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Frigiliana, a Spanish ‘White Village’ that’s kept its charm


Rockets lit up the sky everywhere. Above the walls of the Castillo a dazzling display of fireworks heralded the passing of one day to the next. The noise was totally awesome drowning out the mesmeric chirping of the cicadas and the barking of farm dogs. The sound reverberated all around the tops of the mountains. I was witnessing a fantastic light and acoustic show that I would never forget.

Frigiliana, Spain

 

It was the beginning of the festival of the three cultures held in August each year in the mountainside village of Frigiliana, Andalucia, in order to celebrate the Moslem, Christian and Jewish influences embedded within the history of the area.

The festive atmosphere is evident all around from market stalls selling cork handbags from the province, exotic meats and spices from further afield, and colourful costumes everywhere in contrast to the tourists wearing tee-shirts and shorts. The village is in party mode, the narrow cobbled streets beating to the drum, the stage in the centre of the square maintaining a focal point and a sense of order.

From where I was staying high above I could look down to the stage and hear the sound of the romantic singer drifting up into the night sky.

I could sense the swirl of the costumes of the belly dancers and the roar of the flames from the fire-eaters. Dancing in the square mixed in with romantic melodies from the stage catchy to the crowd. It felt like the whole world was being entertained. The synthesis of it all left you wondering what the cultural differences had been about in the first place.

But there had been great differences. For five centuries the Moors had occupied a great swathe of Southern Spain. Over time Jewish interests took over many of the commercial outlets. The grip of the Moors weakened as they became too isolated from their base in Morocco and at the end of the 15th century surrendered their last citadel in Granada to the Christian Kings. Some Moors decided to say behind and get baptized in the Christian faith. They were known as the Moriscos but they were not all happy with their new lot and rose up against their new masters. In the end the Christians besieged them in La Fuerte, a mountain stronghold towering above the village. The ensuing battle in 1569 is known as El Penon. The poor Moriscos had to run for their lives – a somewhat testing activity when the terrain is extremely precipitous and riddled with gorges.

You can read about the history just by walking around the village where illustrated plaques written up in Old Spanish depict graphically what happened.

There were no public libraries in those days and this was how history was communicated to the villagers, and still is but now it is all laid bare to the tourists.

This was one the many highlights of my stay in Frigiliana. I was a guest of the owners of a converted mill above the village next to the ruined Castillo. It is a wonderful location with a vegetable garden directly below our balcony and where figs can be dislodged from the upper branches using a special tool with a long handle and a cylindrical hood. With all the fresh produce available on our doorstep, who needs to visit the local supermercado?

Frigiliana, Spain

The view from the balcony through the pink bougainvillea was beautiful beyond belief – a grand vista of mountain ranges extending down to the sea 10 miles away, small farms nestling in the valleys, miniature cars winding up the hillside.

A Corinthian column on the skyline turned out to be an ambitious building project gone slightly wrong when we approached it on the road. It had at least made our imagination run riot.

Being next to a mill, rushing channels of water appease the heat of the day. Down the other side of the hill flows the River Higueron carving its narrow passage through the gorge. Mountain goats scamper surefooted over the steep slopes. One small hop outside the village nature soon surrounds you and you are taken back to a landscape that is much the same as it was when time began. But do not expect in high August to be able to drink the water, or any water for that matter as the valley is dry for most of the late summer and the river is not very thirst quenching! Come prepared but do not bring swimsuits or empty water bottles for that matter!

Restaurants make excellent spots to see the sun going down, fortified with a glass of the local vino dulce. It is remarkable that a place with such jagged rocky outcrops and contours can support such a good grape. In the autumn another bumper festival is held in the nearby village of Competa to commemorate the crop, another excuse for plentiful libations and merriment. It is so mountainous and rocky that there is only one road in. There has been many a time I have tried to drive there direct from Frigiliana, and ended up heading foolishly down to the sea instead.

Entertainment in the village can be the captivating wail of a solo flamenco singer that roots you to the spot and hits the core of your emotions. Or it might be simpler than this even – older ladies dressed generally in black, speaking to each other in hushed tones on the steps outside their whitewashed dwellings in the balmy night air in a relaxed and uninhibited way which is rarely encountered in walled indoor societies.

Frigiliana, Spain

In fact everything about the village is specially designed in a stress busting kind of way. You soon understand why the health magazines promote it as a haven for mind and spirit including restless hippies wishing to regain the atmosphere of their youth – perhaps? Even as the village has become more discovered as a tourist destination with its ubiquitous little train chugging through the centre, the old magic is still there in the timeless charm of its narrow streets, the design of the cool courtyards, the architecture of its churches, and the conversion of the old buildings in a way that is so sympathetic to how they were originally used.

When I first visited the village twenty years ago, donkey rides were available for those brave enough to risk a sore bottom. Now the poor donkey has disappeared, swept away by the more sophisticated demands of tourism in the 21st century

There are hot tubs in the hotels and Wi-Fi in the local library and maybe technology has stepped in the way a bit but the traditional values of the village are still very much in evidence and are not likely to disappear any time soon.

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