Friday, July 13, 2012
Smooth Getaway Postcard From Salares Spain
Now is not the time to speculate on the lorry's whereabouts or the likelihood of its return, as the road soon undertakes a series of hairpin curves entering the Rahige Gorge. There is also an interesting convex on this road stretch, provoking the unpleasant sensation that you're about to slide sideways over the precipice. I'm used to it now, but it once scared the hell out of me.
Set in the hollow of the gorge is a local picnic site. This is a truly idyllic spot. There is a natural spring running all year and the council has provided wooden tables with benches and brick barbecues under the trees. Above to the right, they've dammed the stream to create a swimming pool. I've never actually seen anyone swimming in the pool as I imagine it is pretty cold, even in high summer. Yet, it's certainly picturesque and a very pleasant place to sit and enjoy the shade.
There's a nice little horror story about the place. Apparently, some picnickers were cooking a stew and discovered they'd forgotten to bring a spoon. So, they cut off an oleander branch. As commonly known, oleander is deadly poisonous. We know this because even goats won't touch it and they'll eat anything. They stirred the stew with the oleander stick and were later found writhing in agony at death’s door. One more stir of the stewpot would have done for them.
As the Valley of the Slaughter opens up, we see Sedella, perched above its neat terracing as the epitome of a white village with its church tower dominating the skyline. The Moors built the terraces and the irrigation system, plus the land is still moulded in Moorish patterns with perfect rows and steps rising like a ziggurat to the settlement above.
The road winds along the edge of the valley, touching Sedella then moving away repeatedly, giving an impression that the little village goes on forever. We pass the accesses to the cemetery and the chapel, then finally Sedella's last houses peter out on the left as the road turns into another valley. We can see Salares on the other side of the bridge, its Moorish church tower standing out against the jumble of white houses.
There used to be a lot at the bottom of the village with ample parking space, but this has become the building site, interestingly enough, for a new carpark. This is where a stream used to run above ground and must have once been a delightful spot. Yet, they imprisoned the stream underground and filled in the valley.
There is another road to the left, but it looks unpromising, then suddenly you're at the end of the settlement and heading off into the wild blue yonder. You'd be forgiven for abandoning the whole project at this point, but behind the almost-impenetrable thicket lies a sleeping beauty of a village. So, it's worth parking your car by the roadside and hiking up to it. Any way up will lead to the church, and the church alone is worth the trouble.
On the right hand side is a narrow arched doorway to a tiny gatehouse. In the space within is a cobbled floor, little niches in the walls and an open fireplace. On the other side of the arch is a courtyard garden with mature trees and a low wall overlooking the gorge. This place can hardly have changed in hundreds of years. Few tourists penetrate this far, so you may well have the pleasure of sitting alone in this ancient garden. Undistracted by the intrusions of the modern world, your mind can people the sanctuary with ghosts of the Moorish builders.
If you go out the back gate, you come to a street running down to the river with its cobbled packhorse bridge. This is known locally as the "Roman Bridge." Although the present structure is largely mediaeval, its foundations probably are Roman.
I suspect Salares escaped the fate of many white villages because it was too poor to remake itself up for tourists when it became fashionable to do so. Now, it's a little oasis of Old Spain, proud of its Moorish heritage and anxious to preserve it.
Three years ago, the village instigated a new fiesta, the As-Sharq, specifically to celebrate Moorish roots. Market stalls with Arabic goods are set up in the streets in the manner of a soukh. A well-presented exhibition is set up in the town hall and musicians dressed up (more or less) as Moors stroll amongst the crowds. One year, a recording of the imam calling the faithful to prayer was relayed from the church tower. I didn't notice it last year, but I hope they've kept it in the act, as I found it very evocative. Some of the more interesting old houses are open for viewing and at least one establishment serves Moorish cuisine to a high standard.
I've been told that there's now a preservation order on Salares. It wasn't in time to save the stream, but I sincerely hope it will preserve the rest. It's one of the few places remaining where you can see what a real Moorish village is like, rather than the tarted-up tourist versions becoming so familiar.