Where to visit in Valle Niza... The beach San Pitar Jaral Tower Marques Castle Almayate Alto
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.
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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
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’
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.