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White villages of Las Alpujarras

Villages in harmony with their environment

The Moorish influence on the architecture of the Alpujarran villages is easy to spot. It’s not unlike that of the villages and towns of North Africa, especially Morocco and Tunisia, and the secret lies in its perfect harmony between architecture and nature.

The houses, mostly south-facing to take advantage of the light and heat of the sun, hug the contours of the mountainside, as do the farmsteads dotted on the hillsides and the crops grown on the terraces carved into them.

The traditional Alpujarran building methods and architecture have been best preserved in the high mountain villages, with their narrow streets winding between houses built to look like large blocks placed one on top of the other. A dazzling mosaic that is a Cubist artist’s dream.

Many of these houses have been divided between family members as they have been handed down over the generations, leading to many cases of flying freeholds.

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Often they feature “Tinaos”, or covered passages where the street actually passed underneath the upper floors of the houses on either side, creating a cool and shady meeting point for neighbours to take advantage of at the end of a long hot day and get up to date with any local gossip over a glass of the local Costa wine and a rosquillo donut.

Almost all villages have a square, sometimes a mere widening of the street where one usually finds the church, the bar and, in the case of the larger villages, any other shops or businesses.

Because of the geographical inaccessibility, local materials were used for building: straw, mud, wood (often chestnut in the upper villages and olive in the lower ones, owing to their resistance to wood-worm and other wood-eating insects, not to mention their resistance to the ravages of time itself), stone, slate and launa (crushed and half-decomposed slate) on the roofs for insulation from both the sun and rain.

The houses are almost always white-washed. They are, above all, simple, practical dwellings austerely decorated and blending perfectly with their surroundings.

As a rule in the Alpujarras, a village house has two floors; the lower floor traditionally serving as stable or cuadra for animals (a pig, donkey, some chickens, for instance) with the upper floor housing the family. Bedrooms were added in a higgledy-piggledy fashion as the family grew, often children slept in one room, the parents and the newborn in the other. The hearth of the house was the kitchen with its fireplace where women cooked the meals.

The Arabic influence doesn’t stop at the architecture of the towns and the villages; it also extends to the administrative divisions or boroughs that group together various settlements or hamlets. These can be traced back to the Nasarid Tahás, or municipalities and sometimes still bear the name, such as La Tahá in Pitres, and which includes surrounding villages Ferreirola, Mecina, Mecinilla, Fondales, Atalbeitar, and Pórtugos. Some like to include Busquístar amongst them.

local building materials

Villages full of charm

This unique architectural heritage can be found in almost all the villages of the Alpujarras. In idylls such as the Barrios Hondillos in Lanjarón, Soportújar and Busquístar, or the Upper Quarter of Juviles, Mecina Bombarón, Mairena, the Lower Quarter of Cádiar.

The Barranco del Poqueira, Valley of the Poqueira river, with its three white villages, Pampaneira, Bubión and Capileira has been declared a Site of Historical and Artistic Interest, proof of the value of these villages’ heritage and the outstanding beauty of the countryside surrounding them.

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