The main obstacle was in how people were going to get up to it.
In 1968 they came up with the idea of Día del Ajoblanco, the first gastronomic festival in Málaga province. They then invited some of the Regional politicians to visit the feria in order that they could see for themselves how isolated Almáchar was, and therefore of the need to build a new connecting road down to the coast.
They were eventually successful, and the so called ‘mountain road’ from the coast through Benagalbón and Moclinejo was built, (though the Almáchar-Moclinejo stretch is only 20 years old). But thanks to those Almáchar citizens, the road and the Ajoblanco festival has certainly put the little town on the map.
Thus, the second half of the 20th century became far more prosperous for the village, and today, in the 21st, it is a vibrant, bustling community. However, although tourism has certainly played a big part in Almáchar ‘s regeneration, the vast majority of its population work on the lands and harvest muscatel grapes and raisins, just as they did 500 years ago after the reconquest.
Almáchar pages guide
Use the links below to explore what you can see and do in Almachar, what festivals take place through the year, and to read about the area’s fascinating history.