Frigiliana, a delight even to the frequent visitor...
Frigiliana is very much a village in two halves, quite visibly divided between the old, original village and the part built in more recent years. While many will have a wander around the ‘new’ part, most visitors head for the ancient hub of the village, and with good reason. As mentioned before, this part has won many awards for its preservation, and its beautiful cobbled streets are a constant delight even for those that have visited Frigiliana many times.
Most of Frigiliana’s beauty spots are contained in an area that the locals call the ‘Barribarto‘, one of the best-preserved historical centres of Arabic origin in Spain. To help visitors understand the history of Frigiliana, there are a series of wall plaques telling the tale of the Reconquest, the violent battle that took place here, and the subsequent expulsion of the Moors.
One of the main buildings most people notice when first visiting Frigiliana is the El Ingenio, a large factory that was originally constructed at the end of the 16th century as a mansion. Incredibly, it is the only sugar factory left in Europe and one of only three working worldwide. An important place for tourists visiting Frigiliana is the Palace of Apero, which amongst other things houses an exhibition hall and the archaeological museum. If you have time, try to visit Frigiliana’s three churches, the impressive San Antonio de Padua iglesia, and the simple but attractive Santo Cristo de la Caña and San Sebastian chapels. There are also many interesting old buildings, fountains and archways dotted around the old part of the village to visit, like the Reales Positos, the Fuente Vieja, and El Torreon.
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The Barribarto area
Probably most memorable about Frigiliana is the sheer beauty of its cobbled streets with their whitewashed houses garlanded with plants and flowers, and of course the views from them. And most of these beauty spots are contained in an area that the locals call the ‘Barribarto’, one of the best-preserved historical centres of Arabic origin in Spain, a place that never fails to impress and enchant the visitor. Barribarto is a contraction of ‘Barrio Alto’ (upper quarter), a description not actually exclusive to Frigiliana, as other villages in this part of Andalucia use it. The area is also known as the Barrio ‘Mudejar’; the Mudejars being a term used to describe the Moors who stayed in Spain after the reconquest but did not convert to Christianity. (It is also to a style of architecture and decoration in Spain that was strongly influenced by Moorish taste and craftsmanship).
The Barribarto’s patchwork of alleyways and narrow streets criss-crossing each other are certainly a reminder of the past influence of 750 years of Moorish culture. Throughout the whole of the district, few if any of the houses have regular walls or right-angled corners, they simply follow the contours of the land, so that if the builders encountered a particularly large stone outcrop, they simply incorporated it into the building! Unfortunately, only the houses now remain, nothing is left of the communal buildings which must have existed and would been of great importance to the community, such as the public baths, mosques, and religious (Islamic) schools.
There are a number of ways to get to the Barribarto area. Opposite the popular square, next to the church, you’ll encounter a set of steep and narrow steps, generously decorated with plants and flowers, which lead directly up into the area. Another popular way up to the Barribarto is via Calle El Zacatín (meaning ‘the clothes market’), without doubt one of the most emblematic and beautiful streets in Frigiliana. It’s a very steep climb, but while it might be tough on the legs it’s very easy on the eyes with its borders of plants and flowers, and little houses with plastered white walls. Moreover, it offers a view up to where Frigiliana’s Moorish castle once stood.
Once you’re up the Barribarto, you can follow Calle Amargura, which is like the main thoroughfare with all the other streets and alleyways branching off and meandering into every part of the Barribarto. Explore this delightful old district at a leisurely pace not only in order to notice all the little architectural details that makes this area so special – but because much of it is very steep!
El Palacio de los Condes de Frigiliana, popularly called El Ingenio, was constructed at the end of the 16th century as a mansion by the Manrique de Lara, a nobleman of Málaga, who had held the lordship over Frigiliana since 1508.
It is in the Renaissance style and stands on 2000 square metres of land. Many of the prominent ashlars (dressed stone workings) of the building were collected from the destroyed arab castle. Dating from this period, and also later, can be seen balconies, wrought iron grills, sun dials as well as the beautiful mural paintings.
Later on the old mansion was turned into a sugar mill, something integral to the Axarquía region whose economy was based on sugar production for so many years. It was the place where locally grown sugar cane was transformed into a readily edible product, a factory producing molasses. Molasses in Spanish is called Miel de Caña, or literally ‘sugar cane honey’; it certainly has a texture similar to honey.
For centuries Frigiliana was known as a land of sugarcane farmers who made their type of honey for export. Apart from at the Ingenio, there were a number of stone mills in Frigiliana to grind the sugar cane, but in common with elsewhere in old Spain, technological innovations were minimal, and work was done manually and with great effort by very poor people. The process involved using rolls or mills that tightly compressed the canes, and then afterwards boiling the resultant juices in order to evaporate away the water, finally leaving the molasses.
Even though this has largely been replaced by tropical fruit growing, the Ingenio in Frigiliana is still in use, and in fact is the only sugar factory left in Europe, and incredibly, one of only three working worldwide. Today it is one of the main buildings most people notice when first visiting Frigiliana.
The Palace of Apero / Casa de la Cultura
Part of the complex that makes up the Condes de Frigiliana Palace, the Casa del Apero is an early 17th century building, restored in the 1990’s.
It is now a multipurpose centre housing the tourist office, municipal library, historical archives, an exhibition hall and the archaeological museum, an important place for tourists visiting Frigiliana.
It was originally used as a granary, stables and warehouse for storing field tools and machinery. Its rooms are placed around an interior patio and built in two levels.
Although the walls are made of stones and mud, the arches and pillars are constructed from bricks in the same way as the main entrance. It is a beautiful example of the architectural style from late 16th or early 17th centuries.
It is easily accessed, and has ample parking. Of particular interest is the Museo Arqueológico del Apero (the Archaeological Museum), taking visitors back to the oldest days of Frigiliana. The star collection comes from the excavations of the Cortijo de las Sombras Iberian-Phoenician necropolis, from which one can see ceramics, lithic implements, bones, coins, etc, on exhibition.
San Antonio de Padua church
Most people visiting Frigiliana will find their way to a small square, home to the main church of the village, la Iglesia de San Antonio de Padua. A focal point of Frigiliana’s religious life, it was built in 1676, adapting the structure of an earlier mosque. The work was financed by Manrique de Lara, lord of Frigiliana, and finished in 1696 by the architect, Bernardo de Godoy.
The minaret and the first six metres of the façade were left virtually unchanged. In fact the incorporation of the minaret, or tower for the call to prayer, was very common in Christian churches adapted from Mosques in the 16th and 17th centuries in the area; such as those to be found in Colmenar, Competa, Salares, Torrox, and Vélez-Málaga.
It was further renovated in the 18th century, and also more recently in 1976. It is almost entirely built in the Renaissance style, and many original frescos can still be seen throughout, as well as three excellent 17th century paintings from the School of Sevilla.
On the outside, the church has a simple brick façade with a semicircular arch and a three-level bell tower. While inside, the ground plan is the Latin cross, divided into three naves separated by pilasters, covered by a wooden framework.
There is an 18th century wooden statue of San Anton, a highly venerated figure in the town. The sacristy has a beautiful Rococo chalice, made of silver, from the 18th century. There is also a plaque at the entrance that details the story of its construction. Saint Anthony of Padua (1195-1231), was the patron saint of travellers, Sailors and Fishermen.
Santo Cristo de la Caña hermitage
The Ermita del Santo Cristo de la Caña (Hermitage of the Holy Christ of the Cane) as it is known locally, or the chapel of Ecce Homo, dates from the 18th century.
It’s a very simple building with a single nave with a wooden ceiling.
La Ermita del Ecce Homo takes a prominent part in the Easter celebrations when there is a procession from the chapel to the Church of San Antonio de Padua. On Ash Wednesday there is a procession from the chapel to the Iglesia de San Antonio with a carving of Ecce Homo, a painting on wood of Jesus being given up to the mob by Pilate.
The procession through the streets of various Christian effigies has been a tradition in Frigiliana since the 16th century, although it is difficult to establish exactly when the neo-barroque effigies that are carried through the streets nowadays were made.
San Sebastián chapel
The San Sebastián chapel (Capilla de San Sebastián), is another important religious site in Frigiliana, though it was largely destroyed during the Civil War. The present hermitage was remodelled later in 2003, largely because of the importance of San Sebastián to Frigiliana – its patron saint. The stained glass windows were painted by the women of the ‘El Abanico Andaluz’ association.
The hermitage is located right next to the village cemetery, and both are accessed under a portico with half-pointed arches on pillars and a hipped roof with interior woodwork. It was originally built in 1791, and at that time was on the outskirts of the town. During that time there was no cemetery around it, because the old parish one was still in operation. However, with all the calamities of the early nineteenth century (plagues, famine, etc), there was an unfortunate need for more places of burial, so its grounds were slowly developed as a cemetery.
The chapel plays an important role in the San Sebastían festival in February, when the statue of San Sebastián is taken from here and then processed to the San Antonio church.
Other gems to look out for...
As you’re wandering around Frigiliana keep your eyes open for some real architectural gems. There are the wall plaques illustrating the early history of the village; a beautiful old fountain, La Fuente Vieja; an ancient tower, El Torreon; what was the village grain store, Los Reales Positos; and of course, the charming cobbled streets.
Further attractions nearby Frigiliana
For the fit and active, there are some great walks to be had using Frigiliana as a base. That’s why we’ve dedicated a page to them.
Both the ones mentioned here afford fantastic views of the mountains and the glistening Mediterranean a few kilometres away.
Firstly, visiting the ruins (or rather remnants) of Frigiliana’s castle, Castillo de Lizar, on top of the El Peñon hill, which has had a fortification on it since Roman times.
Secondly, strolling up the Rio Higueron gorge that runs into the mountains above Frigiliana, an absolute must on a hot summers day. For the adventurous it might be possible at the Tourist Office (see Palace of Apero above), to arrange for a guide to help you visit one of the small caves along the gorge.
Frigiliana pages guide
Use the links below to explore what you can see and do in Frigiliana, what festivals take place through the year, and to read about the area’s fascinating history.