La Joya is an old mining settlement named after the Arroyo de la Joya, some 70km north of Huelva, close to the Atlantic and the Portuguese border in the Comarca (area) of La Andavalo, west of the Sierra de Aracena. It sits in rolling countryside south of the lesser-known hill-range of the Sierra de Pelada ('bare mountains'), near the town of Cabezas Rubias ('redheads') on the HU-7104 road.
La Joya ('the jewel') is an important site in the little-known history of Spain's pre-Christian Tartessian culture, the individuals, possibly of Phoenician descent, who ruled Tartessos, as this region of Spain was known, around 1100BC. Much of Tartessos and its culture disappeared beneath subsequent waves of invasion (some of it is now being excavated from the mouth of the Guadalquivir river at San Lucar de Barrameda), but at the Necropolis in La Joya hundreds of Tartessian artefacts were discovered, and some are now even on display in the Louvre in Paris. One piece, a bronze wine jug, depicts a duel between Tartessian leader Gerión, who ruled the region circa 550BC, and Hercules, the mythical Greek figure represented in public architecture in Ronda and elsewhere. The height of Tartessian culture coincided with the height of Phoenician and Greek exploration of the western Mediterranean and the Iberian Atlantic coast. The findings also shed light on this mysterious semi-lost culture's funerary rites, and many of the objects can be seen in the municipal museum of the city of Huelva.
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The bronze wine jug attests to the region's early discovery of mining for and trading in metals, a trade that reached its peak in the 19th century but continues today, in reduced form, not least at the Rio Tinto mines on the river of that name near Huelva. Today, La Joya's mines are abandoned.
In the 19th century, La Joya was also connected by a small narrow-gauge (60cm) rail line to the main Heulva-Zafra railway route 15km away at the town of Tamujoso. Built in 1908 the company Hijos de Vázquez López to transport iron pyrites (fool's gold) from the mines. The rail line closed when the mines did in 1924, and the rail line was dismantled in 1946. Only vestiges of the line remain today, three crumbling viaducts and several cuttings seen.