The castle in Velez Blanco, Almeria
Face to face with history and nature in Almerias Sierra Maria-Los Velez nature park.
One of the most popular logos in Spain was created by an anonymous designer some 5,000 years ago. It appears on a sheltered rock face in the Sierra Maria-Los Velez mountains in the north of Almeria province. Representing a man with outstretched arms holding aloft an arch, it perhaps had some magical significance, or maybe was simply a marker indicating which tribe lived in this territory. The symbol, which appears in other Neolithic sites of eastern Andalusia, was adopted in the 1960s as an emblem by an avant-garde artistic movement in Mojacar, on the Almeria coast. They gave it its name, "Indalo". Today, by extension, it has become a symbol for the province of Almeria.
Viewed from a distance the Sierra Maria-Los Velez, with its sheer mountain slopes gouged by centuries of rain and wind, holds little indication of the treasures it conceals. Yet this 54,000-acre area, now protected as a nature park, has many surprises for the visitor, including a rural lifestyle long disappeared from other parts of Spain. Here, goatherds still spend the night under the stars as they guard their flocks, families bake their daily bread in the communal oven, and day-to-day business is carried on at an unhurried, human pace.
Not far from where the Indalo was found is the Cueva de los Letreros (the Cave of Symbols), where striking stylised drawings of witch doctors, warriors and game indicate that man has called this land home since prehistory. But if there is one single site that stands out as the Sierras most prominent landmark it is the striking profile of the castle above the village of Velez Blanco. Rising with astounding verticality on a hilltop, it was built in the early 16th century by the lord of these lands, the flamboyant Marques de Velez, who incorporated the existing Moorish Alcazar to create an impregnable fortress.
The village below, a maze of narrow streets and bubbling fountains, is a good base from which to explore the Sierra Maria-Los Velez nature park. The park, with its landscape of mountains and pine forests, makes for excellent walking and off-trail biking expeditions, aside from harbouring a unique wildlife. This is one of the few places in southern Spain where you can spot squirrels, for instance. It is also home to the threatened European tortoise (testudo graeca), which is now being bred at a special centre in the park to increase its numbers. Other actions have included the reintroduction of the impressive griffon vulture, in an ambitious plan to repopulate the sierras with these high-flying birds.
The best plan for exploring the park is to stop first at the Visitors Centre at the Almacen de Trigo, in Velez Blanco. For those who want to stay, a tempting option is the increasing number of rural guest houses dotted around the countryside. The Velez Blanco visitors centre also serves as a central reservations office for many of them.
Centro de Visitantes Sierra Maria-Los Velez (park visitors centre) Amacen de Trigo, Marques de los Velez s/n, 04830 Velez Blanco (Almeria), Spain. Tel. 34 950 415 651, Fax 34 950 614 931
Nearest airports: Almeria (125 miles, 200 kms) and Granada (105 miles, 170 kms)
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Copyright © 2000 An Andalusian Experience. Text by Mark Little. Photography by J. D. Dallet - A Freelance Spain production
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Copyright © 2000-2006 Mark and David Little & J.D. Dallet