Almunecar's Aura of the Moors Enhanced by Its Modern Facilities Attracts Tourists
By: Habeeb Salloum/Arab America Contributing Writer
While in Damascus in the mid 1980s, I had read that Almuñécar had raised a statue to honor Abderramán Al-Dakhal who had landed, in 755 A.D., in this Andalusian town. Fleeing the massacre of the members of his Umayyad dynasty in Damascus, he had single-handedly established Al-Andalus – a nation in the Iberian Peninsula whose star, for four centuries, shone throughout the medieval world.
The architect of Moorish Spain, he is fondly remembered by many of today’s Spaniards as a creator of a country which led the world in culture and technology, from the 9th to the 12th centuries. His memory complements the town’s expanding modern 20th century facilities to make Almuñécar a much sought after tourist destination – made famous by this Arab prince.
After a scenic drive from Granada, the last jewel of Moorish Spain, we turned right at Mortil on Spain’s ‘Tropical Coast’. Before us to the left was the town of Salobre- a picturesque Andalusian village, rising from a flat landscape to the top of a rocky hill crowned by a Moorish castle. It seemed as if the whitewashed homes, crawling up the steep slopes, were trying to overwhelm the citadel that has been completely restored. Like most travelers, we stopped awhile to photograph this extremely eye-catching town, named after, Salamba, the Syrian god of love, brought to Spain by the Phoenicians.
After a ten minutes drive through a countryside overflowing with fields of sugar cane, litchis, limes, mangos, papaws and olives, we descended through dark green avocado fields into Almuñécar, nestled on the edge of a fertile river valley. An ancient seaport to which, through the centuries, new men, new cultures and new ways of life have incessantly arrived, it has been transformed into the number one retreat on Spain’s Tropical Coast. Once the embodiment of sparkling white Mediterranean villages, the town, in the last half-century, has evolved into a pleasing modern resort.
Phoenician traders established Almuñécar in 3,000 B.C. as the town of Sexi. The Romans fortified the city and developed its Phoenician established fishing and salt industries. However, the city reached its age of splendour under the Arabs who renamed it Al-Munakkab or Hisn al-Monacar (Fortified Town or Flanked by Hills) from which Almuécar is derived.
During the nearly 800 years of Muslim rule, it became an important Moorish stronghold with a booming economy and a large population. A silk industry flourished on a large scale and local agriculture was enriched by the cultivation of the Arab introduced lemons, oranges, pomegranates and a number of other fruits and vegetables.
After the expulsion of the Moors from Spain in 1609, southern Spain’s economy faded away and the city became a little known backwater town. Only during the last half century, due to the revival agriculture and the introduction of tourism, has Almuñécar has become a flourishing tropical fruit-growing centre – retaking its place as a prestigious and important town.
The city’s historic aura enhances its modern character. A number of Moorish watchtowers and architectural elements in Almuñécar’s structures and, above all, the Moorish castle, dominating the town, add romance to the city’s modern cosmopolitan aura. Long popular as Granada’s seaside resort, it has, in the last few decades, expanded to become a modern holiday destination, drawing tourists from all parts of Europe and North America. In winter its 22,000 inhabitants grow to 50,000 and in summer to 200,000.
Our first stop was at the Tourist Office, housed in the impressive neo-Arab styled Placete de la Najarra – exuding the majesty of Moorish Spain. Seeing that I was impressed by the exquisite tiles and arches the soft-spoken tourist official commented, “The Arabs left us a magnificent legacy. Abderramán, who laid the basis of Moorish Spain, landed here. Do you want to see his statue? It’s only a few minutes walk from here.” I smiled, “See his statue? I have come to Almuñécar especially for this purpose.”
After less than a 5 minutes walk, I was surveying Abderramán’s huge bronze monument, overlooking a plaza carrying his name. A replica of a handsome man, dressed in flowing Arab robes and carrying a Damascene sword, he truly represented the fugitive prince who had crossed half of the then known world to create a flourishing Muslim country in Europe – for five centuries the top nation of that continent.
Across the plaza, I visited for half an hour the Parque Ornitológico, an aviary with an international collection of some 1,500 exotic birds representing 120 different species. Strolling a short distance, I came to the Monument to the Phoenicians which I examined for awhile before walking up to savour the atmosphere of the Plaza de la Rosa, edged by cafes, bars and discos – the centre of night life.
Further up through the old quarter is Cueva de los Siete Palacios – once used as cellars for large buildings in Roman times and now housing the Archaeological Museum, containing relics from Almuñécar’s past. A little further on, one comes to the imposing remains of the Arab Castle, overshadowing its edging Parque El Majuelo, in which are found the remains of Roman salt pits and a botanical garden, containing some 400 types of subtropical plants. It is worth the climb just to view, from its turrets, the superb scene of the whitewashed town and the valley below.
However, despite the lure of these sites, most visitors come to enjoy Almuñécar’s benign warm climate with more than 320 days of sunshine annually. Usually, there are only 20 rainy days a year and in winter temperatures rarely fall below 10 degrees, averaging 18 degrees in winter and 25 in summer.
Its 26 beaches, strung along the town’s 19 km (12 mi) of coastline, are edged by Moorish inspired apartment buildings and other modern tourist facilities, offering everything from a buzzing nightlife to a wide range of sporting options. As a rich topping to the local sports, Almuñécar is not too far from the most concentrated collection of championship golf courses in the world.
In the words of an English tourist who travels annually to this relatively unknown resort, “It’s an ideal vacation spot. Here I find, sun, sand, gentle climate, friendly and hospitable people, historic sites and the best of modern abodes – all engulfed in a Moorish aura. Does one need anything else in a resort?”