Wednesday, April 7, 2010


You cannot possibly miss Capileira, because it is the next stop for most tourist buses after Pampaneira and before they proceed to Trevélez. Not that you would want to miss it either!

Most of this municipality makes part of the National Park and Nature Reserve of Sierra Nevada and it is crowned by its highest peaks: El Mulhacén (3.483m of altitude) and El Veleta (3.398m of altitude). El Mulhacén is named after Mulay Hasan, the one but last of the Moorish Kings of Granada, who, it is said, is buried there.

Maybe it is worth mentioning now, that La Alpujarra was the last resort of the Moors after Boabdil surrendered Granada to Queen Isabela in 1492.

There is a lot of confusion about the origin of the names of the some of the villages of La Alpujarra, but it is commonly thought that the name Capileira comes from the Latin word "capitellum" meaning summits.

The village lies at an altitude of 1.436m and has some 560 inhabitants. It is a typical Alpujarra white village cascading down the hill, with houses lining the narrow streets that often pass below the traditional tenao. Normally, apart from official buildings such as the church or the school, the village houses have flat roofs or tejaos insulated with " launa" or crushed slate, which gives them their grey colour. They all have traditional Mexican sombrero style chimneys and are reminiscent of their Arab architecture.

Michael and I first came to Capileira in 1991 with a group of Danish friends from Almuñecar. We had lunch in the large dining room of "Mesón Poqueira", an unforgettable and very special place which was not just a restaurant, but rather an art gallery exhibiting the work of Shu Ichimura, a Japanese artist who lived in Capileira and who just captured our imagination. My regret is not having bought one of his painting then, when it was affordable.

In response to our genuine admiration, Francisco, one of the twin brothers who owned the restaurant, took us across the road to a garagen now long gone, and showed us more work. Some was Dali-ish with a Japanese twist, but by far my favourites were those where the artist captured the spirit of La Alpujarra and gave it a Japanese soul! Ichimura died of cancer a few years ago, but there is still a permanent exhibition of his work at Mesón Poqueira.

Another place we visited that day was the parish church of "La Virgen de la Cabeza", built in the 18th century over a church from 1502 which, in turn, had replaced the old medieval mosque. It has a magnificent baroque 17c altarpiece . The statue of the Virgin was donated by the Catholic Kings in the 15th century.

However it is not for its history nor for its art that visitors come to Capileira, but for its unsurpassed natural beauty. Most tourists come to walk the dozens of routes in the National Park with its two thousand species of Iberian flora. Of these, 60 species are unique to Sierra Nevada. Mountain biking is another tourist attraction.

Photo 1, Capileira landscape taken by Lars Ake Nilsson
Photo 2, Bubión & Capileira in the 70s, courtesy Inge Olsen
Photo 3, Typical Alpujarra Chimney taken by myself
Photo 4, Painting by Shu Ichimura
Photo 5, On a walk in the Park above Capilera: Margaret, myself & Daria
Photo 6, Etienne Campe at Alto del Churillo

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