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Fountains and washing places. The role of water in the Sierra

Fountains and washing places

The role of water in the Sierra

Rivers and ravines cross all the geography of the Nature Park. The rich river resources in the mountain region have favoured the proliferation of settlements which began to grow mostly around the water springs.

Nowadays, these villages and hamlets have a large number of fountains, washing areas, irrigation channels, water troughs and even bridges built by their inhabitants over the centuries to make the most of the treasured presence of water in their daily chores.

The historical Town Hall square in Zufre is the starting point of our route to learn more about this popular heritage. Next to the 16th century Renaissance Town Hall building is the popular ‘Concejo Fountain’. The most eye-catching element of this fountain is the sculpted lion head used as a figurehead and spout for the spring water.

Towards the west, in Higuera de la Sierra, the public washing areas are still one of the village’s main attractions. Three washing areas are still conserved there: in San Antonio, in the centre and in ‘Las Provincias’. They used to be meeting-places for women during their hard working days and nowadays are an ethnological attraction.

In Aracena we can see another bigger washing area which was designed by the architect Aníbal González (1926). The majesty of the popular ‘Concejo Fountain’ makes it yet another attraction in the San Pedro neighbourhood where the entrance to the Maravillas Cave can also be found.

Linares de la Sierra conserves its treasured fountain and washing area built in the middle of the last century. You can still see some village women taking their clothes to be washed in the popular ‘New Fountain’, which has an original circular washbasin.

Fuenteheridos has its splendid Twelve-Spout Fountain (1903) with its never-ending gush of water. This spring marks the source of the Múrtigas River and its popular irrigation channel. The Twelve-Spout Fountain is in the very centre of the village. Its structure is typical of mountain architecture and is illustrated with the characteristic floral decoration.

The neighbouring village of Galaroza has one of the most eye-catching fountains in the whole region. The Nuestra Señora del Carmen Fountain, also known as ‘The Twelve Spouts’ was opened in 1889. The floor plan in the shape of a lyre or drop of water makes the place spectacular and is wonderfully decorated.

This fountain is so important in the life in Galaroza that every year the popular festivity ‘Los Jarritos’ (water jugs) is celebrated around it. On this day, all the participants are allowed to wet each other and the monument is the centre of the fun.

Other towns also have fountains with a long history, like the Concejo Fountain in Almonester la Real, built in 1701. This monument has a unique little access bridge on the right, simple washing areas on the left, a small brick wall and a marble plaque on top of the water spout.

In the northern part of the region, villages such as Cañaveral or Arroyomolinos de León have made water a part of their lives. Cañaveral de León celebrates its popular Laguna which is an event at the beginning of summer when the villagers cool down in the crystal waters of the lagoon.

Arroyomolinos de León owes its name to two essential elements in its history: streams and windmills. Some thirty windmills have been counted in the municipal district which has resulted in the opening of the ‘Molino de Atanasio’ Interpretation Centre of Water Culture.

We could also mention other historical fountains in the mountain region like the Pilar Fountain in Cortelazor la Real (1826), the washing areas in Los Marines (1909) or the fountain at the source of the river Chanza in Cortegana (1883), among others.

The irrigation channels, popularly known in the area as ‘lievas’, have played an important role in popular culture. These channels are one of the many inheritances remaining from Moslem rule in the Peninsular.

The rich water resources in the area also meant that bridges had to be built. One of the most important bridges is the Roman Bridge over the River Odiel, situated in a bordering area between the towns of Aracena and Campofrío. Some studies classify it as the best example of traditional building from that era.

A little further to the west in Almonaster la Real is the Tenerías bridge which was an access to the old 18th century tanneries. It seems to be Roman, from the 1st or 2nd century and we know that the old Julia Road passed over it, joining the mining area in Almonaster la Real with the city of Emerita Augusta.

In La Nava there is still an important contemporary architectural work known as ‘Infierno Bridge’. Its construction dates back to 1888 and it is located on the Nacional 435 road.

Aroche also treasures its Pelambres Bridge, one of the few examples of engineering from the age of Felipe II, situated on La Villa stream, the old Royal Customs with Portugal.

Our itinerary takes us to Encinasola where the enormous Cabriles Bridge can be seen. It was built between the 15th and 16th centuries to cross the river Múrtiga along the old Camino Real towards La Contienda. Encinasola also has its Sillo Bridge with eight openings situated on the river Múrtiga on the local road from Encinasola to Cumbres de San Bartolomé.

Finally, in the eastern part, Arroyomolinos de León conserves with great pride its Gitana Bridge, with eight openings crowned by round arches, used to cross the steep incline over the Valdelamadera stream.