Despite it being early November, the sun is warming on our backs as we hike up the few hundred metres to the ruins of the Mozarabic church at Bobastro. 5DQFWFQG9XGH
A Bonelli Eagle is overhead, gliding through the clear blue sky. Looking out from the narrow path, the view is expansive. It takes in the pine forests of the foreground, and out towards farmland, with the ancient town of Ardales in the distance, at the foot of a dramatic outcrop of rock, topped by a Moorish tower.
The setting is peaceful, relaxing; really regenerative. Yet centuries ago this hidden corner of the Ardales Natural Park, close to the world-class rock climbing area of El Chorro, was once the hub of intrigue and conflict amongst the Al-Andaluz Arabic empire.
We are heading towards the site of the city of Bobastro; a Mozarabic fortified settlement established by Omar Ibn Hafsun. A military leader in the Emirate of Cordoba, he converted to Christianity and defected. He set up a base in these isolated mountains and there created, over a millennia ago, a Christian church.
Not only is the site culturally unique, but it is also architecturally unusual too. The church was built out of the solid rock, and then finished with bricks and timber. This remarkable feat of construction means that although we are now exploring the site over 1100 years later, the church remains recognisable. A good section of the carved rock remains, with amazing Islamic inspired carved arches. It clearly has three naves and a beautifully carved circular sacristy.
This period of Andalucía’s history is full of surprises. The Christian Arabs known as Mozarabs integrated to a large extent into the dominant Arab culture and are distinct from Moriscos of the later centuries.
Entry is 3 euros – there is a new visitor information kiosk on the narrow lane near the site entrance and maps, guides and other information are available.
This corner of the Sierra de Pizarra is better known for its magnificent gorges, vertical rock faces, lakes and reservoirs. Climbers from all over the world come to El Chorro for the challenges posed by the extraordinary geology of the area. In the early 19th century the limestone gorge was dammed creating the reservoirs we see today and a hydro electric plant. This period of development led to the construction of the ‘Camino del Rey’, a breathtaking walkway that clings to the side of the gorge.
It has been closed for some years now, as it is collapsing slowly and sadly tourists and climbers have fallen to the deaths from this fragile and decrepit path. This summer the regional council proposed to restore it and upgrade the surrounding tourist amenities with a multi million euro budget, but with the forthcoming elections and ongoing financial crisis, it is not clear whether this will happen.