Antequera - Spain

March 14, 2018

The trip started with a visit to the Torcal de Antequera, a natural reserve with dramatic limestone tower rock formations.

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Torcal de Antequera

At the time of this visit, the foggy weather forced my mind to be imaginative.

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Reaching the clouds

Known for its unusual landforms, El Torcal is one of the most impressive karst (dissolution by water) landscapes in Europe.

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These seabeds were uplifted to an elevation of over 1300 meters during the Tertiary era.

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"Tornillo" Rock Formation

Later, a series of fractures, cracks, and faults were exploited by erosion and produced the alleys between large blocks of limestone visible today.

The blocks themselves have been subjected to both karstification and freeze-thaw splitting actions.

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With the industrial revolution, El Torcal suffered one of the most dramatic changes, when massive deforestation, mining and grazing drastically changed the original landscape.

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Today, only cattle and sheep grazing is allowed on a reduced scale.

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In 2016, Torcal de Antequera was designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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"Tornillo" formation

Because of temperature extremes, most visitation occurs in the spring and fall.

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El Torcal Visitor Center

Just outside Antequera you can visit three 5000-year-old dolmens: Menga (the largest in Europe), Viera, and El Romeral Dolmens.

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Menga Dolmen

On the summer solstice, 21 June, the morning sun shines over the peak of the Peña de los Enamorados and straight along the Menga dolmen's entrance corridor.

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Menga Dolmen

Menga Dolmen is the largest in Europe at nearly 30m long. The largest upright stone weighs 180 tons. By way of comparison, the heaviest stone at Stonehenge, in Wiltshire in the UK, weighs 40 tons.

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Menga Dolmen

In 2016 the dolmens, along with two mountains closely connected to the dolmen complex, were declared UNESCO World Heritage.  

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El Romeral Dolmen

The dolmens were built by farmers who lived in the fertile Guadalhorce valley during the Neolithic period and Copper Age from 5000 to 2200BC.  

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El Romeral Dolmen

Considering the structures are at least 5000 years old, they are in remarkably good condition.

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El Romeral Dolmen

What are we having for lunch? Tapas of course!

Originally tapas were small plates of food served to customers without charge when they ordered a drink. 

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Tapas

Although you'll usually pay for tapas today, there are still some cities, such as Granada, that are known for serving free tapas when you order a drink at the bar.

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Tapas

The Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales, literally the "Monastery of the Royal Barefooted", attracted young widowed or spinster noblewomen. Each woman brought with her a dowry.

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Museo Conventual de las Descalzas

The convent maintained the riches of its past, but it was forbidden to auction any of the items off or spend any of the money it received from the dowries. The state intervened when it saw that the sisters were poor, and the pope granted a special dispensation to open the convent as a museum in 1960.

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Inside the heavy wooden entrance, there is a small counter with a display of bakery products and prices, next to a revolving wooden door. You pull a rope which rings a bell, and then hear a woman's voice after which you give your order and place your money on the tray.

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Holy Pastries

The hidden nun then spins the tray around, with the pastries emerging from the door.

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The Alcazaba of Antequera

One of the highlights is the Alcazaba of Antequera. It was erected in the 14th century to counter the Christian advance from the north, over Roman ruins.

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The Peña is the focus of a local legend of two young Moorish lovers from rival clans who threw themselves from the rock while being pursued by the girl's father and his men.

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La Peña de los Enamorados - The Lover's Leap

The mountain is also known as "Montaña del Indio", due to its resemblance to the profile of a native Indian man's face.

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Plaza del Carmen

On the 16th of September of 1410, after a 6-month siege, the Castilian troops managed to storm the walls of the city through the only weak point in their defences, now the Plaza del Carmen.

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Statue dedicated to Muslims (Moriscos)

Upon seeing the loss of the city, the population took refuge in the Citadel, where, after 8 days, they surrendered and were exiled to Granada and later founded the neighborhood "Antequeruela".

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Typical house entrance around the area

The city became a Catholic fortress against the Muslim Nasrid kingdom of Granada, and a base for continuing conquest.

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After Granada, the last Moorish city, capitulated in 1492, Antequera began to recover from the centuries of fighting, and the population increased from 2,000 to almost 15,000 in twenty years.

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By the early sixteenth century mosques and houses were torn down, and new churches and houses built in their place.

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The entrance to the fortress is through the Arch of the Giants, named after the monumental sculptures of Hercules and two robed figures that supported it. These are exhibited in the City Museum.

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Arco de los Gigantes (Arch of the Giants)

There is a viewpoint that overlooks the Roman Baths of Antikaria.

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Roman Baths

The discovery of these hot baths is the first actual proof of the location of Antikaria, the Roman city placed under the present town part.

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Grand Central Mosaic

The mosaic depicts Oceanus, an aquatic divinity surrounded by geometrical shapes.

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Real Colegiata

The Real Colegiata de Santa María la Mayor (Royal Collegiate Church of the Great St. Mary) is known to be the first Renaissance church to be built in Andalusia (1530-1550). Its monumental façade is one of the most representative symbols of the city of Antequera.

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Torre del Homenaje (The Keep)

The Keep also known as the five-cornered square because it is "L" shaped. It was here that Prince Don Fernando commemorated taking Antequera.

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Torre Blanca (White Tower)

Dating back to the Nazarid dynasty, Torre Blanca is on two levels. The lower floor was used for defense while the living quarters were above.

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Ideally located, Antequera can be strategically considered as the heart of Andalusia.

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From there, you can easily reach Granada, Sevilla and Cordoba, have a hike in the Sierras or spend a day at sea in the Costa del Sol. All in a day trip, if you like.

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Antequera is a little bigger than the better-known Ronda, and only half the distance from Malaga airport.

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The undoubted highlight here, though, is the opulent Spanish-baroque style that gives the town its character and that the civic authorities have worked hard to restore and maintain.

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There's also an astonishing number of churches – more than 30, many with wonderfully ornate interiors.

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It's little wonder that Antequera is often referred to as the 'Florence of Andalucía'.

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