I last wrote about Antequera in 2008 and at that time I was disappointed at the lack of information available in the museum and even for its most famous monuments, the dolmens. At that time it seemed as if the only reason to go to Antequera was to see the dolmens and visit Torcal. What a difference seven years makes.
The museum has been refurbished and restocked with exhibits taking you from the pre Neolithic age through the metal ages including the period of monumental building, into the Roman period, then the Visigoths, Moors and finally the period after the re-conquest. You still pay 3 Euros to gain entry, (unusual for Spain, museums are normally free) but this time it was worth it.
Antequera is situated in the fertile valley of the Rio Guadalhorce on the natural crossroads of the routes between Malaga and Cordoba and Granada and Seville. Its first inhabitants though were probably more interested in the view from one of the small rounded hills that surround Antequera. From the top of Cerro Marimacho, which is a couple of hundred metres from the Menga and Viera dolmens, you can see, on the horizon, another hill, La Pena. La Pena resembles a human head in repose and must have had some mystical meaning to the Neolithic mind. Enough that they diverted from the norm by aligning the entrance passageway to the dolmen Menga with La Pena rather than just north of east where the mid summer sun rises. Having said that the mindset of Neolithic Antequerians must have been somewhat different from the norm as well, the entrance capstone on the Menga dolmen weighs some 180 tons. It was chipped out of a rock face in a quarry some kilometres away using stone hammers, bone and wood trowels, wooden wedges, fire and water, dragged on wooden rollers to the site and then placed on top of the massive orthostats that comprise the stone uprights. Then they went and did the same thing five times more. So what I hear you say, the Egyptians were doing something similar with the pyramids. And so they were, 500 years later. Straying from the norm again, the tholoi El Romeral, has its entrance aligned with another prominent hill, although that may be an accident, rather than face the rising sun at the summer solstice it faces the sun at sunset during the winter solstice, a few degrees south of west.
(Author’s note: I may be being a little unfair to the Neolithic Antequarians here, the subject of the megalithic building period at Antequera has to be brought into context with the megalithic building going on in other parts of Spain, Portugal, France and even the UK at the same time and earlier. I feel an article coming on.)
There is now an interpretation centre near the two dolmens Viera and Menga and the surrounding land has been planted with the trees, shrubs and herbs that grew in the period the dolmens were being used. The later megalithic tomb, El Romeral, is a couple of kilometres away at the back of an industrial estate.
By the time the Romans arrived there was a community farming the valley and at the centre of a trading network, metallic ores from the Rio Tinto area, copper and bronze tools from the Almeria area, and locally grown produce being transported to other parts of the south west Iberian peninsula. The Romans named the settlement Antikaria. The Moors later changed this to Medina Antaqira and after the reconquest it became Antequera.
The best view of Antequera is from the 13th Century Alcazaba in the centre of the town. From there you will see 12 convents, 24 churches and over a dozen palaces built in the Renaissance or Baroque styles between the 15th and 18th centuries. Following the reconquest of Antequera in 1410 the Christians systematically destroyed almost everything from any previous period, hence the relatively new look to the town. The nobility, made rich on the trade of and through the area, competed with each other to build the finest residences and they also put money into the church. It is from this period that the fraternities date. Fraternities are religious bodied that also have great political power locally. membership is exclusive and passed down from father to son. During the annual religious processions the fraternities parade through the streets wearing Klu Klux Klan type headgear and carrying huge silver and gold crosses.
Approaching from the west a visitor’s first impression of the town is often the monumental arch on a traffic island surrounded by the Calle Constitucion. Beyond this is the Calle Alameda de Andalucia. This road splits with the right hand fork, Calle Infante Don Fernando (he’s the guy that led the conquering army in 1410) taking you to the heart of the town at the foot of the fortress. With shops, restaurants and bars it is a favourite promenade.