Juzcar - See and Do

Santa Catalina, church tower. © Michelle Chaplow
Santa Catalina, church tower before being painted blue

Juzcar See and Do

Santa Catalina Church

The roads in Gaucin are like terraces built into the hillside and support the houses as they wind their way down the hill. A confusing jumble of houses and winding streets that lead to dead-ends and steps. Many of the buildings have been rebuilt in modern times and someone obviously had the monopoly on chimneys. These reach out from the irregular rooftops and are of the type you would expect to find in a modern urbanisation. The bar is a friendly place, though being one of the few watering holes in the area, it need not be. From this vantagepoint, the obvious point that catches your eye is the cemetery and church.

As usual, the main public building is the church, Santa Catalina. Dating from 1505, its only feature surviving from this period is the Mudejar style tower and one supporting arch, hidden by a lower flat ceiling. The simple single nave was remodelled on a number of occasions including 1604, when the small church at Moclon was abandoned. During the War of Independence the French caused serious damage to the church, which needed a major overhaul. Its latest rebuild in the early 1940s was as a result of attacks during the Civil War. Not simply by artillery and street battles, but by anarchists who used the war to launch an anti-clerical campaign against the church itself, which had such a strong hold on the community's way of life.

The side aisle to the left of the main nave is now used as the Cine Club for the local community. Probably now only a rarely-used public room with a TV, you can imagine the excitement 50 years ago when a travelling cinema came by. A large sheet would be erected and the whole community would congregate on a Saturday night to watch the latest Franco era film. The priest would have presided as the spiritual and culture officer, watching over his flock. His revenge would have taken place the next morning, when everyone paraded for church, to listen to one of his sermons on the evils of declining morale values. A kiss in a film today is seemingly innocent, whereas 50 years ago it was considered highly embarrassing.

The church is situated by the Cemetery, which is unusually close to the community. In leaving the dead to rest and superstition, cemeteries are normally found away from the centre. Like the village, it is within a confined space, of different levels and heights. A walk around the village takes roughly 20 minutes. In a quite corner you will find street names such as calle Franco, which indicates that time is slow in these parts.

Finca la Fabrica

This was the first site in Spain selected to manufacture tin plate. It was called after a rather cumbersome translation, ‘The never seen before in Spain Royal Tin and its Adherents Factory’. Set up under royal degree under Felipe V, its foundation was marked by a commemorative stone at the entrance to the site,.

Smelting commenced in 1731, thanks to the large surrounding forests, which produced carbon charcoal for the furnace. As iron and lead were also mined in the area, we can also presume tin came from the same source. The industrial site was situated at the junction of the two rivers, giving it ample water supply to power the bellows. Great heat was needed to smelt the ore and then roll it into tin plate.

At the time, it employed 200 workers and was a government monopoly. It had a research area which employed a further 30 technicians under the management of two Swiss engineers, Pedro Menron and Emerico Dupasquier. As tin smelting was a new process in Spain, outside assistance was required and the gentleman and their know-how were smuggled out of Germany in barrels, as the exportation of technology was forbidden, to protect the home industry. The government owned corporation used camels to move the finished tin plate to Madrid.

Much of the deforestation of the surrounding mountains probably occurred around this time. This is only now being replaced and the higher mountain peaks may one day have mature trees. After a time the wood would have grown scarce and, coupled with the rise of the industrial success of the Basques and Asturian corporations who used coal, the monopoly actually went bankrupt.

Las Mesas de Moclon

This can be found on the other side of the river from the old tin factory. Terracing and a fertile hollow confirm that this was the site of another deserted medieval community called Moclon. Situated on the old Estepona Real Canada, it had a population of 105 at the time of the military census of 1492. This had grown to 122 six years later and was considered large enough to have its own chapel (suggesting that it had previously possessed a mosque). In 1604 when the architect of Malaga Cathedral (Diaz de Palacios), visited the church he felt that it was beyond economic repair. It is probably around this stage that the church in Juzcar became a parish seat and the building was enlarged to accommodate its new status.

Though now depopulated except for a few outlying fincas and the name left on the landscape, this area by the river comes alive between 24-26 August of each year, when the village celebrates its patron saint, the Virgen del Moclon. This draws in visitors from the neighbouring areas and is the biggest celebration in the year. Local tradition tells the story that a young shepherd boy was in the area of Moclon, when he came across a small statue. He picked it up as a souvenir and took it home as a toy. The statue vanished before he got it home, and, after relocating it, he reported that it disappeared again. On a fourth attempt, he used it as target practice in frustration, cutting the face. In later years when it underwent repairs for the damage, but returned to the same condition and the damage can still be seen today.

On the outskirts of town heading towards Cartajima, a rural hotel (Hotel Bandalero). It blends in well with the village and is only waiting for time to weather its paint. Just past the hotel on the right, a good track that leads down to the river and back up onto the Pujerra - Igualeja road. The river at this point has protected trout fishing rights and permits are required. However, it gives another beautiful access point to this mysterious river.

These sites can be accessed from the track leaving the MA517 at an unmarked junction (GPS 36* 37' 17"N 5* 10' 36"W Google maps) between the villages of Júzcar and Farájan. It continues on to join the Pujerra - Jubrique track.