04 June 2013

A trip to Zahara de la Sierra

Zahara de la Sierra
Last Sunday we visited Zahara de la Sierra, a pueblo blanco in the Sierra de Grazelema, the mountainous northern part of the Province of Cádiz.  We went with members of El Pavo Trotón, a group based in Alcalá which organises regular excursions.  The journey took about an hour and a half, passing through some stunning scenery.

Our trip coincided with the religious festival of Corpus Christi.  Zahara's celebrations, which originated in the 15th century, are famed throughout Spain and have been declared a Fiesta de Interés Turístico Nacional.  The locals get up early to harvest esparto grass, rushes and oleander from the surrounding countryside, and use them to line the narrow streets and alleyways, which are then decorated with flowers, and embroidered sheets are hung from the first-floor windows.

Church of Santa Maria de la Mesa
At 11 a.m. there is a Mass in the church, and then the symbolic body of Christ is borne by the faithful through the streets, stopping to pray at little home-made shrines on the way, and flower petals are thrown like confetti.

Streets lined with greenery

A little shrine in someone's doorway

The procession of Corpus Christi
  We skipped the Mass and headed up to the castle, which frankly looks better from a distance, although the views over the olive groves, the mountains and the lake (actually a man-made reservoir) are worth the steep climb.  It was built by the Moors and later used by Napoleon's troops, but these days only the central tower remains.

View of Zahara from the castle

Embalse de Zahara, a man-made reservoir

The restored remains of the castle

We returned to the square in time for the end of the procession, as it passed back into the church to be joined by children taking their first communion, all dressed in white like miniature brides.

Looking down on the church and the square

In the afternoon there was live music and dancing in the town square, and the various bars and restaurants were doing a roaring trade.  I was impressed by the fact that they didn't jack up the prices (just 1€ for a beer) and we enjoyed a very respectable three-course menú del día for 10€ at the Hotel Arco de la Villa, in a table by the window overlooking the lake.

All in all, Corpus Christi in Zahara a very friendly, intimate little festival, not at all solemn and not overrun with tourists, and the village is definitely worth a visit at any time of year.

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