In the semi-arid zone on the edges of the Tabernas desert, high in the Sierra de los Filabres in Almeria, Benitagla slumbers in the noon day sun.
High in the Sierra de los Filabres, at an altitude of 950 metres, the small village and municipality of Benitagla nestles in a fold of the mountains. With a population of only 66 in 2017, it is probably the smallest municipality in Almeria province.
View over Bentigla
Apart from being high up, Benitagla is also in the only semi-arid zone in Europe, just south of the town, stretching as far as the eye can see, is the Desert of Tabernas. Lack of water has always been a problem for the inhabitants of the villages in the semi-arid zone of Almeria, and a problem for the plants, although plants are much more able to cope than humans.
Plaza del Pueblo
A study of the Cistus albidus, dog rose to you and me, undertaken near Benitagla in 2005, found that not only had plants of the same species evolved to deal with the lack of water and its infrequent arrival, they were not happy being transplanted from the environment they had become adapted to. In other words, seeds from a dog rose taken from a desert plant did not flourish as they might when given more water.
The village centres on its only architectural feature, the 17th century Iglesia Parroquial de Nuestra Senora de la Piedad. It is a place where time stands still, not much has changed since the village was founded by a Berber tribe called Taglab back in the 14th or early 15th century. Benitagla means son of Taglab. The large Berber families that occupied the Sierra de los Filabres during the Nazrid period tended to name their villages after themselves.
The local economy was based on growing barley, vines, olives and almond trees, none of which require irrigation. In fact, irrigation was not possible due to the extreme lack of water within a reasonable distance. The Berbers also planted mulberry trees to contribute to the extensive silk industry that existed in Almeria at that time.
Benitagla was largely ignored after the reconquest, although it did change hands regularly. In June 1492, the Catholic monarchs gave Benitagla to Don Pedro Manrique de Lara, Duque de Nájera, along with Albox, Arboleas and Albanchez. Don Pedro was given all rights apart from those pertaining to any gold or silver that might be found. In March 1495, all four towns were purchased by a Don Juan Chacón for 800,000 maravedies. On his death in 1503, title passed to his second wife, Doña Inés Manrique. In 1515, Doña Inés, to provide for her two daughters, sold her land to Don Pedro Fajardo, the first Marqués de los Vélez.
Following the War of the Alpujarras (1568 – 1570), the village of 60 inhabitants, all Moors, were expelled. By 1577, only 25 people, from an initial nucleus of six emigrants, had volunteered to repopulate the village due to the harshness of the environment and by 1600 they too had gone. The population gradually increased during the 17th and 18th centuries to a peak of 86 inhabitants in 1752. It has been declining gently since.
So, there you have it. Peace and tranquillity and a great base if you enjoy tramping round the semi-arid landscapes of the Sierra de los Filabres.