The Sierra de Aracena, north of the city of Seville but belonging to the province of Huelva, is among Andalusia´s most charming corners. Home to Jabugo, the temple of all Jamón Serrano pilgrims, the marvellous caves of Aracena, where the film ‘Journey to the centre of the earth’ was filmed, and chestnuts galore; it’s a real pleasure trove for folk that like stomping around glorious countryside with the promise of a memorable meal at the end of the footpath.
Undeniably Arabic in character and brimming with Andalusian appeal, the tightly clustered white village of Almonaster la Real in the Sierra de Aracena is the beating heart of the fading memory of Al-Andalus. Upon entering its ninth century Mosque, situated perfectly on the highest part of the towns silhouette, one is hushed by its sublime beauty and spiritual light.
We had to “shush” a gaggle of Decathlon clad Sevillanos who burst through the Arabic arched doorway bleating on their mobile phones. I was uncharacteristically verbal in my chastisement,
“Shusshhhhhh! If you can´t respect a sacred place, then go back to the city.”
Immediate conflict in a building that pertained to none. I skulked off to let them be and found silence elsewhere.
I found myself drawn to the holy place of the oldest mosque on the Iberian Peninsula, the simple but beautiful Mihrab. I´m not sure whether I broke some ancient sacrament (I apologize if I did) but I stepped ‘into’ it and turned around to observe the mosque from within.
The columns, some them roman, seem to be straining and buckling under the weight of the arches they support but without complaint. They have been suffering in silence for the last 1100 years.
At the opposite end sits the finely carved fountain in the tiny patio of Ablution where the faithful washed before prayer.
But the most exhilarating view of all awaits you as you step outside and onto a terraced porch facing southward. There, the Sierra stretches away from your view in gentle rises and falls of ridges and valleys. You can almost perceive the Atlantic in the distance.
I was enjoying another ‘moment’ until the Sevillanos discovered the same terrace and my companion and I gave each other the nod and removed ourselves as swiftly as possible. We trundled down into the village, following the smell of wood burning ovens to gorge ourselves on Iberian pork in all of its wondrous varieties.
At any time of the year, the Sierra de Aracena is wonderful, but right now, with the autumn colours bursting forth and a briskness in the air that reminds us that winter is not far away, it is at its most appealing.