Málaga Province - Alameda

This small town of barely 5,000 inhabitants north-west of Antequera is probably most famous for its cadaverous celebrity El Tempranillo, the legendary 19th century bandit born in nearby Jauja and buried in Alameda's Iglesía de la Purísima Concepción church. The so-called Principe de la Sierra, prince of the mountains, is the most colourful of Andalucía's many bandit heroes.

Alameda was first settled as a town by the Phoenicians, but there is archaeological evidence of habitation dating back to Paleolithic and Neolithic times, probably 2-2,500 BCE. Vestiges of these settlements can be seen at the Necrópolis Calcolítica just outside the town, a system of over twenty interconnected burial pits or ossuaries, some a metre wide.

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Alameda was also an important settlement in Roman times, with the remains of a Roman villa and baths and a wealth of artefacts discovered suggesting a major trade and military base at the site in the first century BC. The remains of the baths are maintained in a 3000 square metre enclosure in Calle Enmedio, and have been dated to between the first and third centuries AC. The site is now a preserved national monument.

Like much of the region, it was overrun by Visigoth invaders and later by Moorish settlers in the eighth century. The Catholic reconquistadores took the town in 1240, relatively early in the Reconquest, and when the new Spanish order was established the town, then a small hamlet, was placed under the control of the Marqués of Estepa, to the north-west of the town. The region itself was under the rule of the Order of Santiago - the Knights of St James - until 1559, a time when Alameda had barely thirty inhabitants. The town grew during the 17th century, thanks to its specialisation in esparto grass, wood and carpentry (one version of the origin of its name is from a poplar grove), and an influx of settlers from Estepa itself.

In 1883 Alameda was incorporated into the newly created province of Málaga, under the control of Archidona. This was an unpopular and confusing decision in a village that was still under the orders of both the bishop of Estepa and the archbishop of Seville. The town was only placed under the orders of the archbishop of Málaga as late as 1959.

The baroque Iglesía de la Purísima Concepción was built in 1696, the church tower being a later addition, along with the remarkable rococo altar piece at the head of the nave. The church was actually expanded sideways in 1779 with two new aisles, supported by eight massive pillars, to accommodate the town's burgeoning new population. The tomb of El Tempranillo can be seen in the church's interior patio.

The main focus of Alameda is the central Fuente de la Placeta, built from delicate local stone at the time of King Carlos III, in the Plaza de España. Until recent decades it was still the main source of fresh water for the town, and the sizeable width of the fountain's base, built perhaps deliberately, made it impossible to fill a large pitcher without leaning over and falling into the fountain. Townsfolk developed a trick of putting the pitcher on the ground and filling it using a hollow cane reed. The nearby Plaza de la Constitution is a pleasant tree-lined square with benches where townspeople take their evening paseo, walk.

Just outside town, the Mirador de la Camorra offers excellent views over the town and surrounding landscape, some 250 metres higher than Alameda's 430 metres above sea level. There's an easy path to the top. A couple of kilometres west of town is the Laguna de la Ratosa, like the nearby Fuente de Piedra a place to find flamingos and other migrating birds and an abundance of other wildlife.

Alameda's key festivals are its February Candelaria procession, the three-day celebrations for its patron saint, San Isidro Labrador, on 15-18 March, and the August feria, held in the first week of the month. The town still specialises in its work with esparto grass, wood and carpentry, in particular silleria, the production of wood seats.