We were looking forward to a bit of nature in these times of social distancing. So we went to Benamahoma, a village in Cádiz that we already knew, but that we carry in our hearts and that deserves to be shown its wonders.
NOTE: Due to the overcrowding of the Majaceite river path, measures have been taken to control the capacity. In Benamahoma there are many other trails and visiting the village is one of its best attractions. We appeal to individual responsibility.
We have also recorded the third episode of our vlog that you can’t miss.
We would normally tell you about Benamahoma pueblo first, but we are going to do it following the chronological order of our visit, so if you don’t know Benamahoma, skip to section number 2.
What you will find here
ROUTE OF THE MAJACEITE RIVER. FROM THE FOREST TO BENAMAHOMA
ROUTE OF THE MAJACEITE RIVER.
Are you looking for a cool place to take refuge from the heat or an easy and charming trail to walk with family or friends? congratulations, you’ve just discovered the right place!
We start walking the path that leads from El Bosque to Benamahoma. It is a pleasant path along the Majaceite river, dotted with small pools and waterfalls. The water is fresh and clean, as it all comes from nearby springs. Along the way there are also small bridges to cross the river.
We enter a forest-gallery of riverside vegetation that provides shade and coolness throughout the route. You won’t get too hot here, as you can bathe in the numerous pools you’ll find along the way.
There are still some mills and fulling mills that used to harness the power of water to grind grain and make the fabrics thicker. Almost all of them have been converted into rural cottages next to the river where it is worth spending a relaxing weekend.
- Trail type: linear, so you must take into account the return journey.
- Difficulty: the trail is easy.
- Difficulty: the trail is easy.
- Distance: just over 5 km.
- Distance: just over 5 km.
- Cumulative elevation gain: approx. 200 m.
- Distance: just over 5 km.
- Duration: 2:30 hours.
- Duration: 2:30 hours.
- Best time: summer, autumn and spring. But can be done all year round.
- Best time: summer, autumn and spring.
- Recommendations: leave El Bosque, have lunch in Benamahoma and then make your way back.
HISTORY OF BENAMAHOMA
Benamahoma is a paintful village of just over 400 inhabitants that depends on Grazalema, the place where it rains the most in the Iberian Peninsula. It forms part of what are known as the Pueblos Blancos (White Villages), a unique tourist designation in Andalusia. It is a group of villages in the provinces of Cadiz and Malaga that are characterised by their whitewashed façades, tiled roofs, steep streets and their frontier character. This whole area was a place of encounter and disagreement between the Christians of Castile and the Muslims of Granada.
Medieval history of Benamahoma
Although remains from Roman times have been found in other nearby towns, in Benamahoma we cannot know what was here before the arrival of the Muslims to the Iberian Peninsula. We do know that at least one Andalusian family settled here, hence its gentilic toponym of Arabic origin. The names of towns preceded by “banu”, “bani”, “bini” or “bena” mean “descendants of” or “family of” and are usually associated with small villages, formerly called “alquerías“. This is not at all strange, as tribal organisation in al-Andalus encouraged settlements of this type.
We have been told that the first written reference to the village dates back to the 10th century. Muhammad al-Razi, known to Christians as the Moor Rasis, left testimony in his “Chronicle of Moor Rasis“. However, this statement is somewhat dubious, as we have not found reference to a locality but to an anthroponym (courtesy of Cadiz historian Alejandro Pérez Ordoñez).
A medieval road is documented in the database of the Andalusian Institute of Historical Heritage. It is the remains of a cobbled road that leaves from the south of Benamahoma in the direction of Benaocaz. According to this database, the road was used in the conquest of the Sierra. The road referred to is the path of the “Descansaero” (which we will talk about a little further on). Its urban layout is far from the usual Andalusian organisation. It is organised around two long streets that adapt to the mountainside. The houses are grouped together, as is the case elsewhere in the sierra, a universal characteristic associated with a small mountain hamlet.
Modern history of Benamahoma
Around 1485, the year in which Grazalema was conquered, the Christians definitively took the whole of this frontier area. Until then, Benamahoma had belonged to the Kingdom of Granada and probably had been exposed to the usual razes
that occurred on the borders between Muslims and Christians. With the conquest it became part of the lordship of the House of Arcos until the 19th century when it became dependent on Grazalema. In the Modern Age mills and handicrafts proliferated and the construction of its church began.
Contemporary history of Benamahoma
In the 19th century, the anthropologist Richard Ford travelled through much of Andalusia. On his way from Arcos to Ronda he passes through Benamahoma, describing the village briefly as “a village all surrounded by streams and gardens“. At the end of the century the first naturalist travellers began to arrive, attracted by the pinsapar of the higher areas. However, what most attracted the attention of these travellers was the presence of bearded vulture (Gypaetus barbatus) nests in the vicinity of Benamahoma. This bird disappeared from the Sierra de Cádiz in 1986 and is currently in the process of being reintroduced.
Benamahomaexperienced a large population growth between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, cas occurs throughout the Spanish countryside. During the time of maximum development, Benamahoma came to reach 1. 300 inhabitants (today approximately 400 remain). Its neighbours worked in agriculture, livestock and a whole series of crafts linked to the use of natural resources: carbon, lime kilns, wheat millers, fulling mills, production of chairs, tiles and copper objects.
Sunrise on an autumn day in Benamahoma (© Ayuntamiento de Grazalema-Benamahoma).
WHAT TO SEE IN BENAMAHOMA VILLAGE
Church of San Antonio de Padua
Commended to Saint Anthonyof Padua, this small, humble church was conceived as a funeral chapel. It is located next to the old cemetery. It has a single nave and is surprisingly simple. It has several images, among which the image of San Antonio de Padua stands out. According to Joaquín Ramón, there is documentation in the Malaga archives which indicates that the first stone of the church was laid in 1510, although due to its architecture it was probably built in the 17th century (1680), a period from which its oldest bell is still preserved. Perhaps the year 1510 refers to the date of consecration as a Christian temple of an earlier Islamic oratory.
In 1891 the church began to be used as a parish church, a function that was interrupted due to a fire during the Civil War.
In Benamahoma we can also find a very unique bullring. This one is attached to one of the sides of the church and was built in the 1980s. In the past, the bulls used to cross the streets of the village guided by riders on horseback. Some of these bullfighting events are associated with religious festivities such as Palm Sunday.
Chapel of San Antonio de Padua and Clock Tower
The Clock Tower is a neo-Arabic construction under which the small chapel of Saint Anthony is located. As you can imagine, this saint is the patron saint of Benamahoma. As well as being a place of worship and offerings, it is one of the highlights of the Moors and Christians festivities. The chapel is located in the Plaza de las Huertas, a meeting place for locals and travellers, a viewpoint and the centre of the Benamahometanos or Huertanos festivities (as the natives of this village are known).
Squares and viewpoints of Benamahoma
Being on the mountainside, the village of Benamahoma offers beautiful views of the surroundings. The village is dotted with small squares embellished with brick arches and neo-Mudejar ataurique decorations.
- Plaza de Andalucía
- Plaza de las Huertas
- Plaza de las Mujeres de las Huertas de Benamahoma
GASTRONOMY OF BENAMAHOMA
We love to try the typical food of each place we visit, gastronomy is one of the essences of culture. In the Sierra de Cádiz there is an abundance of Payoya goats, Merino sheep and, to a lesser extent, Retinta cows. The cheeses and game meats enjoy great fame. If we focus on the “Huertas de Benamahoma”, as the village was formerly known, here you cook with onions, peppers, garlic, tomatoes, asparagus, lemons, tagarninas (the latter are wild thistles with yellow flowers that are delicious).
The popular sopas cocías de Benamahoma
We love stews and in Benamohoma the “Sopas Cocías” are typical, a dish where the main ingredient is wood-fired bread. That is why we decided to get to know it in depth. This humble dish was prepared by the men who went to work in the fields. They used whatever they had on hand, the bread from the previous day and whatever they could find in the mountains at the time, such as thistles, mushrooms, thistles or wild asparagus.
Between February and March is celebrated the “Concurso de Sopas Cocías” which pays homage to the popular gastronomy of the area and where all the assistants can taste these traditional soups and many other dishes. They are prepared in many different ways, as the dish is given to innovation. Some people even add seafood.
Where to eat
We visited the restaurant González. There we were attended by Antonia, who, apart from an excellent cook, is a cheerful, attentive person with a great knowledge of the local gastronomy. She explained in detail every secret of the Sopas Cocías and the truth is that we ate wonderfully. Juan, her husband, is hortelano and the last one in the village who still keeps a herd of payoya goats. He offered us a cheese from Ubrique made from the milk of his goats that left us speechless. The González restaurant is located in the centre of the village and in addition to soups they specialise in game meats (venison and wild boar stew baked in the oven) and scrambled eggs typical of the area.
WATER IN BENAMAHOMA
Sources and springs. El Nacimiento
Without a doubt, what struck us most about Benamahoma was the water. In addition to the rivers, fountains and numerous springs, in Benamahoma there is “el Nacimiento”, a spectacular spring where the amount of water that gushes out of the ground is impressive, a flow of 450 litres per second. It is the largest water spring in the whole area.
This spring water is filtered through the limestone rocks of the sierra and has an exceptional purity. The water springs from the rock filling a small fenced pool and continues to flow from numerous springs that we will observe on the mountainside as we descend to the “Ecomuseo del agua”.
This water has always been the driving force of the village and has been used to irrigate its famous vegetable gardens since the Middle Ages, and has also been used for trout farms, mills, fulling mills, forges and even the first hydroelectric power station in the Sierra. The water has always been the driving force of the village and has been used to irrigate its famous vegetable gardens since the Middle Ages.
In addition to the Nacimiento, in the village of Benamahoma there are many springs, some of them are:
- Fuente de los Tres Chorros y lavadero
- Source of the Three Jets and washhouse
- Algarrobal Fountain
- Molino de Piedra Spring
- Alleyway Fountain
- San Antonio Fountain
The fountains were not only a place to get water, they were also a meeting place. The women of the village would go to the fountain of the Tres Chorros to wash their clothes and at their meetings they would sing popular songs and ditties.
Ecomuseum of the Water
This is another of the recommended visits in Benamahoma. It is an old mill converted into a water interpretation centre. Here you can learn all about the uses and customs of water in the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park.
Here, among other things, you will know first hand how the flour and oil mills worked. The production of wool fabrics was one of the main activities in Grazalema. Several fulling mills were built on the banks of the river Majaceite to press and weave the fabrics. How these mills worked is also explained in the Ecomuseum of Water.
Currently (October 2020) it is closed for renovations.
LA HUERTA DE BENAMAHOMA
The orchards are the essence of Benamahoma. The mild climate, its fertile land and its magnificent water allow practically everything to be grown. There is an abundance of organic crops and the local inhabitants are largely supplied by what is produced there. In Benamahoma there are only two small shops/supermarkets, so restaurants serve dishes prepared with produce from the garden.
Antonio is a market gardener from Benamahoma who invited us to visit several vegetable gardens that he himself works. He showed us some of his star products such as the pink tomato, a large and very fleshy variety. We shared stories with Antonio and he told us some details about the Moors and Christians festival, as he actively participates every year in this important celebration.
MORE WALKING IN BENAMAHOMA
The path of the Arroyo del Descansaero and the Molino del Susto
The day was coming to an end, but we decided to do one more trail. The “Descansaero” trail is short, although with some steep sections. We were motivated by some beautiful images we had seen of an old mill in ruins.
We were told that we were going to find plenty of shade, water, a lime kiln, a quarry and a very special place: El Molino del Susto, which we reached along a path that ran between holm oaks, gall oaks and carob trees. The truth is that it is an amazing place that seems to have been engulfed by nature and where water is the protagonist. The bucket of the 17th century mill was left unused and the water now pours into the interior in the form of a waterfall.
We managed to reach the Descansaero spring just as the sun set behind the hill opposite, but if you have more time, the path can be continued to a recreational area a little further up the hill, on the way out of Benamahoma in the direction of Grazalema. The start of the trail is signposted in front of a bus stop. It takes about 35 minutes to walk it, although if you like photography and take a dip, it will take you a little longer.
Other paths in Benamahoma
Although we have not been able to visit it due to lack of time, in the higher parts of the mountain there is an autochthonous forest of Pinsapos. It is unique in Andalusia, as the others preserved in our community are wooded patches compared to this one. A jewel of nature that we have left behind.
There are several marked trails. We only had one day to get to know the town and the surrounding area, so we opted to do two of the shorter ones. Other trails are:
- El Torreón
- The Tower
- El Pinsapar
- El Salto del Cabrero
- El Tesorillo
- Llanos del campo
WE SAY GOODBYE TO BENAMAHOMA. THE PORT OF BOYAR
If you are not in a hurry to go back home or if you are staying in a nearby rural accommodation we recommend you to go up to the Puerto del Boyar to see the sunset. It is a very special place with truly amazing views. This is also the starting point of one of the most spectacular trails in the Sierra de Grazalema, the Salto del Cabrero. We didn’t make it up this time, but we know it from previous years when we visited the area.
Looking for accommodation in Benamahoma
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MAP OF BENAMAHOMA’S PLACES OF INTEREST
As always we leave you a map with the places of interest in Benamahoma that we talked about in this post.
WILL YOU VISIT ANDALUSIA?
We leave Benamahoma with the feeling that we left a lot of things to see. We haven’t told you anything about its Moors and Christians festival (the only one in western Andalusia) or its Living Nativity Scene, but we leave the door open so that we can return later and complete this article.
Both the video and the article would not have been possible without the help and hospitality of the people of Benamahoma and the facilities of the Town Hall of Grazalema-Benamahoma (some of the graphic material in this post belongs to them). They have helped us in our adventure in these lands of Cadiz, so thousand thanks. We must also thank the Cádiz historians Alejandro Pérez Ordóñez and Joaquín Ramón for their invaluable contribution to this article, which was no small thing!