Where to visit in Valle Niza...
Beautiful beach and fascinating history...
On the western side of Almayate lies Valle Niza, a small village which has grown significantly in the past few years, and apart from to its very nice beach, there are certainly plenty of other places to visit here!
There is the newly opened archeological complex of the San Pitar; a fascinating quarry, once used by Phoenicians, Romans, and Moors and others, which was also a home to masons and even, long ago, to monks! If that’s not enough, then there’s also a fort – Castillo del Marques, a medieval tower – Torre del Jaral, and an imposing 18th century bridge – Puente del Jaral!
Above Valle Niza is Almayate Alto, which was the main settlement in the area before the Reconquest. It is only a hamlet now, but its church, La Ermita Alta, acts as a religious focus for Valle Niza, especially in some of its celebrations. It is well worth the short drive up from Valle Niza to Almayate Alto, even if just for the verdant fields and avocado and mango groves that you’ll pass through.
As ever, if you’ve visited any of these places, don’t forget you’re invited to leave a comment describing your experience, (note that a Facebook account is necessary).
Valle Niza’s beach is located between Almayate’s and that of the next village along, Benajarafe. Behind the beach, you can see the Sierra de Almijara mountains including La Maroma, Málaga’s highest peak.
Along with Benajarafe beach it forms a large band, measuring 2.4 kilometres in length, but is fairly narrow – around 25 metres wide.
The beach is typically not very busy, as it can only be reached by car. Although the beach has fairly limited services, parasols and hammocks are available for hire. The low numbers of people make it an ideal beach for those who want to enjoy a quiet day on the coast.
The Archaeological Complex of San Pitar
This important site, a couple of hundred metres from the coast at Valle-Niza, including San Pitar Chapel, is also known locally as Las Canteras de Valle Niza Sant Pitar. After an investment of over a million euros, and considerable delays, the archaeological complex (Complejo Arqueológico y Monumental de San Pitar), was finally opened a couple of years ago.
The site has been a quarry for millennia, and so the local authorities wanted to preserve it not only for public viewing, but for specialists to be able to further study it. Especially as not only has the stone been used in the construction of some fine buildings, but at times the quarry itself has also been the home to masons – and even to monks!
There were two key elements in the quarry’s popularity down the centuries, the quality of its stone and its close proximity to the coast.
The rock type is piedra ostionera (oyster stone), a beige porous sandstone found in certain places in Andalucía, so called because it contains significant amounts of oyster fossils. Apart from being quite attractive it also a soft rock, easy for stonemasons to work with. Once extracted, the stone only had to be moved a few metres over the beach to boats ready to transport it to the building site.
From Phoenician necropolis to Renaissance cathedral
It is understood that stone has been extracted in this area (either here or nearby Canteras de Almayate) first by the Phoenicians for the necropolis at Trayamar, then by the Romans who used it for the building of the theatre (Teatro Romano) in Málaga, followed by the Moors for the construction of the fortress (La Alcazaba), also in Málaga.
However, the quarry was at its height from 1727, the year in which the master builder of Málaga’s cathedral, José de Bada, discovered the site, and between then and 1755 most of the material for the construction of Malaga basilica’s tower (photo left) came from San Pitar. Not only for this, but also for the nearby Castillo del Marqués (see below), the Casa Cervantes in Vélez, and numerous cortijos and houses in Torre del Mar.
During this time up to a 100 stonemasons lived and worked in this place, which covered some 10,000 square metres, and a chapel, Sant Pitar (photo right), was erected in 1739 for their spiritual needs. Over the years, the little Baroque chapel slowly fell into disrepair, but has been fully restored now and adapted as a place to receive visiting groups on guided tours.
The masons were forced to abandon their homes when the quarry was abandoned in 1755, because of problems with the remaining quantity and quality of the stone, and excavation shifted to other sites including at Alhama de Granada, Dalias and even Nerja.
The Cave Church
During investigations into the quarry it was realised that the stonemasons lived on site, some actually in hollows in the rock itself. Furthermore, while some of these were just natural cavities that were enlarged, some actually cut across others that were man-made, believed to belong to a community of hermits in the 8th to 10th centuries.
They were believed to be Mozarabic monks, and a small ‘cave church’ that was possibly used by them has also been identified. The Mozarabs were Christians that lived in Andalucia, from the conquest in 711 to the end of the 11th century, who adopted some Arab customs without converting to Islam.
The hollowed out church is well carved, rectangular with a dome shaped roof and both masonry and brick has been used in some of the interior walls. A cross carved into a rock has been identified as typically Mozarabic in style, and the whole complex has been further described as being cenobitic in character. That is, that while the monks there followed the tradition of isolation from ordinary society, they weren’t completely hermitic, they lived in a communal group.
San Pitar is the etymological origin of San Pedro (Saint Peter), ‘the rock of Christ’, who would of course been revered in the Mozarabic Christian monastery.
Vélez-Málaga’s council has organized a series of guided tours to the San Pitar archaeological complex which take place once a month (Saturdays or Sundays), for groups of up to 40 people. In order to join one make an appointment with the Department of Historical and Artistic Heritage at Velez-Malaga town hall, on 952 55 86 40.
Jaral tower and bridge
The tower, which has been partly restored, is situated on a cliff above the N340. Access to it is not always easy, but there are wonderful views from it.
Del Jaral tower, which is the only square one in the whole region, was originally built by the Moors as as part of their coastal defence system. It is estimated that the tower was originally built around the 13th to 14th centuries, and thought to have been modified and re-used as a lookout tower in later centuries.
Certainly, Torre Jaral’s position, perched on top of a 30 metre cliff high above the plain, next to the Camino Real (Royal road) to Granada, was well chosen; a wide area of the sea could be observed, as well as the beaches at Almayate and Valle Niza. Also, the unusual square tower was well constructed by the Nazari Arabs, using brick as well as solid stone, not a common combination.
Puente del Arroyo del Jaral
Well worth seeing next to the tower is the attractive Puente del Arroyo del Jaral or La Cala del Turco bridge, a tall single-span construction, approximately 20 metres high by 100 metres long.
It was built in the last quarter of the 18th century, part of a nationwide project to improve road communication between centres of economic production, and hopefully lift people in regions such as this one, out of poverty.
The main thing produced and exported in the Axarquia was wine and raisins, so it was decided that Vélez, as the main town of the Axarquía, would be the hub where produce would be collected and then moved on to Malaga’s port. In order to speed up the process new roads and bridges were constructed that were suitable for carts. This included the road that passes through Almayate, and the Puente del Arroyo del Jaral was built for it to pass over.
Castillo del Marqués
The Castillo del Marqués, also called the Marquis de Casa Fuerte, has a long history, going back some 500 years, one that is intricately bound up with that of the local area. Indeed, the coastal defensive system of towers, fortresses and watchtowers, goes back long before that, to the time of the Nazari Moors.
However, these towers were not enough to face the dangers of a coastline that from the early 16th century onwards was constantly harassed by Barbary Corsairs.
These were slave galleys of the Barbary states – Muslim fiefdoms on the North African coast – that raided Mediterranean shipping and coastlines. The fear wasn’t just from piracy, but that these Berber privateers would often land on Andalucian beaches and capture Christians to work the oars of their ships.
[Right: Barbary pirates on the Torregorda beach in 1574 (‘Acción de armas de los gaditanos contra los moros’, by Alejandro Ferrant Fischermans)]
But even more than that, many feared another invasion of Spain. There was widespread belief that the Moriscos in Andalucia were in secret contact with the Muslims and the sultan of the Ottoman Turks, whose empire had been advancing ever westwards, and at that time seemed unstoppable. Clearly, the shoreline defences needed strengthening.
The ‘Torre del Marqués’
Although there had been towers at each end of Almayate’s seafront territory since 1497 – Torre Nueva de Almayate as it was then called (now known as Torre de Moya in Benajarafe) at the western end, and Torre del Jaral at the eastern end (left), these were just lookout watchtowers and didn’t provide any defence against incursions or attacks from the sea. Thus in 1509, after obtaining the cession of these territories by the crown, the famous Íñigo López, Captain-General of the Kingdom of Granada, ordered the construction of a tower in front of the orchards and beach at Almayate.
Íñigo López de Mendoza y Quiñones, (1440 –1515), pictured below, was a Spanish noble who at one time had been awarded the mayoralty of Alhama de Granada for his assistance in the war against Granada. He fought in the the final war of the Reconquista, against Boabdil, and afterwards King Ferdinand named him Captain-General of Granada. During his tenure as governor, Conde Íñigo subdued the Moorish uprisings in Alpujarras in Granada.
In September 1512, Íñigo obtained the title of Marqués de Mondéjar, hence the designation of the Almayate castle as the Castillo del Marques.
So, in 1513 a square tower was built at the foot of the El Jaral and Fabricio hills, on the road between Málaga and Vélez Málaga. Although this small fortification was equipped with two pieces of artillery it was insufficient for the defence of the Almayate coastline, and was even on occasions taken over and used by Berbers or Turks either as a base to ambush travellers, or make incursions into the local areas.
Within a few decades this ‘Torre del Marqués’ was in disrepair, so between 1565 and 1567 it was not only repaired but enlarged and became known as the Castillo del Marques. Nevertheless, due to a lack of maintenance in the following (17th) century, the castle again fell into a state of ruin and so in 1720 a proposal was sent to the King to rebuild it. In 1730 an engineer’s report was issued which opposed that, suggesting instead to demolish it and build a fortress on the hill where Torre de Moya was.
The new Castillo del Marqués
Despite the vulnerability of the area from attack there was still indecision, but after an assault on the San Pitar quarry by a Berber ship in 1735, a new Castillo del Marqués was quickly constructed both as a defence of the coast and the quarry itself, using stone from San Pitar. However, it was located not on the site of the old castle, but a few hundred metres west between the beach and the Almayate quarry. It was constructed using the original plans intended for the Torre de Moya (left), a horseshoe-shaped battery for four guns plus lodgings for troops, a prototype planned for the whole coast of the kingdom of Granada. The building was financed by a captain Gaspar Alvarez de Sotomayor, in exchange for his two sons being made Captain!
Work on the new Castillo eventually began in the autumn of 1766 and was finished by December 1767. It consisted of a semicircular bulwark attached to a hornabeque (an outer fortification consisting of a pair of bastions on the corners of a straight wall, with a curtain wall connecting them), as well as a dry moat. In it were stationed a mixed unit of cavalry, artillery and infantry; and from there regular patrols were sent out along the coast to Rincon de la Victoria in the west to Torre del Mar in the east.
A home for Carabineros, Guardia Civil, then hoteliers
By the 1830’s, it was thought that the castillo was no longer needed as a military base. The threat coming from over the seas was now from smuggling. In 1829 an armed force was set up by King Ferdinando VII called the Carabineros (pic right) to patrol the coasts and borders of the country, operating against fraud and smuggling. The castle now just served as a barracks for the local Carabineros with their families. In order to improve the accommodation the building was expanded and remodelled a century later in the early 1920’s.
From 1938 to 1939, during the Civil War, the Castillo del Marques was used as a jail and even a small concentration camp. Following Franco’s victory the Carabineros Corps were summarily disbanded and merged with the Guardia Civil in 1940, transferring its remaining personnel and assets to them, such as the Castillo del Marques and its occupants. The measure was taken by the new fascist regime as a reprisal for the majority of the carabinier units having remained loyal to the Republic during the rising of 1936.
So, until the 1980’s the castle was the local headquarters of the Guardia Civil, but then the state owned building was ceded to Vélez Malaga, initially as a museum of archaeological artefacts and handicrafts of the region, and then as a school of hospitality and tourism, called the Escuela de Hostelería Castillo del Marqués, IES Maria Zambrano. It now also has a restaurant where the food is prepared and served by students; during term time it is open once a week to the public for a 4 course lunch.
It is well worth the short drive up either from Almayate Bajo or Valle Niza through verdant fields and avocado (aguacate) and mango groves, over to Almayate Alto.
The village itself is very small, just a hamlet really, with a few outlining farm houses, villas plus a small chapel called La Ermita Alta (right), that was remodelled in 1993.
The church acts as a religious focus for Valle Niza, especially in December when the village’s patron saint, La Virgen Inmaculada Concepción, is taken in procession from the church as part of the Valle-Niza celebration called Feria de la Inmaculada.
While the village might be small, the surrounding countryside has been turned into a resounding success, thanks in part to a local farmer called José Montosa, who introduced the avocado into the area over 30 years ago. He’s gone on to develop his business into a worldwide brand.
As José’s company is dependent on the growing conditions here, his factory, Frutas Montosa, is still based between Valle Niza and Almayate Alto – though now much larger, and very modern looking. In the last few years it has now diversified into growing mangos as well. Montosa has even started its own ‘Avocado Society’ which has produced some very funny YouTube videos in English, such as these –
The origin of Almayate and the Castle of Almayate ruins
While you’re up at Almayate Alto, you may want to find a spot to sit down and ponder on the fact that this was actually the original settlement. In fact, it was the head of a district also called Almayate, that included many other local villages like Iznate, Cajiz and Benamocarra. From historical records it seems that the district was at least on par with the other Moorish regions on the west bank of the River Vélez, belonging to Comares and Málaga!
It is known that in the late 15th century Almayate (Alto) consisted of 179 houses, much more than other local settlements, and in fact had its own ‘castle’. An excavation in 2005 showed that the old settlement was built largely on the slopes surrounding it.
The so-called Castillo de Almayate (photo, right) – possibly just a tower surrounded by a wall – dated to around the Nasrid dynasty (AD 1230 until 1492) was not considered to be particularly sturdy, and was said to be “… so little that in the one wall it has but a brick of fat”. Inside was said to be a mosque that would be sacked in order to provide building stone for a new defensive tower built nearby, (actually the Torre de Moya at Benajarafe).
Eventually, the nobleman who was given Almayate (Íñigo López de Mendoza y Quiñones – see Castillo del Marques above), just used the fortress as a warehouse for his farmer tenants to store their produce. At present, like the original Almayate, there are hardly any visible remains of it. In fact, all we are left from the Nazari period is the Torre del Jaral tower down on the coast.
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Attractions near Almayate
There are many interesting places to visit around Almayate. It has the legendary black silhouette of the Osborne Bull dominating the skyline, the only one in the Axarquia, and there are lots of fascinating historical sites to visit, some going back nearly 3000 years.
Near the mouth of the River Vélez there is the only significant estuary that exists on the entire eastern Costa del Sol; and hundreds of different types of marine birds use it for nesting and migration throughout the year. However, for beach lovers, Almayate offers one of the last undeveloped stretches of coastline left in the province, the Playa de Almayate, a very large secluded beach offering peace and tranquility.
We have a dedicated page with the Almayate attractions on. Clicking on any of the ‘view’ links below will take you there.
Almayate pages guide
Use the links below to explore what you can see and do in Almayate, what festivals take place through the year, and to read about the area’s fascinating history.