by Saskia Mier
Estepa is famous for two very different reasons. Chiefly it is renowned for the biscuits known as polvorones and mantecados which bakers make each Christmas and are traditionally eaten across this region of Andalucía. Its other claim to fame is a grisly mass suicide 2,200 years ago, when in 208 BCE Roman invaders found that the entire population of what was then a small but important outpost of Carthage had torched their homes and killed themselves rather than be overrun by the Romans. It has about 12,500 inhabitants.
Archaeological remains that have been found suggest settlements during the seventh century BC, but the first stable settlers were the Turdetanos, settled on the San Cristóbal hill. Later, the Carthaginians found Astapa, built on a hill to control the passing roads. During the Punic Wars, it was destroyed by Roman troops, resulting in inhabitants preferring to commit suicide instead of living under Roman rule.
The Romans re-populated the town from their settlements elsewhere in the region and called it Ostippo, although they themselves were ejected by Visigoths from the Baltic regions four centuries later. In the eighth century, the Moorish armies who had invaded the south-western tip of the region in 711 CE took the town and renamed it Istabba. The Arabs renovated an abandoned pre-Roman castle at the top of the San Cristóbal, and began fortifying it against incursions during the Re-Conquest. Shifts in power between various caliphates saw it fall under the control of different caliphs, including the Kingdoms of both Granada and Sevilla. The renowned poet Al Zawwali lived here before returning to Marrakech in 1220 shortly before his death.
Estepa, as it would be re-christened, was taken quite early in the Re-Conquest by King Fernando III "El Santo" in 1241, but was the subject of regular attacks from Granada, which would not fall to the Christians until 1492. Life in the town stabilised following the Conquest and, like its larger neighbour Osuna, Estepa settled into comfortable wealth in this prime agricultural region of Andalucía, which is apparent by the number of fine mansions in the town centre. As the town expanded, downhill from the castle, it effectively departed the protective bailey, leaving the San Cristóbal hill and fortifications abandoned.
Like westerly Olvera, Estepa's fortunes took an unexpected turn in the early nineteenth century, when the consequences of successive wars and economic downturn transformed Estepa into a haven for the bandoleros (bandits) who haunted the mountains and often made outrageous forays into the towns and villages. Most notorious was José Maria Hinojosa Cabacho, "El Tempranillo", who once stated that while the King may well rule Spain he, Tempranillo, ruled the mountains. Infamous names such as Juan Caballero, El Vivillo and El Pernales were also regular visitors. The bandoleros were dealt with in brutal reprisals. In 1886, Queen Maria Cristina honoured the town with the title of City by Royal Disposition, a sign of its status in the region.
THINGS TO SEE
Palacio de los Marqueses de Cerverales
Estepa's architectural star is undoubtedly the eighteenth century Palacio, officially declared a National Historic Artistic Monument in 1984. It was completed in 1756 by the first Marquis of Cerverales, Manuel Bejarano y Campañón, and freatures a Baroque façade with spiral Solomon columns, and a typical open courtyard in the interior. Located on Calle Castillejos.
Museo Arqueológico P. Martín Recio
The archaeological museum has a collection of local finds dating back to the Paleolithic period, and religious artefacts from Roman, Visigothic, Arabic and later cultures, including an intriguing Roman 'hypnos', or statue of the God of Sleep. The building itself was built in 1636 as a school, was converted into a prison in 1702, and in the early twentieth century reverted to a school run by a local religious order. Located on Calle Ancha.
Weekends, by appointment in Oficina de Turismo
Tel: 955 91 27 17, 955 91 47 04
Plaza El Carmen
The central square was built in honour of the Virgin Carmen and was expanded in 1745 to accommodate a bullring. Spain's shifting political fortunes have seen it baptised with various names over the centuries: Constitution Square, Royal Square, Republic Square, Generalísimo (General Franco) Square among them. It is known to townsfolk as "el salon" (the lounge), and is ideal to sit under the shade of its trees.
The city walls that still surround the old town on the San Cristóbal hill were first built in the tenth century by the Moors, renovated by Almohad invaders in the twelfth, and again reconstructed when Estepa fell to the Christian Order of Santiago in the thirteenth century. The keep inside the walls was built against attacks from Granada in the fourteenth century, and at 26 metres offers sweeping views of the town and surrounding countryside.
The castle was known in the Islamic period as Hisn Istabba, and was taken by Fernando III "El Santo" on 15 August 1241, day of the Assumption of the Virgin, which is why she was chosen as patron saint for the town. Located on Cerro de San Crsitóbal.
Torre del Homenaje
A defensive tower built by Lorenzo Suárez de Figueroa, Master of Santiago, it carried out defensive and logistical functions, measuring 26 metres high by 13 metres wide. On clear days, you can see Sierra Nevada from the roof. Located on Carril Santa Clara.
The octagonal tower is related to the expansion of the African dynasties Almoravid and Almohad in the south of the peninsula and was important to control the territory. It was used as a family pantheon until 1968, when the cemetery was closed, and it underwent different modifications and additions. Located on Cerro de San Crsitóbal.
Torre de la Victoria
The 40-metre high tower belonged to the Convent de la Victoria and was built between 1760 and 1766, currently preserved in perfect condition, although the church to which it belonged was demolished in 1939. Located in Plaza la Victoria.
Mercado de Abastos
The market was built between 1884 and 1886 and is supplied with fruit and vegetables from Aguadulce, Lora de Estepa, Badolatosa and Puente Genil. Located on Calle Hortelanos.
Museo de Arte Sacro
A museum where you can enjoy pictorial samples, altarpieces and images from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Valuable pieces exhibited include a reliquary from the Byzantine period of the "lignum crucis", another silver reliquary with the skull of Saint Agnes and a parish cross from 1580. Located within the Iglesia de Santa María.
Monday-Sunday, 11:00-14:00hrs and 16:30-21:00hrs.
Tel: 955 91 27 17
Iglesia de Santa María
The church was built by the Order of Santiago between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries on a more primitive Gothic church site built above a Muslim building. It was declared an Asset of Cultural Interest in 2001 and is currently home to the Museo de Arte Sacro. Located on Cerro de San Cristóbal.
Convento de San Francisco
Franciscan monks built the Convent in the north-east corner of the hill in 1603 and, along with its church and house of novitiates, it still stands. The tower is 22 metres high and topped by an impressive belfry and spire. Located on Cerro de San Cristóbal.
Convento de Santa Clara
The convent was built by two of the local Marquises and Franciscans. A central niche contains a sculpture of Santa Clara, and around it the coats of arms of the Centurión and Fernández de Córdoba families, as well as the coat of arms of the Franciscan Order. The altar was built by Pedro Ruiz de Paniagua. Located on Carril Santa Clara.
Estepa is incredibly rich in historical monuments. Also worth visiting are: Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles, Iglesia de San Sebastián, Ermita de San Isidro Labrador, Ermita de San Marcos, Ermita de Santa Ana, Iglesia del Carmen, Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, Antiguo Pósito and Palacio del Marqués del Oro.
The town also has a rich agricultural countryside dotted with farmhouses that for centuries have exploited the land. They include: Cortijo de Cañaveralejo, Cortijo de La Palma, Cortijo del Moralejo Alto, Cortijo El Viso de la Marrona, Cortijo La Cantera, La Alamedilla, La Salada and Molino Los Moniches.
For keen walkers and cyclists, or even for those just looking for a quiet place to enjoy an afternoon, there are some wonderful natural areas hidden in the surroundings: Haza del Corral, Isla de Santiago, Los Canterones, Los Tajillos, Manantial de Roya, Sierra de la Cruz, Sierra de Pleités and Sierra del Becerrero.
Traditional dishes to try in Estepa are cocido de garbanzos con verduras y "pringá" (chickpea and vegetable stew with meat), potaje de garbanzos (chickpea stew), habichuelas y lentejas (broad beans and lentils), cazuela de habas con chorizo (broad beans with chorizo), cazuela de habas con alcachofas (broad beans with artichokes), guiso de perdiz en escabeche (partridge stew), conejo con tomate (rabbit with tomato), liebre con arroz (hare with rice), cordero a la pastoril (lamb), chivo con ajos (goat with garlic), cerdo con tomillo (pork with thyme), ternera con zanahorias (beef with carrots), besugo al horno (sea bream), bacalao con tomate (cod and tomato), cazón en adobo (dogfish adobe), arroz caldoso con gambas (rice soup with prawns), salmorejo and gazpacho.
Sweet treats include magdalenas, ochíos, tirabuzones, pestiños, roscos trenzados, rosquitos, cocochas, flores (sugared pastries), torrijas (eggy bread), arroz con leche (rice pudding), mantecados, polvorones, turrones and mazapán (all eaten at Christmas).
Mantecados de Estepa are the crumbly Christmas cookies collectively which you will see all over Andalucia in the months leading up to Christmas, individually wrapped and sold either by weight, or in a box. Read more about how they are made
Estepa smells like a cake factory in the run-up to Christmas, as local bakers and even home cooks work to meet the demand for its favourite icing-covered polvorones and mantecados. Some bakeries allow visitors to observe the baking process, and there is a small museum highlighting the history of Estepa's biscuit tradition in the La Estepeña biscuit factory.
Museo del Mantecado La Estepeña
The museum explains how the factory started, as well as the sweet treats they make, how they are made and their packaging.
12 October-6 January, Monday-Sunday, 10:00-14:00hrs and 16:00-20:00hrs.
Price: Monday-Friday, 2.00 euros
Weekends and Holidays, 4.00 euros
Under 4 years, FREE
Tel: 95 591 22 78, 95 591 26 92, 955 91 26 48
Located in Poligono Industrial "Sierra Sur" Calle Almendra.
Cabalgata Reyes Magos
Three Kings procession celebrated on the evening of 5 January.
Celebrated on 2 February.
Celebrated in February.
Romeria de San José Obrero
Celebrated on 1 May.
Celebrated on the third Sunday of May.
La Velá de Santa Ana
Celebrated around 26 July.
Feria de la Asunción
Celebrated on 15 August.