Aracena - Huelva
Sierra de Aracena - The mountains in Aracena
Once the scene of Templar activity, this mountain area is dotted with small fortresses, a legacy of the Reconquest. There are places which were pagan before becoming Christian, legend-haunted grottoes, villages of white houses set amidst woods of holm and cork oak - and above all, the best serrano ham in Spain.
Perched on a crag shielding the lovely town of Alájar (the name means “stone” in Arabic) stands the sanctuary of Nuestra Señora de los Angeles, one of Spain’s most important religious sites (and the most important in this Sierra) and a good example of how our forebears always selected the most beautiful surroundings for their devotions. The rooms adjoining the church are replete with hundreds of votive offerings, objects left over the years in thanksgiving for some favor vouchsafed by the Virgin. It was to the grotto of Alájar that Arias Montano, humanist, scientist, polyglot and researcher, was forced by the Inquisition to retire from the world of mundane things, having been saved from torture only by his friendship with King Philip II.
After enjoying the magnificent view from the vantage point of the sanctuary, one leaves Alájar in the direction of Aracena, twelve kilometers away. From far off, crowning the town, one can make out the Almohad tower on which the banner of the Templars fluttered for nearly two centuries. Aracena has always been a classic summer resort for the citizens of Seville and Huelva. The most interesting feature, besides the Castle church, is a Grotto of Wonders that preserves beautiful stalactites and stalagmites which are among the most extensive in Spain (the grotto is 1500 meters long). In the interior are 12 chambers and six lakes.
Following the road to Portugal one comes to Jabugo, a town famous for the ham of that name, which is immortalized in heartfelt stanzas by Lope de Vega. Among the mountains, little towns like Castaño del Robledo lie hidden, fine examples of the traditional mountain architecture. For nearly six centuries these homes of fine ham belonged to the Arabs, a people who never touched it. But they did build castles and mosques, some of them still standing today, and they left a rich cultural legacy which has come down to us in place names like Almonaster, Aracena, Galaroza and many others.
Already before the Arabs, the region had been peopled by Celts and Romans, In Aroche, for example, Scipio stayed on his arrival from Rome to combat Viriato. In the neighborhood of the present bullring, once an Almoravid castle, there are numerous legend-haunted megaliths, known by the locals as “Devil’s stones”. Contrasting with such pagan beliefs, Aroche is home to one of the most curious of religious museums, the Museum of the Holy Rosary, which boasts a collection of nearly 1300 rosaries. These have been donated by popes, monarchs, politicians and famous personalities. And Aroche has yet another museum – the Archaeological Museum, which is housed in the castle.