Routes of Interest
The ornithological tourism in the Natural Park of Los Alcornocales is extraordinary. Its exceptional ornithological valor and its strategic location, being part of the area of the Gibraltar’s Strait and near to the protected Natural Areas like the Natural Landscapes of the Beach of Los Lances (Tarifa), estuary of the river Palmones and estuary of the river Guadiaro, as well as the old lake of La Janda, are an attractive for a great clientele.
The ornithological importance of the area of the strait is known since immemorial times; so is confirmed by the Neolithic paintings found in refuges and caves as well as in those in Tajo de la Figura (Benalup) in which we can see a real inventory of the birds of the area.
A total of 226 species of 56 families have been observed in the Natural Park of Los Alcornocales, the eagle group (family Accipitridae) is the most abundant with 23 species. This is because the area of the Park has perfect habitats for this group (big wooded masses and rocky places), at the same time that it is located in the best place of Europe, along with the Bosporus, for the migration flow of these birds.
In the area of the Natural Park of Los Alcornocales, we have several observation posts where we can see lots of species of birds that cross the strait mainly in the period of migration flows.
An important point to be outlined on the ornithological aspect is the old lake of La Janda, which lasted until the mid 20th Century, in the surroundings of this cave was the paradise for millions of birds that found here the perfect habitat for their alimentation and reproduction. For the migratory birds this was a resting and hibernation area. With the artificial draining in 1960 this important ecological niche was destroyed, and caused also the extinction the last Spanish reproductive population of Grus Grus (Common Crane), with the construction of the reservoir of the Barbate River it has been achieved the closeness of new species of aquatic birds to the area.
It is also remarkable the presence in the area of Ornitour (see directory) an enterprise specialized on ornithological matters and the organization of routes and visits to the observation posts of existing birds in the Natural Park.
Itinerary Benalup - Casas Viejas
The limited dimensions of the locality is a reason for us to recommend you that the best option is to get lost in the village and going on discovering the different attractions on your own. However, we’re going to recommend you some things that we think will make your visit more interesting.
We can start in El Pijo square. The reason for this name comes from an old source. This carnival folk song perfectly reflects it with the characteristic grace of this place.
We will go down through the pedestrian street of San Juan where there are two sweet shops to buy traditional cakes and sweets typical of the township. We will end in the poplar grove, the real neuralgic and vital core of the village.
At one end of the square there are two of the most sunny bars of the village, both from the beginning of the 20th Century are owned by the third family generation, passed from parents to sons, both have been witness of the main events of the village, like the foundation of the Church, the events of Casas Viejas or the Civil War. Before and now the poplar grave has always been the neuralgic core of the village. If you may want to have a coffee you can go to El Tato and to accompany it with some traditional and handmade sweets from the candy shop in front of this place. Ricardín bar is a good place to have some drinks at night (beers, cocktails or wines) and to have some tapas (we cannot avoid to recommend you the cheese tapa or the shredded beef tapa. This bar overflows sun in every part, not just because of the location of the establishment but also because of its owner and its usual customers.
The Church of Nuestra Señora del Socorro is worthy to visit.
Next, we can wander through the historical center going to the west. We can go through the old street Medina, nowadays called street of the Independencia, where at the half of the street and on the right pavement there is the house that shelters the vegetable garden where there was the famous hut Seis Dedos. We arrive into the Tajo (asking for it, of course), one of the most popular neighborhoods of the village which is also the exponent of the development recently suffered. Nevertheless the anarchy of its construction and the monain of the selfconstruction remains us that it is built over a former small valley when the ground was for free. Through a lovely path flanked on both sides by a leafy vegetation, we will be strolling through exploitations dedicated to the extensive cattle industry, where the predominance of the beef cattle is complete. It is the perfect path for a quite stroll.
A kilometer far, abandoning the path towards the right, we get into the “Morita” or Tower of Benalup-Casas Viejas. You can entry with a vehicle as this road is a cattle path. Regarding the vegetation, it is remarkable the presence of cork oaks, wild olive trees, black poplars, hawthorns, Mediterranean buckthorns, etc. It is also frequent to see varied and many bird types.
We can go back to the village and have a wonderful mea, which do not forget, is one of the great tourist attractions of the village. We can do this in El Cortijo de las Grulla, in the inn Tajo de las Figuras, in Casas Pepe, in the outdoor restaurant or in any other of the many bars and inns of the village. We can spend the afternoon wandering through the streets or going to shop or to take a walk to the outdoors restaurant, via Cañuelo or Paternilla. We will pass by orativa, a beautiful ranch that due to the urban development of the village it is already integrated within it, forming a natural green area inside of it.
Here there is a lot of stone pines, holm oaks (which they are not in La Janda), the fruit trees, fig trees, almond trees, and olive trees. The outdoors restaurant offers us, in addition to a wonderful meal, the possibility to do it by yourself in the grills disposed for this purpose or to use the swings and sledges for the children who will have assure their enjoyment and so, the parents can calmly see the beautiful landscape of Sierra Momia, Alcalá de los Gazules and the Valley of Celemín and Barbate.
Urban Fountains Benalup-Casas Viejas
You can start this tour in any of the fountains located on the map. However, it is worthy to start the visit going into the village through the poplar grove and leaving us being immersed under the roofs of the Church of Nuestra Señora del Socorro. Although it was built in this century, it looks like medieval, romantic and mudejar, with canted arches and bricks.
In a traditional way the inhabitants of the village have channeled the different water “flows” from waters coming from the big aquifer which is under the whole area from Barbate-Vejer to the area of Benalup-Casas Viejas.
The exploitation of this underground water has been multiple, from the drinking water supply for the houses to the implementation of watering systems that keep vigorous the small family vegetable gardens which next to the village are still cultivated.
From the poplar groove we can take the street San Juan in which it is located the fountain “Fuente del Pijo”, one of the oldest ones and it has been restored several times.
If we observe, on the left there is a very narrow street where we can find the fountain “Fuente de Cristobalilla o de los Muertos” which is currently being constructed.
Our tour will continue by going up through the street San Juan and going into the road Benalup-Casas Viejas-Medina Sidonia where we will find on the right some stairs “La Fuente de la Calera”, restored in 1999 with very Andalusian characteristics (tiles, wooden beams, tiles roof).
At this point, we will start going down, through the street Alta to the street Polavieja, where we find the fountain “La Fuente de los Vaqueros”, which is also made of Andalusian tiles and it has been recently restored.
At the beginning of the descent, along with a spectacular landscape, we will find out the fountain “La Fuente de la Calcetilla”. To finish with, in the street Fuentes, we will visit the most known and visited water spring of the village “La Fuente del Chorro Grande”, from where we can end our tour trying the delicious gastronomic offer that Benalup-Casas Viejas offers.
The Old Lagoon of La Janda
We present you a tour through the riverbed and the old lagoon of La Janda. It is strongly recommended to do it by bike, but it can also be combined by car or by foot. Again, the different possibilities it does offer, allows you to create your own tour.
It starts on the southern side of the village, taking the road of Alcaá. When we pass by the bridge of the Álamo river, on the right we will find the ranch of the Ahijones de los Domeqc, we get into the cancel and go to the right riverbank where their a centenary wild olive tree with more than six meters of length. Its spectacular nature and its natural valor have lead to the City Council of Benalup-Casas Viejas to request the declaration of natural monument. We go back to the road of Alcalá and in the direction of Benalup- Casas Viejas we get into the Venta Pareja, here we take the Royal Small Valley of Algeciras which allows us to do diverse activities like fishing, hiking, routes by horse and even kayaking, having celebrated some competition of this sport. We keep on going through the Royal Small Valley and crossing the road towards Los Barrios we get into the asphalted path towards Fascinas, will cross the brigde, which was the former pass of Tarifa and on the right we can see the entire meadow cultivated of rice. To the north we can see wonderful panoramic views of the village. We will find very soon an intersection on the left which leads us to Fascinas. You will be in the Park of Los Alcornocales, where it is very probable to see deers near the road or in September we can be witnesses of the “Berrea”. On the right we get into the ranch of Las Lomas and the old lagoon of La Janda, finding here the biggest stork colony of Spain.
This land-locked region is due to the clay composition of its grounds and the lacking slope with respect to the sea formed the biggest lagoon of all Spain, with one of the richest and most diverse fluvial ecosystems, which is logical if we are aware of its strategic settlement or of the migratory flow of the birds in their seasonal trips between the European and African continent. It is fundamentally fed by the rivers of Barbate, Almodóvar and Celemín, forming in its surroundings a system of lagoons like the Rehuelga, Espartina, Torero, Tapatanilla, etc.
The first constructions for the drainage of the Lagoon of La Janda were made in the first half of the last century (1825-1833). In 1929, in the middle of the dictatorship of primo de Rivera, the first partial project for the drainage of this lagoon was written and in 1936 it was officially presented the “Project of drainage, sanitation and silting the lagoons of the Barbate rive”. However, it was not until 1967 in the middle of the dictatorship of Franco when it was achieved the full drainage. In order to assure this commitment, there were undertaken the works of the three lagoons; Almodovar, Celemín and Barbate. In spite of these works are finished, in the rainy periods, the nature imposes and these grounds are flooded again. Two years ago there were full flooded more than four thousand hectares. As Antonio Lluís Rodíguez Cabañas says in his book Benalup (Casas Viejas): “All this transformation caused the disappearance of at least 18 species of animals in Cádiz. Among them, the real jewel was the crane, as they were bereft of their own habitat. The countless prehistoric cave paintings spread over all the caves and refuges of its surroundings tell us about the ecologic importance that this region had in other past times. Once time more, and in the name of progress a fabulous ecosystem of essential importance was lost.”
Nowadays and with regard to the last flooding it has been established an important debate about the convenience of recovering, at least partly, this lagoon. The Local Government Board of Andalusia has requested a detailed study to the University of Córdoba that in this way, we have to cite the book by J.M. Recio Espejo “Breve reseña histórica del proceso de desecación de la laguna de La Janda” published by the University of Córdoba in 1977 and the Working Days of Fields in the Depression of La Janda published in A.E.Q.U.A.-G.A.C., 1995. Even though the loss in the fluvial ecosystem has been important, there are still traces of its former splendor and the continuous area is still one of the most important flowing areas of the migratory birds of Spain. In effect, it is located in here a great colony of storks, cattle egrets, Montagu’s harriers and several species of ducks. Based on information of the website of Agaden we are going to do a brief review about the different types of birds that can be seen throughout the year. In February many birds begin to cross the strait in the direction to their nesting areas. The first swallows, hoopoes and cuckoos are arriving. We begin to see white storks and black kites, as most of the birds are still hibernating in our latitudes, in our wetlands, so we can see not only the over-wintering birds but also those birds coming from Africa. March is the month of the first eagles, black and red kites that hibernate in La Janda. On the opposite, April is the month of Egyptian vultures, European honey buzzards, falcons, etc. We begin to see griffon vultures on the slabs and rocky places of the region. In may there is a flow of European honey buzzards and the last flocks of flamingos cross the Strait in the direction of Fuentepiedra, Doñana the southeastern wetlands or to the south of France. In July we begin to see the first flocks of black kites and white storks, being overcrowded in August. September is the best month to see the postnuptial flow and we can see European honey buzzards, booted eagles, Montagu’s harriers and short-toed snake eagles preparing their jump of the Strait. In October there are thousands of finches, goldfinches, European greenfinches, and common linnets reach the Peninsula and can be seen in La Janda, while November is the month in which the griffon vultures usually cross the Strait.
By car, once we have passed by Las Lagunetas, at about 500 meters on the left we find an iron gate where it appears the name of the farmyard: “Las Gargantillas”. Walking through, we take a path in good conditions which has a light slope.
Very soon we can begin to see the typical vegetation of the park (rockroses, heathers, mastics, phillyrea angustifolia, cork oaks, wild olive trees, colletia spinosissima, common hawthorns, thorny brooms, kermes oaks, African sandalwoods and Mediterranean buckthorns and a little bit further, in the group of mountains, we find gall oaks and strawberry trees.
In the post of the guard we will ask for permission for the trip. There shouldn’t be any problem. We will find Neolithic painting caves and on the summit we will find anthropomorphic burials.
A little bit further, at about 500 meters, we will find a typical “canuto” (a typical forest) with its own vegetation: alder trees, ashes, laurels, European hackberries, laurestinus, broadleaved lavenders, etc. We get out of the forest and begin to go up through a very slopped path on the left, which will drive us through a wide Mediterranean forest until the summit (361m) of Sierra Momia, from which we can see a panoramic wonderful view of the village of Benalup-Casas Viejas, the fog of the rivers Celemín and Barbate, Medina and in sunny days we can even see the ships of Barbate.
We can go back through the same place or following the group of mountains in the direction of the entrance of the ranch until the gate.
La Yeguada - Nacimientos - Las Lomas
This tour allows a lot of possibilities. It can be walked just by car or combining it with strolls by bike or by foot. At the same time you can do it in one day or in two. However, our general suggestion is that you come to have lunch to los Badalejos, la Yeaguada or Cantarrena and enjoy the time to visit some of the very interesting places. Although we suggest you a route, the best thing is that you adapt it to your circumstances and preferences.
In the core of the region of La Janda, we find Malcocinado, popularly called La Yeguada, on behalf of its origins, which go back to the beginning of this century, when the marquise of Negrón (owner of Las Lomas) by 1920 sold the farmyard of Malcocinado to the War Ministry for a million of pesetas.
The militaries established in the area a military herd of horses which lasted until the instauration of the Second Spanish Republic, a time in which the agrarian reform was promulgated, which favored the villages of colonization. The first settlers came to Malcocinado, a total of 40 the 4th January 1934 (almost a year after the Events of Casas Viejas) captained by the promoter of the reform and the former mayor of Casas Viejas, Mr. José Suárez.
At the beginning of the field works, they were made in common, working together for everybody and distributing the benefits in the community. It was in 1949 when the land and the livestock were divided into 40 parts, promoting the current Malcocinado.
This rural core has multiple possibilities for the nature lovers in all its manifestations, from excellent hunting exploitations to wonderful routes for going over by foot or by any other way. The pilgrimage of May on behalf of Saint Isidore the Laborer is a typical festivity.
LA YEGUADA. LOS BADALEJOS
We can begin the route going up to the cave of Algar, but we don’t recommend the incursion into the cave because it must be reserved only for professional speleologists. There have been found in it prehistoric remains which prove the richness of sites in the area. However, the panoramic views you can see compensate for the walk.
We can get there by foot, mountain bike or by 4x4 through the lane that borders San José del Malcocinado or La Yeguada. Going back we can take a walk through the abundant pine forests where there are lots of stone pines, colletia spinosissima, flax-leaved daphnes, Mediterranean buckthorns, rockroses, butcher’s-brooms, common hawthorns, common myrtles, mastics…
We can spend the morning visiting the Yeaguada del Tepeyac or the ostriches farm.
At lunchtime we will be in the perfect place. The offer is quite varied but the main attraction is the use of natural products, the well preserved traditions of its establishments and overall, the unbeatable relation quality-price.
We can choose “la Menúa” inn where we suggest the asparagus or the seasonal birds or “el soldao” inn with its specialty of rice with duck, pheasant, deer, free-range chicken, etc. or “el negrito” inn where you cannot miss trying the liver of rabbit or the most sophisticated one, “El Caserón” or the most recent and luxurious one “cortijo de los monteros”.
LOS NACIMIENTOS. CANTARRANAS. LAS LOMAS
The second part of the tour can be made in the afternoon or a second day. This tour is specially indicated for those who want to make it by mountain bike (two or three hours). However, it can also be made by car – we warn about the bad conditions of the lanes though -, by horse or by foot.
In the southern side of La Yeaguada, we take the path that leads us to Cantarrana, passing by the Farm of the Tepeyac and beautiful pine forests of stone pines. Before arriving to Cantarrana we take an intersection to the left which will lead us to Los Nacimientos (If we want to do it just by car we will go on until Cantarrana and later towards Cucarrete or Los Nacimientos).
Here the natural environment is wonderful, over a dust landscape that sometimes will make us to go lower ourselves from the bike (car isn’t allowed). We will find abundant water springs and lush vegetation, remarking a great formation of wild olive trees and cork oaks, with great ecologic valor and considered as one of the most important of Andalusia as the wild olive trees are the tallest ones of the region.
Further down, crossing the road, the ground starts to slope, bringing to water jumps. This place known as Cucarrete has taken advantage from these water jumps in the past for the construction of windmills from which there are some remains.
The lush vegetation (willows, ferns, black poplars, rushes…), the water jumps, the fauna and the panoramic views recreate a wonderful whole which is worthy to visit. That is why the tourist potentials of this area are excellent, finding them currently unexploited. Some time ago there was an inn called “los molinos” but it is currently closed.
If we want to eat in this area we can do it with the classical sandwich of in “el faisán” inn, as with their cooking of deer has a very good reputation among the inhabitants of the area. We can also eat near Cantarranas in “la Tarraya” or “los Rosales” inns where we can try deer, rice with rabbit or the typical lunch, the pork raw, which we strongly recommend or in the establishment of Manolo Reyes, which is at the same time a shop, a butcher and a bar. We cannot avoid to recommend the large blood sausage, the chicharrones (pork rinds) or any other product derived from pork. If the quality and naturalness of the products surprise us, the price, clearly positive is going to be better.
Although it is difficult, we recommend you trying to visit the village of Las Lomas. This private agricultural exploitation, whose main stockholder is the family Mora Figueroá, of restricted access, but there’s some chance to enter if you know someone who lives there or calling by telephone. The adventure it supposes represents another tourist attraction for any tourist or curious person.
If we achieve to get the village of the exploitation we can still see some remains of the attempt of autocratic and technocratic economy that formed this farm in the 60’s and 70’s. There was a supermarket, a cinema, recreational areas, etc.
There are still left the Church, the bar and a scholar center where it is imparted primary and secondary classes, with canteen included. A chapter apart is worthy for hunting activities. The abundance of partridge birds and pheasants is astonishing. It is a show to see them wandering peacefully through the square or the streets of the village.
We can assure we are not exaggerating talking about hunting. The hunting parties of Franco were frequent in this area and nowadays, members of the high-class society and the great Spanish finances hunt in this estate. We go back through the road until Benalup-Casas Viejas and when we get there, we take a lane (which is in front of two inns and very near from the High School) which will lead us again to la Yeguada in the case we had parked the car there and we had made the tour by bike.
Through the path we can still find the typical flora and fauna of the countryside of this area like mastics, fan palms, wild olive trees, kermes oaks, black pines and we can get closer to the ostrich farm.
The marshes of Celemín and Barbate
The marshes of Celemín and Barbate are relatively close one to each other. The Celemín marsh, the smallest and oldest, is located in the riverbank with the same name, next to the road of Benalup-Casas Viejas, before arriving to Las Lagunetas. The Barbate marsh is located on a valley of the river with the same name, under the confluence of the rivers Alberite and Rocinejo, at a height of 18 meters of the sea level, being the riverbed at the 12 height. The construction of both has answered to a double goal: to supply the area with irrigation water and overall as a system of protection against flooding of the land, in particular of the land of the former lagoon of La Janda, where a great part of it is located in the current estate of Las Lomas. In spite of these two big works and the drainage works in the lagoon that included a tunnel of water evacuation and drainage of the grounds that covered the lagoon, in the humid years as the recent ones, it floods again and that is reason for a project and a debate for the partial recovering at least, of this lagoon of La Janda.
This tour is also available for cars, bikes, or a mix by foot. It is specially recommended for the nature lovers and it can be made in half of a day, a day or several days, depending on the person. In its core center we can find fish species like the bard, bogues, European eels, etc.
Taking the road towards los Barrios, at about 2 km approximately, we take the first crossroad to the left in the direction of the dam of the Barbate river. Very soon on the right we will find some big eucalyptuses, in front of “el fermeño” and “la garganta el cuerno”. If we are daring, being aware we can find brave cows and that we are, as in almost every natural places, in a private ranch, we can go into it. Very soon, it is recommended to be accompanied with a local guide, we find a series of small caves that shelter painting caves. These Neolithic paintings, most of them, are also a valuable monument. However, along with them, and sometimes overlapped, some indescribable contemporary people have painted on them. There also some pieces of walls where the traces of the paintings’ steal is evident. If we go up to the summit we find about thirty anthropomorphic burials. In the section of Tajo de las Figuras it was clear the relation of these prehistoric paintings with the death. From there we go up to the highest point, the natural viewpoint is wonderful, and you can perfectly see both marshes. We go down through the road until the dam of the Barbate river. Here we can go fishing, take a walk or look for asparaguses. If what we like to do hiking, we can plan a trip of about four hours. Following the right-side of the marsh bank, among cork oaks, hawthorns, gall oaks and wild olive trees we can take a walk, looking at the views over the marsh, until reaching to a place known as “la boca de las puercas”, one of the most beautiful places of the natural settlement of Benalup-Casas Viejas. You can combine the walk with the collection of natural products of the field.
We go back to the crossroad and keep on going through the road of Los Barrios, by the side of the Celemín marsh. We can try to get closer to the islands that the marsh produces, in certain periods they are accessible without the need of using a boat. Once we are arriving to Las Lagunetas, 200 meters before the arrival, we take a path on the right and will cross the bridge of the Celemín river. You can continue by car until the door gate of the ranch Valle Hermoso. Bearing in mind we are in a private ranch and that in concrete dates they might forbid the entrance, we can try a walk of about two hours through this path that crosses the ranch of Valle Hermoso. If we continue through the path, we will reach to Cañada del Valle, an small incredible valley, where with some luck we can see deers. This route can also be made on the opposite, coming into the facilities of the dam of Celemín and getting out through Las Lagunetas.
In these two planned trips, it is very interesting the combination of flora and fauna typical of a humid area (the marsh) with the typical one of a group of mountains. Regarding the flora it is remarkable the presence of tamarisks, wild olive trees, hawthorns, mastics, cork oaks, strawberry trees, mock privets, rockroses and common barberis, among other species. Regarding the fauna it is remarkable among the aquatic birds the mallards, zomormujos, lavancos, red-crested pochards, grey herons, cattle egrets, squacco herons, storks, black-winged stilt, sandpipers, Eurasian coots…, the characteristic fauna of the group of mountains is formed by eagles, vultures, owls, deers, roe deers, foxes, badgers, mongooses, etc.
Los Alcornocales Park
Benalup-Casas Viejas is considered to be the natural door of Los Alcornocales Park in spite of the exiguous of its municipal township, one part of it is inside of this park. We precise the exact limits of the park by the Western area and in concrete, the area that corresponds to Benalup-Casas Vijas. We can start our tour at the border in the hill of Albardón until the surroundings of the Espinazuel Hill towards Majada Verde and trough the Cañada Real and from there towards a place known as Pasada Empedrar, in order to continue towards the ranch of La Mediana and through the road of El Celemín in a stretch of 400 meters, including in the Park the ranch of Rehuelga, the port of Los Reyes, the hill of the Laurel and the ranch of Picazo, going towards the brook of Gallardo, leaving out the ranch of the same name, crossing this brook at the height of Casa del Cuerno. Keep on bordering the dam of Isla Verge in order to continue on the right of the Barbate river until its intersection with the limit between the municipal townships of Medina Sidonia and Alcalá de los Gazules. Keep on going through this demarcation until the ranch of Ahjijones and crossing the brook of Benalup-Casas Viejas cross the road which is between Medina Sidonia in order to continue through the road of Las Corbatillas and the frontier of Las Corbatillas excluding the Loma de Lázaro. Follow the current border of El Cortijo del Monte Bajo until Casas Soto, in Puerto del Lobo, on the road between Alcalá de los Gazules and Benalup-Casas Viejas, going through this road until the crossroad with the road C-440. (This information about the exact limits of the park Los Alcornocales has been taken from its Website).
There are many itineraries, trips and paths you can do in this area of the park of los alconorcales.
(See other suggested Routes through the park in this section)
Tajo de las Figuras
We are proposing you one of the most enriching and interesting visits you can do in Benalup-Casas Viejas. And this happens not just because we are in one of the most important stations of cave art of the south of Spain or because it is one of the most relevant artistic monuments of the province of Cádiz, but also because with the visit we can understand how the prehistoric man used to live besides seeing beautiful views – like the one we can look at the cave of the Arch –, seeing the extensive cattle industry – the inoffensive cows –, the fauna – many birds, rabbits, partridges, deers (you may be so lucky if you look some), etc and the flora – among which it is remarkable the cork oaks, the wild olive trees, the mastics, or the fan palms in the palm family Arecaceae (the only specie of its family that grows wild in Europe).
- – GEOLOGICAL INTRODUCTION
The geological erosive action of water and wind on the sand stones of these mountains has lead to the apparition of precipitous and sheer forms, which are usually scored by the so called “canutos”, narrow and deep valleys of brooks that thanks to the microclimate inside of them, has a great variety and rich flora. The molding of the ladders of the mountains, affected by strong slopes, the existence of geological joints – big cracks –, the plasticity of the clays and the sliding of these can offer astonishing large forms whose surface presents masses of convex morphology and erosion or breaks that lead to falls, with beautiful formations of sandstones and small caves that have been used by the man since Prehistory. The amazing block of Tajo de las Figuras, one of all those that make up the landscape of the group of mountains Momia, allows the observation of several of these geological phenomena at the same time that shelters one of the most important cave painting stations of the south of Spain.
II. – TEMPORAL AND SPACIAL CONTEXT
Although there are paintings that some experts date them from the Upper Paleolithic and others in the Metal Age, most of the paintings correspond to the Neolithic Era. In the Neolithic the man was already sedentary and knew the agriculture and cattle industry. Ideologically he needs to explain to himself why things happen and for this uses the supernatural through and is worried, overall, about two aspects which are two sides of the same coin; fertility and death. This is logic in a context where the infant mortality was very high and the age average was around the thirty. This importance for survival through procreation and death is going to explain a great part of the life characteristics in the Neolithic; the apparition of the supernatural though, the existence of the different gods, the festivities and seasonal rituals and the artistic manifestations. In effect, the paintings, dolmens, and the anthropomorphic burials that we are going to analyze are completely related to fertility and death.
Thanks to the endorheic nature of the area, in the rainy period a great lagoon used to be formed, which is known as Lagoon of La Janda, that connected to its strategic position, near from Africa, concentrated a great number of birds, until making it one of the richest ecosystems of Spain. The position between two mountains in an area more or less rainy, adopted the existence of a river, Celemín, and a rich fluvial valley. Moreover, we have to connect it with the group of mountains with abundant hunting and possibilities for the defense. That is, the water, the valley, the lagoon, the birds, the deers, the rabbits, the antelopes, the small caves, etc. formed a perfect habitat for living. We also have to remember that they didn’t use to live in small caves, but in huts.
III. – FOR WHAT AND WHY DID THEY PAINT?
It is clear that historians do not agree about the purpose of these paintings. The theory about the hunting rise is discarded by most of the last scholars of these paintings. There is left, then, the magic-religious-sexual explanation. We will see how there are overlapped paintings which differentiate themselves from 500 years, which indicates that we are in front of sanctuaries with magic-religious functions. On the other hand, every time there are paintings, some near tombs do appear which demonstrates the relation with the matters of death and the importance of these. And finally, the matter of procreation and fertility. The phalluses abound everywhere and so do the procreation rituals.
IV. – CHRONOLOGY AND PICTORIAL TECHNIQUE
In this pictorial ensemble there are three types of styles that, at the same time are related with three chronological periods. It is semi naturalist of light red or black, where the figures are forming scenes and it is clearly seen what they wanted to represent. This style dates from the Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic. Later, we find the semi schematic style where the dark red and green colors predominate, it is more schematic and it is closer to the hieroglyphic writing, being paintings from the beginning of the Neolithic. Finally, we find the white paintings, the most modern ones, from the end of the Neolithic, the Metal Age or even from the Roman époque. They are of a schematic style, that is, they represent an idea, not a shape.
V. - STATE OF PRESERVATION
In 1914 it appears the publication about the “Prehistoric paintings at the southern tips of Spain Lagoon of la Janda”) signed by Juan Cabré and Hernández Pacheco, two of the great scholars of cave paintings of the époque and History, a couple that later would join to it Abate Breuil, that along with his studies confirmed this area as the area with the most important cave paintings of the south of Spain. The two first refer to Mr. José Espina, Victor Molina and Rafael Bernal as the inhabitants of Benalup-Casas Viejas that make the paintings valor known to the scientific world. After this scientific consolidation there have been several studies about this environment that the University of Barcelona still continues nowadays. The archeological legacy includes besides this cave, six caves more, the tombs and some dolmen remains.
Going up the stairs and finding the paintings there can be quite disappointing due to their state of preservation. Its vision is difficult (overall at the beginning and if there’s no humidity in the air) due to it covers the painting with a cover of calcium-carbonate. This cover has been made by man in the last two or three decades. The reason is simple. In conditions of humidity, when it rains from November to May, it is the best moment to see it. When there was no humidity the man used to wet them for looking at them better, and that water, and not any other, has been the creator of that cover of calcium-carbonate that makes difficult its vision. Eighty years ago, Hernandez Pacheco and Cabré located more than 500 figures in this cave and today, is hardly to see three dozens of them. Its entrance is about 3 or 4 meters above the ground floor on a straight wall of the Tajo river, produced by a fault. It is 8 meters deep and between 1,5 and 2 meters tall and from 3 to 4 meters wide.
VI. – THEME
There is a triple division; on one hand, animals, on the other hand, humans, and on the other one, abstract signs. Among the animals there are two species that stand out; deers and birds. The deer is the main protagonist of these paintings, which is still part of the current fauna of these mountains, until the point that many authors think these men considered it to be a deity. There are also birds everywhere, which is also a great characteristic of these caves, the repetition of this kind of animal, a fact that does not repeat in other areas of cave paintings in Spain. The explanation is easy; we are in the Lagoon of La Janda. Besides these animals, in this cave and in the other six of the set, there appear bulls, foxes, horses, wolves, antelopes, etc. The second type of character is the human figures as they do appear figures of men, children, women, goddesses, etc. The third elements are the signs, which are of great importance in these caves: Do not forget that the predominant style is the schematic and that its repetition is so large that many authors consider we are in front of the beginning of writing, although a hieroglyphic one. Among the most important ones we find nests, huts, bows, suns, stars, boats, and others whose meaning we don’t know. Among all the signs the most important and the most repeated ones is the hieroglyphic of the “shepherd of the sheep”, universally found since the year 2000 B.C., a sign that does not only means the pride of the man having a flock of sheep but also asking the deity for the proliferation of it.
VII.- MAIN PAINTINGS
In ‘El Tajo de las figuras’ cave, we distinguish two parts, the hall and the internal chamber. The most important scene and the oldest one is located on the left. In this scene there are 9 human figures; three warriors, three women, two kids and a goddess or virgin. In the centre of the scene we find a big deer with 12 and 7 oil lamps (both are magical numbers). It seems that the sense of this composition was a prayer for the fertility of the human beings. This is the most important and oldest scene of the set of painting caves of the area. It is made in a semi naturalistic way and the experts date it from the Mesolithic and the light red color is predominant.
On the right part the hall appears with another red big deer, also of semi naturalistic style and it is surrounded of a series of paintings almost imperceptible with a more clearly schematic style.
In the internal chamber of the cave we can see on the walls and on the ceiling as well, a multitude of every kind of figures, being remarkable the deers, birds, diverse symbols and some figure that could represent the shape of a boat.
VIII.- OTHER ARCHEOLOGICAL REMAINS
At the exit we find some remains of a possible dolmen, a type of burial from the Metal Age and some tombs dig out on the rock. The importance death had for these men is clear, as well as its relation with the paintings. We hope you are allowed to go up to the Cave of the Arch. Cabré y Hernández Pacheco appointed this name due to the big natural arch of the rock that comes before the cave, where there is a platform as an altar. From there a huge landscape can be seen. We are going to analyze three kinds of paintings and styles. On one hand, the paintings from the Mesolithic or the beginning of the Neolithic are the oldest ones. In this group of light red it is remarkable two naked human figures, surely a man and a woman hunting deers. On the right in the same color, there are two animal figures that could be antelopes.
On the left, of semi schematic style, dark red or brown there are other more modern figures dated from the end of the Neolithic. They do represent a bull, a snake and a wolf respectively.
A little bit upper, there is a large amount of pictorial lines, dots and symbols of a clearly schematic style, dated from the late Bronze Age or even from the Metal Age (one thousand years before Christ). They are the three same styles that we find in the cave of El Tajo de las Figuras.
Other caves or shelters found in the area, which probably you won’t be allowed to visit, are the “la cimera” or “los sochinos” cave, the black cave, the cave of the Treasure and the “Arroyo de los Pilancones” and “las dos puertas” caves. Next to this great pictorial group we have seen, there are two more caves in the area, one in Los Barrios in “el Bacinete” cave and the other one in the Centre of the Sierra de las Momias. From the paintings of Bacinete we take the logo of the Centre.