It is possible to tour around the lake in either direction. Heading northeast along a stunning road you arrive at the pretty white village of Canillas de Aceituno nestling in the foothills of the Sierra Tejada mountain range with beautiful views of the countryside and Lake Vinuela. Forking left, one reaches another one of the Axarquía’s treasures, namely, the village of Alcaucín. Its narrow streets are awash with colourful flowers which hang from every wrought iron balcony and the village is home to numerous spring fed fountains, still very much in use. One of these, the Fuente San Sebastian has been restored to its former Moorish glory and its five spouts jut out from an exquisite tiled background. Alcaucín¹s 16th Century church has also been restored and on the outskirts of the village, the little hermitage of Jesus del Calvario dating back to the 18th Century is home to the village’s cemetery. Dull you may think, but from here the views over the town and surrounding countryside are breathtaking.
Near to the village of Alcaucín are the remains of the ancient settlement of Zalia: a medieval town built by the Moors. A local legend describes how the village was attacked by a plague of vipers when a missionary from Málaga was spurned after failing to convert the local population. It is more likely that the local population were killed however, during the uprisings that followed the reconquista. Zalia’s fortress, along with those of Comares and Bentomiz nearby formed a defensive triangle which controlled this part of the Axarquía region.
Periana, situated at the northern reaches of the lake, has been inhabited for centuries, mainly because of the natural water supply and fertile soil. Prehistoric remains, Neolithic vestiges and Bronze Age artefacts have been unearthed and like most of the towns and villages of the Axarquía, the Moors have left an indelible mark. They built a bath house here, the Baños de Vilo where the sulphuric waters provided beneficial healing properties as well as cleansing ones! The village is probably most famous however for the earthquake suffered during the Christmas of 1884. The so called Andalucían Earthquake partially destroyed the town and killed dozens of people but with local and international aid a new church was erected along with housing for those who had lost their homes as a result of the tragedy. The River Guaro irrigates the land and enables the production of many citrus fruits and peaches.
Head north, almost to the edge of the Axarquía and then drop south, once again heading for the lake and you reach Riogordo, bordered to the north by the great walls of the Sierra del Rey and the impressive clefts of the Alto de Gomer. Descending from the Alfarnatejo plain is the Cueva Rio waterway, which like the Guaro river feeds the reservoir and gave the village its name due to the dragging of minerals, hence “fat river”. The high mountains give way to smooth pasture and arable land and the contrast between the two creates a beautiful landscape. It is this landscape, in the natural corridor which separates the Antequera range from the Málaga mountains, which decided the village’s strategic situation. One of the oldest historical sites in the whole area is where tombs have been unearthed at the foot of the Sierra del Rey.
Named ‘Auta’ by archaeologists, the tombs date back to Phoenician times. Nearby, remains of Roman villas with intricate mosaics have also been unearthed although the mosaics are no longer in situ. Riogordo saw great prosperity after the 16th Century, well known for its livestock ground and latterly for the vines which produce the sweet wine famous throughout the region. Take a wander around the town, look up and on each house you will see one of the town’s odd characteristics. Niches atop the buildings house crucified Christs, Madonnas and Saints, some of which date back over 500 years.
Dropping down the eastern flank of Viñuela Lake you can make a short detour to Comares, another fantastic white village perched high atop a conical hill, and, like most in the area, it has deep Moorish roots. Built over Roman foundations, the ruined Muslim fort was one of the strongholds of rebel leader Ibn Hafsun (along with Bobastro) and the innovative tourist board have laid little tiled “feet” throughout the town to mark out a route where, as you walk beneath arches dating back to medieval times, boards tell the tales of old. Near the Ayuntamiento building, the mirador offers spectacular views over the whole Axarquía.
The final stop on our journey around the lake is Benamorgosa, situated on a river bearing the same name. The village is surrounded by orange, lemon and other subtropical fruit trees which cover the river’s valley and ascend the sides in carefully laid out plots. The Moors brought the fruit trees and here in Benamargosa they were known as “peace Moors”. This did little however to stop them from being expelled in the 16th Century which left the village virtually uninhabited. Slowly it grew and detached itself from Málaga favouring instead Velez Málaga, the gateway to the Axarquía.
Jaqueline Roberts, Words