Níjar

Fuente de la Villa de Níjar 1.859 © Michelle Chaplow
Fuente de la Villa de Níjar 1.859

NÍJAR

Níjar is renowned for its superb handcrafts in pottery, ceramics and textiles. This exceptional corner of Andalusia is a stunning natural enclave, right on the edge of the Cabo de Gata Natural Park. It has been described as one of the most picturesque towns in the whole of Spain. A visit to Níjar guarantees the traveller a flavour of the ‘real’ Andalusia without the need to overspend on the trip – unless, of course, you are tempted by all the brightly coloured rugs and blankets and beautifully glazed traditional pottery on sale. The town has around 30,100 inhabitants.

HISTORY

Stone figures found in the area of Los Escullos indicate that human presence in Níjar dates as far back as the Mesolithic period, some 10,000 years ago. During the final Neolithic period, and in the Copper Age, collective settlements took place, which could be framed within the culture of Los Millares, whilst Bronze Age settlements would be linked to that of El Argar.

In the district of Barranquete there is a necropolis dating from 2330 BC with 11 burials in excavated Tholos. Also noteworthy is the formation of large rocks and volcanic lava flows on the coast of Níjar, especially in the Ensenada de Monsul and the surroundings of the Natural Park. The accessibility of the Mediterranean port of the Cabo de Gata area encouraged Phoenician occupation around the sixth and eighth centuries BC.

Publio Cornelio Escipión initiated the conquest of Hispania from Ampurias in 218 BC, which explains how Roman culture came to the Iberian Peninsula. There is an abundance of remains from this period, including hydraulic constructions, roads and burial sites. In the first stages of the Roman domination, the main interests in Níjar were the gold of Rodalquilar, the salt marshes and the fishing opportunities. During the Byzantine Empire, when Byzantium ruled from the next city of Carthago Spartaria, the area suffered invasions, some from North Africa.

From 1950, and supported by the National Institute of Colonization, practically non-existent localities began to be developed, such as Campohermoso or San Isidro, thanks to the agrarian development that the province of Almería experienced at the time; the first greenhouse constructions began in the Campo de Níjar.

© Michelle Chaplow Two charming local ladies in Nijar
Two charming local ladies in Nijar

THINGS TO SEE

Atalaya de Níjar
The Arab castle fortress dates to around 1574, when the town was a well-fortified village, guarded by men on horseback and soldiers on foot sent by Captain Luis Muñoz. It is a circular stone structure with a wider base than top, and two windows; these would have been the only access to the tower. A ladder would lead from the windows to the ground inside, which would be removed after the guards entered as a security measure. Networks of such towers would communicate with each other along the coast to act as warning posts against invasions. Portions of the defensive walls remain around the tower. Located on Calle Atalaya.

© Michelle Chaplow Iglesia de la Encarnación, Nijar

Iglesia de la Encarnación, Nijar      

Iglesia Parroquial Santa María
The church was built around an old tower, with the shield of the Emperor Charles V on its façade. Today, this forms the bell tower of the church, which was constructed in 1560, during the pontificate of Antonio Carrionero. The interior of the church is a fine example of Mudejar woodwork craftsmanship, and features a wonderful image by Alonso Cano of La Purisima Concepcion Inmaculada. The impressive stone eagle on the back wall of the tower was commissioned by Carlos I. Located in Plaza la Glorieta.

Museo del Agua
The Water Museum was built on the site of an irrigation system. The centre is dedicated to showing the traditions by which water is managed in arid areas like Almería. It has hydrological documentation, editorial funds and a digital space for consultation. Located on Calle Colón.

Opening Times:
Sunday and Monday, 10:00-14:00hrs
Tuesday-Thursday, 10:00-14:00hrs and 15:00-18:00hrs
Friday and Saturday, 10:00-14:00hrs and 15:00-20:00hrs
Tel: 950 61 22 43

THINGS TO SEE OUTSIDE THE VILLAGE

Aljibe Bermejo de Campohermoso
The Bermejo Aljibe was used for the storage and distribution of water. It measures 23m by 4.60m of masonry with mortar and has three openings in the upper part that served for the extraction of the water from its mid-barrel or cistern vault. Its enormous dimensions are due to its original use for livestock; an arc in its centre reinforces the structure against the thrust of the vault. Located on the Cordel de Almería cattle track.

La Era de los Albaricoques – ‘Albaricoques de Cine’
Los Albaricoques is known for being the filming location for numerous Western movies. Its name comes from one of its first settlers, nicknamed ‘the Apricot’. In the 1960s, its whole working population was dedicated either to the gold mines of Rodalquilar or to the collection of esparto grass. Films like ‘Death Had a Price’ and ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ turned Los Albaricoques into a natural set, in which even the locals were incorporated into the films’ settings. Today, this area is one of the biggest tourist traps in the region.

Castillo de San Pedro
This watchtower sits in the inlet of San Pedro near the town of Las Negras. Positioned in a natural refuge, and with an easy landing for boats, it was built here in the sixteenth century to house a detachment of soldiers. The tower is reached through a courtyard and a parapet, overlooking the sea, which was added in the eighteenth century. Located east of Níjar.

Torre de la Torre Blanca
Twelfth-century texts mention a tower on this site, but this is likely to have disappeared without a trace. A second tower was later raised but demolished by the Moors shortly after its construction. This tower was reconstructed in 1593, but only lasted until the middle of the seventeenth century; it was already in a state of ruin before the December 31st earthquake in 1658. By 1720, the promontory was still used for surveillance, but as the tower was ruined, the lookouts took refuge in a nearby cave. In 1767, the construction of a new tower was undertaken. Due to its high location and limited access, some of the stonework was substituted for brick. Both towers were financed by the accountant of the Island of Santo Domingo, in exchange for a position for his son in the Royal Troops stationed on that island. In 1941, the tower was under the control of the Civil Guard, and in 1960 it was sold privately to an individual who used it as a home. In 1987, it fell within the outline of the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park. Located south of Níjar.

LITERARY FAME AND CHANGING TIMES ‘CAMPOS DE NIJAR’ BY JUAN GOYTISOLO

Níjar was not always the lively and prosperous town that it is today. To enrich your visit and understand something of the hardships and misery that people suffered during the time of Franco’s dictatorship until his death in 1975, it is worth reading the short book ‘Campos de Níjar’ by Juan Goytisolo. Born in Barcelona in 1931, Goytisolo, one of Spain’s finest writers, wrote ‘Campos de Níjar’ after travelling to Almería during the 1950s. His descriptions of the residents’ lives during those very difficult times paint a stark contrast to the way things are today. This book is a fascinating insight into the incredible changes that have taken place in a very short time in Spain and especially Andalusia. The book is available in English translation from major UK bookshops and on Amazon.co.uk. (Paperback version (92 pages), published by Grant & Cutler (1996) ISBN: 0729303799).

AGRICULTURE & FISHING

As well as the famous crafts and ceramics of Níjar, there is also a strong agricultural economy. Citrus fruits, especially oranges, are cultivated in abundance, adding a wonderful fragrance to the air when the trees are in blossom. Other crops are potatoes, broad beans, garlic, alfalfa, corn, tomatoes and peppers, many of which are still grown in the ancient channels and with the irrigation systems left by the Moors centuries ago. The watering systems are controlled rigorously to make best use of the precious water in this area, where severe droughts are common. Across the surrounding countryside there are commercially grown greenhouse fruit and vegetables, which are mostly bound for exportation. The landscape is generally one of farmhouses and mills in amongst this hive of agricultural activity.

The sea also offers locals an income, and there is an active fishing culture, which adds to the rich tapestry of life in and around this small town. The craft fishing industry is popular in Agua Amarga, Las Negras, La Isleta, La Fabriquilla and San Jose with its small but active leisure port.

HANDICRAFTS

The above industries, together with a good tourist trade, keep the population busy and fruitfully employed within a buoyant economy. It is not unusual to hear the familiar clattering sound of the weaving machine making the blankets and rugs that have become so typical of the area. The people are particularly proud of their Níjar pottery, which still carries the remarkable Arabic design and colours from centuries gone by. There are five ceramic workshops in the lower part of the town and such is the fame of this time-honoured tradition that artists and craftsmen have come from many parts of the world to live and work here. This influx of outside creative talent has had the effect of inspiring local potters to experiment with new designs and colours, which is bringing even more success and popularity to this flourishing industry.

© Muchelle Chaplow Fashionable ceramics from Nijar
Fashionable ceramics from Nijar

GASTRONOMY

Visitors to Níjar con enjoy dishes such as caldo colorao (red pepper soup), gurullos (pasta based stew), caracoles en salsa (snails), carne con tomate (stewed meat), cazuela de pescado (fish stew) and berza (pork and chickpea stew). Sweets include tortas de aceite (olive oil torts), roscos de anis (aniseed biscuits) and leche frita (fried custard). Amongst the many bars and restaurants in Níjar are; Restaurante La Glorieta or Bar/Restaurante El Pipa, both in the Plaza de la Constitucion, for excellent 'tapas' and many tasty local dishes.

FESTIVALS

Cabalgata Reyes Magos
The Three Kings procession is celebrated on the evening of 5th January.

Los Chisperos
Los Chisperos is celebrated on the 6th January.

Día de San Sebastián
Día de San Sebastián is celebrated on the 20th January.

Carnavales
Carnival is traditionally celebrated in February.

Fiesta de San José
Fiesta de San José is celebrated on the 19th March.

Semana Santa
Holy Week, dates can vary.

Romería de San Isidro
Romería de San Isidro is celebrated on the 15th May.

San Juan
San Juan is celebrated on the 23rd June.

Feria de Otoño
Feria de Otoño is celebrated the third week of September.

NEARBY PLACES

The neighbouring villages to Níjar are Cabo de Gata, Retamar and Agua Amarga.

Destination tags