Igualeja is the largest of the Upper Genal villages in the Serrania de Ronda. It has a population of 950, many of whom commute to Ronda. Most travellers pass through this large municipal district travelling on the San Pedro to Ronda road without ever having heard of Igualeja or the Alto Genal
The junction by the petrol station and cafe called Rincon Taurino marks the country road running off to Igualeja from the A-376 Ronda to San Pedro road. .
From the main road, a nine kilometre winding country road leads down to Igualeja. The harsh limestone scenery dominates the early sections of the road, but this soon gives way to the lower slopes covered in chestnut trees. As in many of the Alto Genal villages, these are harvested and processed by a co-operative, whose barns can be seen en route.
Nacimento Rio Genal
The village is strung along a gully and is not on a crest like other villages in the area. This does seem to suggest that the village was re-established after the Morisco uprising and only further research on the church minaret would determine this observation.
Before entering the village by a small bridge almost without a parapet oposite the municipal swimming pool, a small road leads down to the Nacimento Genal (source of the River Genal). The clear waters flow from a small cave and into a number of pools, before finally running into a stream. Though a number of tributaries such as the Rio Seco penetrate deeper into the limestone mountains, the town prides itself on being the source of the river. A valid claim, when Seco means dry and in the summer months this is the river’s only source of running water from the large limestone expanse.
Almost immediately one rejoins the main road, there is a junction leading down to a lower part of the pueblo. The village itself is built on various levels, which explains its steep and winding streets. Apart from the obvious centre dominated by the church, it has two other smaller barrios. The houses are typically vernacular in style, strung along a typical medieval street pattern.
The Church of Santa Rosa de Lima was originally built on the site of a mosque, as a small chapel. The current building dates from 1604 when it was built to the plans of Pedro Diaz de Palacios, who was attached as an architect to Malaga Cathedral. It was added to in 1658 and again in 1675. It is remarkable that the Moorish minaret has survived and although highly praised, in reality only the lower regions of the tower retain details from the medieval period. Inside, a number of interesting statues survived the Civil War, including a 17 th century Granada style coloured wooden statue of St Anthony of Padua. Various other 18 th century statues exist to Jesus, along with an image of San Gregorio Magno holding in his hands a white silver three armed cross. The church must have been badly damaged during the early days of the Civil War, as it was renovated in 1972 in a neo-fascist style. As the pueblo expanded during the 18 th century, the Hermitage of the Divine Pastor was built to oversee the needs of a new quarter.
In association with a further festival the Niche of Misercordia can be seen, which resembles the front of a hermitage church, minus its nave.
So as not to forget that this pueblo was re founded in the name of Christ, overlooking the village is a hill with a large cross. Known as the Cruz de la Fuentasanta, it can be reached via two cave entrances. Both Cueva de la Fuentasanta and Cueva la Excentrica are below the cross and some the reasoning for the place name remains obscure
Cave of the Eccentrics is located above the village and is quite small, but its karst formations are interesting and includes chasms where you can see stalagmites, stalactites, It is not difficult to traverse, making it perfect for those who want to start caving. A local guide must be hired for the visit.
Driving out of the village towards Pujerra, the road bends to cross the deep-sided Rio Seco, with its tree lined valley.
In spite of this modest claim to fame, the village is virtually ignored by even the most adventurous tourists. Almost the only historical information that we have relates to the years after the expulsion of its original Moorish inhabitants and the appropriation of their lands by Christian settlers. According to the admittedly scant records, the land was divided into equal portions which were given to the incoming families - each plot intended to be sufficient to support a family, and nothing more. Predictably, this early experiment in social egalitarianism was doomed to fail, but while it lasted, Igualeja became a byword as far away as Ronda, where a piece of contemporary doggerel declared: Los de Igualeja, todos iguales, todos iguales (the people of Igualeja are all equal, all equal). Nothing there to frighten Lord Byron, but it told the tale.
The people are famed for being tough and ruthless, with such stories abound as ‘two lives for an olive tree’. Part of the pueblo’s violent reputation stems from two infamous bandits, who were born in the village. In the early days of the 19th century, Zamarrilla probably made his name plundering the French and he certainly carried on with his ways after their withdrawal. He finally surrendered and paid his penance when he took part in the Holy Week in Malaga. A much less worthy character was Francisco Flores Arocha, who terrorised the surrounding mountains and the old Ronda-Marbella road. He was finally hunted down and killed nearby at Fuenfria in the Sierra de las Nieves National Park by the Guardia Civil in 1932. He was 36 and left a wife and five children.
Having said that the inhabitants are ruthless, they put on a passionate and almost gruesome passion play, on Holy Thursday and Friday. The finale is the raising of three crosses on a hill outside the pueblo, with live bodies ‘crucified’ on them. Unlike their counterparts in the Philippines who are secured by nails, these individuals are thankfully tied by discrete ropes and a small parapet to support the feet. A large cast assembles around them, all dressed in Roman period costume but, surprisingly, the spectacle does not attract vast numbers of visitors.
At the end of the village there is an unmarked turning on the left on a newly tarmaced old track which secretly leads back to the San Pedro - Ronda Road. Those heading back to the coast will definately find this the quickest route. Although it is steep and a little narrow the wonderful tarmac makes it passable by saloon car in all weathers.
Otherwise the road continues throught the chestnut trees to Purjerra. Before Pujerra (at km 3,5) you can take a track to Juzcar. after Pujera you can take the country road back to Puerta de Madroñal further down the Ronda road or follow the track (4x4 only after winter rains) over to Jubrique for Estepona or Gaucin.
Walking guide books by Guy Hunter Watts
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Walking in Andalucía is a 260 page full colour guide to some of the very best walks in southern Spain, taking the walker on 34 routes - all starting and most finishing in beautiful villages - in the Natural Parks of Grazalema, La Alpujarra, Cazorla, Los Alcornocales, Aracena, and La Axarquia. Many of the full and half day walks are virtually unknown even though they are a short drive from the Costa del Sol. Even though more and more people are beginning to walk Spain's southern sierras, most of the routes remain blissfully undiscovered. Guy says, 'If you decide to head for the hills with my guide you can be sure of two things: you will be walking through areas of great natural beauty and you will meet with other walkers.'
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The dramatically situated town of Ronda can make a great base for a walking holiday in the mountains of Andalucía, as can any one of the picturesque 'pueblos blancos' (white villages) that nestle among the surrounding hills. This guidebook presents 32 mainly circular walks in the Ronda region, covering the town and its environs, the Natural Parks of La Sierra de Grazalema and La Sierra de las Nieves (both UNESCO biosphere reserves), and the Genal and Guadiaro Valleys. Clear route description is illustrated with mapping, and the route summary table and 'at a glance' information boxes make it easy to choose the right walk.
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