Ancient civilisation and modern science share the landscape of eastern Andalusia.
In 1891 work on a new railway line in Almeria unearthed ruins of what turned out to be a 5000-year-old settlement. Further investigation uncovered a fascinating and hitherto unsuspected chapter in Spanish history: the civilization of Los Millares.
The town of Los Millares thrived during the Copper Age and gave rise to the first major civilisation in Spain. The settlement is located on a windswept hill overlooking the Andarax river, not far from the present-day village of Santa Fe de Mondujar, 10 miles from the city of Almeria. The existence of formidable defense walls indicate that its inhabitants had something to protect, and the fact that there are series of concentric defense systems tells us that the Los Millares increased in size over the generations, to become a major town. Large, dome-shaped stone tombs show the community had a complex social set-up.
The people of Los Millares were principally farmers, but they were also active in trade and were the first to master the craft of copper smelting in Spain, and came to dominate the entire region.
Excavation continues at the site to reveal further secrets of this mysterious race. At the visitors centre opened in spring 2000 guides explain the Los Millares story to travelers before showing them around the ruins of the settlement. Decorative symbols on ceramics unearthed here indicate that the people of Los Millares revered the Sun God, and one can imagine these ancient dwellers gazing up into the clear night sky of Almeria and wondering at the stars.
Theyre still gazing at the sky in wonder not far from here, at one of the most advanced astronomical observatories in Europe. The Calar Alto observatory rises within sight of Los Millares, on the 7,110-ft. summit of the Sierra de Filabres.
The first telescope was installed in 1975; today the centre is equipped with five reflecting telescopes - the largest of which incorporates a 138-inch mirror and is housed in a 145-foot dome - with which astronomers can study the furthest depths of the Universe. Jointly administered by the Max-Planck Institute of Heidelberg, Germany, and Spains Comision Nacional de Astronomia, Calar Alto was installed here due to the unrivalled viewing conditions, with more than 200 clear nights a year.
Although principally a scientific facility, the observatory welcomes visits, by prior appointment, from those genuinely interested in astronomy. The surrounding area is also a popular place for those who want to enjoy a landscape of pine trees and the spectacular view from the mountaintop, taking in the Tabernas dessert and the Mediterranean coast 40 miles away: a magnificent sight, even without the benefit of a telescope.
Centro de Visitantes (Visitors Centre) - Los Millares, 04420 Sante Fe de Mondujar (Almeria), Spain. Tel. 34 627 521 895
Centro Astronomico Hispano Aleman - Apartado de Correos 511, 04080 Almeria, Spain. Tel. 34 950 230 988. Fax 34 950 230 373
Nearest airport: Almeria
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Copyright © 2001 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