Magical Villages in the Serranía de Ronda: Letter B, from Benadalid to Benarrabá
Except Benaoján, other three villages are placed in the Genal Valley.
Benadalid, a town of Celtic origin and Arab spirit, is one of the ‘white villages’ in the Genal Valley, placed at an altitude of 690 m. Current position of this village with 236 inhabitants (the records from 2021) was established under Arab rule in the 8th century when a Berber tribe called ‘Beni-Al-Khalid’ came to the area. The village was named after them ‘Bendadalid’ or ‘descendants of Khalid’. Nevertheless, some authors claim that a fortress in Bendadalid had already existed under Roman rule.
The town, as the administrative unit, extends from the Genal River to the Guadiaro Valley. This territory consists of rather different landscapes and rugged terrain. In the Genal Vallley, there are plenty of olives, chestnuts, holm and cork oaks, while the Guadiaro Valley embraces vineyards, almond trees and cereal fields. Benadalid Crag (1116m) is in the middle of these two valleys.
This town is an excellent example of custom, traditions, and popular architecture, which is adapted to the mountainous land of the Serranía de Ronda. In Benadalid, on the Costa del Sol, you can learn about Roman, Muslim and Celtic history, discover a one-of-a-kind castle, which was turned into a cemetery, and enjoy the natural resources of the Serranía de Ronda.
St Isidore Parish Church is one of the most important buildings in Benadalid. It is placed next to the Town Hall, on ‘Bení Al Jalí’ square and it was built in 1505 and refurbished in 18th century. Today, a main arch on the front part of the church and a Mudejar-style door, which has been covered up, remain from the original temple. The clock on the bell tower was donated in 1954 by the Consistory.
On the outskirts of the village, you can visit Benadalid castle, an absolutely unique buildings and one of the most interesting in the area. It is of Roman or Arab origin from the 13th or 16th century, which is still being argued by experts. However, the most curious feature of the castle is its use. There are four towers on the corners of its base. The castle first belonged to the Count of Feria, and then to the Duke and Duchess of Alcalá, after the Christians had conquered this land. In the 17th century, it became property of Medinaceli family, and it was where the mayor of Benadalid and Benalauría lived.
Today, there is a town cemetery. What is more, it turns into a venue for the Moors and Christians Festival (Unique Festivity of Tourist Interest in the Province). The plot of this festival is related to the brawls between Moors and Christians (Mudejar uprising in 1501 and Moriscos’ rebellion in 1570), which took place after the capitulation was withdrawn. The plays are similar to those in Benalauría: Saracens steal the image of the local patron saint, there is a battle, after which it gets liberated by the Christians and there is a great celebration. After this performance, there is a procession in which both groups participate. Benalauría has an interpretation centre related to this celebration.
Next to the castle or cemetery, there is a calvary cross (Cruz del Humilladero), a monument from 1776, which commemorates Arabs’ surrender and the conquest of Ronda by the Catholic Monarchs. During general Franco’s dictatorship, this monument was renamed ‘The Cross of the Fallen’ (Cruz de los Caídos).
Another must-see in Benadalid is El Alambique, an old distillery, which is now placed in the Popular Art and Customs Museum. This is where you can see utensils and tools that were used for old jobs and traditional farming chores. Moreover, there is a bar & restaurant with typical dishes of the area.
Finally, we recommend another ‘unique corner’ in Benadalid - Water Museum, a history interpretation centre at the old washing place, which is called ‘the old basin’ and it received the water from the Roman Fountain on the right of it.
The village is rather steep. It is placed on the eastern side of the hill, at an altitude of 665 m from which one can see Africa, and has a population of 436 people. Benalauría is a stunning village of Berber’s origin on the border of the Serranía de Ronda, between the valleys and mountains, and it gives us one of the most beautiful sceneries on the Costa de Sol.
Its name comes from the Berbers, who colonised the area in the first third of the 8th century and were descendants of Banu-I-Hawariya’s tribe. It belonged to the province of Cora or Takurunna and to the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada from the 14th century. After the Cristian conquered this land and then banished Moriscos in 1570, Banalauría’s population decreased as well as the population of the rest of villages in the valley, and it was repopulated by the people who came from the Guadalquivir Valley and the Sierra Morena.
Al-Andalus heritage is more than obvious in the centre of the village, which has horizontal streets supported by many vertical ways.
When you go sightseeing, we recommend startiing with St Dominic de Guzmán (Santo Domingo de Guzmán) Church from the 16th century. There are images of patron saints of Banalauría, St Dominic de Guzmán and Our Lady of the Rosary. The latter one was the only thing that remained after the chapel was burnt down during the Spanish Civil War.
Moorish spirit has been kept alive in the memory and traditions of the people from Benalauría. The town has an interpretation centre called ‘Moors and Christians’ House, thanks to which one can learn about Muslim past on the Costa del Sol and the battles fought by the Catholic Monarchs during the Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula.
Other interesting place in this village is the famous Roman Columbarium (cemetery) in the Moorish farmstead. This archaeological site consists of a burial pantheon from approximately the 1st century. There are some ruins of a small farmhouse next to it.
If you would like to learn more about the local customs and farming, these places are for you – Winery and Ethnographic Museum. The Winery (Lagar) of Benalauría is still a place where different craftspeople come to work. As we can learn from its name, in the past this was a place where people used to tread grapes to produce wine.
In an old oil mill from the 18th century, you will find the Ethnographic Museum. The mill was used until the 1960s and its machinery is still functional. The museum also conserves some tools which were used to mill olives and an impressive twelve-metre-long beam, which was used for pressing. This museum has a guide and a souvenir shop with typical town products.
Next to the consistory building, there is an interpretation centre about the Moors and Christians Festival, which has been considered a National Tourist Heritage in Andalusia and a Unique Tourist Festivity in the province. It is celebrated on the first Friday of August. This is a live performance where local people participate and it talks about the Mudejar uprising in 1501 in the Sierra Bermeja, during which round one hundred Christian soldiers, like Alonso Aguilar, a younger brother of great Captain Gonzalo Fernánez de Córdoba, died for the victory at Calaluz or Calalui. Some authors believe the battle took place on Castellón Hill or Reales Chicos in the Los Reales de Sierra Blanca Natural Beauty Spot, although there are others who, based on the names of the places, believe it happened on Canalizo Hill.
Finally, we would like to remind you that, besides many different paths, stages 4 And 5 of the long-distance Great Serranía de Ronda Path (GR 141), and stages 26 and 27 of the long -distance Great Málaga Path (GR 249) go through this village.
The plan of this village comes from the Arab period, something you can see in its steep curvy streets, under which the most important cave system in Spain lies. This village and municipality is placed at an altitude of 564 m and has 1,470 inhabitants. This is a must-see destination in the inland of Málaga. Some of the diverse activities you can enjoy doing in this village are: hiking, climbing, mountain bike routes, canoeing in the Guadiaro or potholing in Gato Cave and a visit to Pileta Cave.
The village we can see today is of Muslim origin because, according to some sources, it was created when Berbers’ tribe from the descendants of Ojan had settled close to Cascajares Spring. After the reconquest of the land in the 15th century, Benaoján started decreasing in its population number, due to the exile of Moriscos. Then the repopulation of the village was ordered, and sixty new families came.
Benaoján, is one of the towns that are included in the Sierra de Grazalema Nature Park. It has a great number of cold meat factories which are placed in the centre and La Estación neighbourhood.
One should also visit the upper part of the village, with narrow streets and white houses, as well as Our Lady of the Rosary church, which keeps its original display from the 17th century and a goth vault at the high altar. Finally, you should also visit the Moorish Tower (Torre del Moro), built by Muslims to observe the busy way through the Guadiaro Valley, and to shelter from the attacks. Today, this tower is in ruins.
Famous Pileta Cave is also in this village, only four kilometres away from its centre. It has archaeological remains from the Palaeolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age (from more than 30,000 years ago) and it has been declared National Monument in 1924. Besides the rock cave paintings in it, which are the most important in Andalusia, there are also incredible stalactites and stalagmites in its galleries.
Gato Cave Natural and National monument, also stands out. It is located next to the train station, and it is very important for science due to a complex underwater river system beneath it.
Sexima Tower, which can be seen from Ronda motorway, and the source of the Benaoján River, which is stunning when it rains a lot, are sights worth mentioning as well.
Festivals which are celebrated in this village are: St Mark’s Festival (at the end of April), Our Lady of the Rosary Fair (beginning of October) and Train Dance (verbena) in La Estación [the Station] neighbourhood (end of July or beginning of August). Cold Meat Fair, which belongs to the category of Unique Festival in the province, is celebrated in December.
Can you imagine what the inland of this province was like during Muslim control? Can you imagine those narrow streets, food and people… Benarrabá is a town at an altitude of 520 metres, where Al-Andalus culture can be seen and sensed at every step. Even the name of the village, which means ‘Children of Rabbah’, and water fountains in the village remind of the old mixture of cultures and the splendours of the past.
However, this village in the south of the Serranía de Ronda appealed to the old settlers not only because of its urban life, but also due to the beautiful nature which surrounds it. Benarrabá even has a canyon which is more than 100 metres deep, where vultures nest and some dare to go climbing.
This is a beautiful white village with 438 inhabitants in the Genal Valley under the slope of Porón Mountain. The village had a castle on the mountain, which was its origin, but it does not exist anymore. The layout of the streets, fountains, wells and canals are all over this place and talk about its Moorish past, when water was considered to be the origin of life with purifying qualities.
Today, the most important monument in Benarrabá is the Church of Our Lady of the Incarnation, which was built in the first half of the 18th century, although it might have been built before on the foundations of an old mosque. It was refurbished on several occasions throughout history, and considerably after the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).
The same as other villages in the inland of the Costa del Sol, country chapels are of great cultural and artistic importance here. This village has Holy Christ of the True Cross Chapel from the 18th century, which is simple and has only one nave, though there can be seen a bell gable with one opening from the outside.
Finally, we also recommend walking down Saucal, Baja, Estación and Sol Streets where one can admire plenty of buildings from the 18th century, its metal balustrades, 18th-century facades and large windows. Casa Lola or ‘Lola House’ is a very original building, which is full of symbols and details in front of Cabildo Square, which was named after Cabildo’s House (a building of church ministers) where a small community of clergy used to live.
Cold meat which is elaborated in the village can be tasted along, so called, ‘Tapas Route’. Festivals dedicated to the village’s patron saints are on 20th January – St Sebastian, and on 29th September – St Michael.
At Easter, there is a festival called ‘Baby Jesus in the garden’, when local people organize a religious play about the Three Wisemen on the eve before 6th January. Moreover, Food Fair of the Serranía de Ronda is celebrated on the Day of Andalusia, and Moorish Moon (Luna Mora) Flamenco Festival of the Genal is celebrated in August.
Finally, do not forget that besides many other paths that go through Benarrabá, there is stage 3 of the Great Serranía de Ronda Path (GR141) and stages 3 of the alternative trail 6 of the Great Málaga Path (GR 249).