White Streets of Mijas
Sanctuary of Nuestra Senora de la Pena
Mijas Pueblo has a long history, dating back to the Romans who called it Tarnisa. Then it was a base from which to exploit the iron ore and marble from the Sierra de Mijas. Of the Romans now there is no trace. The earliest architectural indication of habitation are a few fragments of the Moorish defensive wall near the church.
Mijas slumbered on through the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, its economy now primarily based on quarrying agate and marble, some of which was used in Malaga cathedral and the Alcazaba in Seville. In 1900 the bullring was built and perhaps gives the first inclination of the town wanting something different, something to draw the crowds. Maybe there were already indications that the marble and agate trade would not last forever. In any case the bullring is unique. It is square. Furthermore it is so small that bullfighting is only possible on foot. To make things easier for the bull they rounded off the four corners so that the matador had no corner to hide in.
So Mijas would have remained until this day; a small village perched on an outcrop of rock 428 metres above sea level with no road connecting it to the coast 8 kilometres away, if it had not been for the tourist. They came, in their thousands, they liked what they saw so many of them stayed. The people of Mijas were not slow to realise that here was an opportunity so they created a tourist trap. And they made a pretty good job of it.
As you enter the town, notice on your right the Pinturas de Andalucia store, probably the most successful store in town even though it is the only one not selling souvenirs. Here you can buy paint, any colour, so long as it is white. Mijas is a white village and the first impression is that of a freshly painted white village, all of it, no buildings waiting for renovation here. In fact the whole place is very well maintained, a sure sign of wealth in the community.
So there should be. A few corners later you enter the centre of town and are immediately plunged into naked, no apology, tourist exploitation. Mijas seems to have more shops, restaurants and cafes per square kilometre than any other place on earth. How?
Because they realised the place is vertically inclined so they stacked them one atop the other, a spectacle in itself. Having said that competition for trade is so fierce that standards, particularly food, are generally high. The eating places all cater for English speaking tourists. In fact in Mijas, foreign residents, mainly English, now outnumber Spanish by a ratio of two to one. It is amusing to see that menus are in many languages, with pictures in case you are from outer Mongolia, with items to tempt the Brit. In one case the menu included Spam, Egg, Beans and Chips. Yes there was a picture to go with it. You could be in Blackpool or Great Yarmouth apart from the weather.
The souvenir shops are incredible. It is hard to imagine any product of Spain not represented in one shop or another, the streets are a kaleidoscope of colour. You can also purchase jewellery, sculptures and art by internationally known famous names such is the reputation of this town.
The tourist industry in Mijas, apart from providing work for the whole human population, also provides work for previously out of work donkeys. The donkey taxis provide a novel way of seeing the town without exerting yourself unduly climbing up all those steep streets. A slightly more refined, and comfortable, way is to take one of the horse drawn carriages. Tradition is fine but those old wooden saddles are something else.
Along with the obvious touristy trappings there are a number of places of interest. The Nuestra Senora de la Pena (Our Lady of Sorrow) was declared the town’s patron saint in 1682. Her Sanctuary is in a rock formation at the top of the town, from which point there are superb views to the coast. Nearby is a network of walkways through nicely planted gardens that extend the views south to La Concha and Los Reales in the distance. Back in the town the Municipal Museum and Art Gallery is well worth visiting if only to see the old olive and wine presses with descriptions of the processes involved.
Near the Municipal museum is a museum of another sort. The museum of Malaga wine. Here you can discover all you ever needed to know, and more, about the wines of this region. As you taste the wines you are given a commentary about them and allowed to see a huge collection of labels dating back over 100 years. Of course you are encouraged to purchase some wines but that is no hardship, quite takes one’s mind off those saddles.
Mijas is also home to one of the strangest stories to emerge from the Civil War. The mayor at the outbreak of the war was one Manuel Cortes Quero, a left wing Republican. As the Nationalists advanced in 1937, Manuel made his escape and finished the war, in 1939, fighting in Valencia for the wrong side. He returned home to Mijas but realised he would likely be imprisoned or even executed so came up with a cunning plan. He would hide in his own home. The only person who knew his secret was his wife, Juliana Moreno Lopez. Some twenty years later he emerged for the first time to secretly attend his daughters wedding. She was let into the secret on the eve of the wedding and she subsequently kept the secret from his grandchildren. Manuel returned to his self-imposed imprisonment. At the age of 74, in 1969, he finally surrendered to the Guardia Civil in Malaga. Since shooting him would have been bad for the tourist trade that was by now booming, he was granted a pardon and lived on until 1991. In 1939 Mijas was a small, failing, poverty stricken pueblo. When he emerged Manuel saw a prosperous, crowded, multi nationality town. It must have seemed as though he had stepped onto another planet.
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