ROADS, PATHS AND SHORT CUTS. Opening up routes


We are going to make a brief analysis of the communication routes in the Lecrin Valley that have taken place over time. Its rugged mountainous terrain has always governed how routes were laid out and these routes remained largely unchanged until just over a century ago.

There are remains from Roman times in various places such as Padul (Molinos), Cozvijar and Cónchar (Barranco del Alcázar or Fortress Ravine), Dúrcal (Las Fuentes or The Springs) and Mondújar,… in addition to remains that appear to belong to an ancient communication route used from proto-historic times, but that became defined in Roman times, linking Ilíberis (Granada) with the coast. It is located to the western side of the Padul Lagoon, cut into the hills to protect it from possible flooding and is currently being studied along with other sections of cart ruts discovered in the same area.

The strategic position of the Valley would be strengthened over the course of Moorish domination, mainly during the period when Granada was ruled by the Nasrid dynasty. The kingdom of Granada was hemmed in on all sides by Christian kingdoms and could only receive assistance and reinforcements from its North African allies via the coasts of Almeria, Malaga and Granada provinces. During this period, our area was traversed by two major routes: one going towards the coast (Armilla, Alhendín, Padul, Restábal, Pinos del Rey to Salobreña and Motril) and another that branched off at Padul and headed towards the Alpujarra, crossing Dúrcal, Talará, Béznar, Tablate and Lanjarón. The fact that the Valley was a necessary part of the route linking Granada capital with the southern face of Sierra Nevada and the coast meant that from Nasrid times - Mohammed V - fortresses had to be built to control movements, such as the fortress in Mondújar, a strategic point to monitor traffic to the Alpujarras across Tablate bridge towards Lanjarón, or the Restábal fortress which monitored traffic along this communication axis leading to the coast of Granada province. Likewise, at the beginning of the 16th century following the Castilian reconquest, the Captain General ordered that a defensive tower be built on the Hill of the Cebada (today only the ruins remain) to monitor the movements of the Moors settled in the Alpujarras and on the coast.

The first document which refers to one of these routes (to the coast) is the document recording a measurement requested to be made by a little known Muslim population, the Granada ‘gazís’ (Moors or descendents of Moors from north Africa, who were either free men, or men who had been captured by Christian soldiers or officers during raids into Barbary and made into slaves). They requested this measurement in response to the restraining decree placed upon them by Felipe II in 1563. The gazi Moors were viewed with suspicion and feared as they were considered as the spies and helpers of their north African ‘brothers in faith’, whose raids on the Spanish coast were becoming ever more daring, so the restraining decree forbade them from inhabiting the coastal areas of the kingdom and ordered them to move inland to a minimum of 12 leagues’ distance from the coast within 50 days.

The measurement method used was direct comparison on the ground. An esparto grass rope 100 tercias long (a tercia was equal to one third of a vara, which was an old medieval measurement equivalent to 835 mm) and a vara measuring exactly one tercia, marking out distances of 5000 in 5000 tercias (5000 feet) which equalled one mile, until making up three miles which equalled one league. Of course, by today’s standards of measurement it is obvious that the kind of material used to make the measurement gave rise to some margin of error and was not even particularly reliable, but at the time no better method existed. Two alternative measurements were carried out, one the distance to the coast of Salobreña – Motril and the other the distance to the coast of Almuñécar, it showing that the route to Almuñécar was shorter but more difficult due to the rugged terrain it had to cross.

The first (to the Salobreña coast) is a route that has been known since the remotest times.

The references to the Valley were, from Granada:

The final result of the measurement was:

To the Motril coast: “fifteen leagues and eight thousand tercias.

To the Salobreña coast: “fifteen leagues and five thousand six hundred and fifty tercias.

To the Almuñécar coast: “fifteen leagues and one thousand nine hundred and thirty tercias”.

From 1570 the boundaries of the different populations in the Valley started to be demarcated. In the legal documents recording the existence, extent and ownership of land (the documents for some villages have yet to be transcribed and studied), we find various references to the Caminos Reales, Royal Roads or highways.

These highways were routes linking different population centres and were laid out in stages to coincide with villages, inns and farmsteads. They were communication routes that had been inherited from previous times and which would continue to exist until the time of the Enlightenment. In the Valley, the highway was mostly a wide bridle path. It was wide enough in some places, such as the villages, to allow the passage of carts, but only covering short local stretches. Since the highway was not designed for carts, large mule trains were used to transport merchandise. We know that in the mid 19th century, almost half of the population of Pinos del Rey made their living as mule drivers. There are records of stopping and resting places for the different days that the highway was used for haulage, such as the inns of Padul, Nigüelas and Cebada.

The two main routes that crossed the Valley, the one leading to the Alpujarras and the one to the coast, still existed.

The maps contained in the Cadastre of the Marquis of la Ensenada, produced in 1750, are the first maps which show these roads, along with others linking the different centres of population. However, we find the most exact and detailed information on the highways a few years later in Tomás López’ Dictionary of Geography and History, which he began in the late 18th century (1776). The description therein is as follows:

The Alpujarras Highway

All this administrative area of the Lecrin Valley, as it is called, is traversed by the highway that leads to the Alpujarra. The highway leaves Granada across the Genil bridge, as it is called, skirts the poplar groves and heads west until arriving at the village of Armilla, one half of one league from the aforementioned city, where it turns south and heads towards the aforementioned administrative area, passing through the burgh of Alhendín, one and a half leagues from the aforementioned city, and on the other side of the aforementioned burgh a quarter of a league, there is an inn called the Alhendín inn. The highway follows the valley, and to arrive at the place called Suspiro del Moro, shown in number 2, it goes up a short hill and from said place the Alpujarras highway forks away until number 47, from where said administrative area begins. It passes through the burgh of Padul, shown in number 5, until number 9, where there is an old poplar tree which is called the Dúrcal poplar, and Dúrcal is a place that is also well known. And from the aforementioned poplar the aforementioned highway begins to descend a long hill in the manner represented in number 46, until arriving at the river which it passes over via an old bridge which is represented in number 10; it continues for a short distance along the river. And then the aforementioned highway enters the mouth of a ravine through which the stream feeding the springs of Dúrcal flows, shown in number 11. It continues upwards through plains towards the source of the aforementioned springs, and always following the bed of the aforementioned ravine.

The springs are left behind, and the highway follows the same ravine bed in the same way until it leaves the aforementioned ravine, and on leaving it enters Dúrcal, shown in number 12, and passes through here until number 20, in this place there is an inn called the Torrente inn, and it continues until number 21, where it descends the Torrente hill, as it is called, which goes down to the channel of the river, which it passes without bridges; and this channel serves as path until it branches off at a short hill in the manner shown. And then it passes through Tálara , shown in number 17, and in the manner described turns about, when it has passed through Talará, curving through two hills, and then passes through Béznar, shown in number 25, and continues until number 27, where there is a bridge shown which is approached down a short hill, the bridge being called the bridge of Tablate, a well known place, which the highway passes through. And then it goes up a small hill in the manner described and passes through Tablate, shown in number 28, and continues until turning, where there is a short rise. And it continues to Lanjarón, shown in number 29, which it passes through until number 31, where there is an inn called Lanjarón inn. And one quarter of a league further on, more or less, this administrative area ends and Orjiva begins”.

Motril Highway

The Motril road, which begins to be represented from number 4, is also a much used highway and crosses the entire Valley in the manner shown. It proceeds from number 4 to number 6, and in said number 6 there is an inn called the Padul inn. And it continues until number 43, where it descends a long hill to the river of Albuñuelas, which it crosses without a bridge. On the other side of the river it goes up a short hill until arriving at Restábal, represented in number 39. And it continues in the manner described until reaching Pinos, represented in number 35, passes through the Zazar ravine, shown in number 38 to 36, where there is an inn called the Cebada inn, where it begins to descend a long hill, called the hill of Cebada, represented in number 37, until reaching the river. It crosses the river without a bridge and goes up a very short hill to arrive at the burgh of Vélez de Benaudalla, also called Velecillos. And from there it continues to Motril”.

The Almuñécar road, represented in number 3, is also a much used highway and is only as it is represented in this administrative area”.

In this administrative area there are only two burghs, being the burgh of Padul and the burgh of Villamena de Cozvíjar. And all the other populations are large rural villages. And there are no other villages or country houses than those described in this illustration, which is now finished”.

Other roads linked the different villages together or linked with the highways. Thus, in the middle of Dúrcal, separating off from the Alpujarras Highway were the roads to Nigüelas and Acequias, this latter known as the Guards’ Road.

Another route started from the Padul inn heading towards Albuñuelas and passing through Cijancos. The road from Cozvíjar to Granada went past the chapel and crossed the Lagoon river, joining the highway to the coast. There was another path leading from Marchena towards Aguadero (Cozvíjar - Padul road). The road and the hill from Cozvíjar to Dúrcal is also recorded (“a road that goes from Coxbijar to Dúrcal over the hill that goes to Dúrcal and Coxbijar”). It was not classified as a highway. The rest of the villages - Melegís, Chite, Cónchar, and Mondújar - had roads linking them to each other and junctions onto the highways.

Until the 19th century, road engineering technology and construction were not advanced enough to tackle major projects in these regions, deemed secondary. It was during the reign of Isabel II, with the outlook of the Enlightenment, that major advances were made in road construction. It was at this point that the decision was made to move the route of the old highway that passed through Restábal and Pinos to the new road to Motril via Padul, Dúrcal, Talará and Béznar. This is referred to on 12th October 1839 in a demarcation between Padul and Dúrcal: "Continuing the demarcation line between both municipal boundaries in the estate of Andrés Molina, called Carcavillas, this being on the road from Granada to Motril and at 200 from the old road, the fifteenth marker was placed."

This road, considered to be of second order, replaced the highway which was left as bridle path. This was the only road. To reach any village that was not on this road, the only option was to use the bridle path. This is how it was set out in the 1895 Yearbook of Luis Seco de Lucena when he talks of how to reach each village, of the distances from the villages to Granada and of the existing means of transport, which I believe it is interesting to mention:

Acequias: Five leagues from Granada. Take the Motril road as far as the River Torrente, after this you must continue on horseback, and the total journey time is five hours. There are various stopping places on the road. From the river to the village there are none.

Albuñuelas: Five leagues from Granada. Take the Motril road as far as Talará, then take the bridle path from this village which passes through Chite, Restábal and Saleres, total journey time from Granada being around eight hours. There is a hostelry in the village.

Béznar: Six leagues from Granada, on the Motril road that passes through the village. The journey takes five hours. There is a hostelry.

Cónchar (15): Four leagues from Granada. Take the Motril road as far as Dúrcal, and from here take the bridle path which passes through Cozvíjar. The journey time is six hours. There is no hostelry.

Cozvíjar: Four leagues from Granada. From the Motril road there is a bridle path to this village, and the journey time is five hours. There is no hostelry.

Chite and Talará: Five leagues from Granada, on the Motril road which passes through Talará. The journey takes four hours. There is a hostelry which charges six reales.

Dúrcal: Three leagues from Granada, on the Motril road which passes through the village. The journey takes three hours. There are three hostelries.

Padul: Three leagues from Granada, on the Motril road which passes through the village. By stagecoach the journey takes two hours. There are two hostelries which charge six reales.

Pinos del Valle: Five leagues from Granada. Take the Motril road as far as Talará, and then the bridle path. The journey takes four hours. There is a hostelry, which charges eight reales.

Restábal: Five leagues from Granada. Take the Motril road as far as Talará, and then take the bridle path. The journey takes five hours. There is a hostelry and a guest house.

Saleres: Five leagues from Granada. Take the Motril road as far as Padul, and here take the bridle path. The journey takes six hours. There is no hostelry.

Destination wagons

To Dúrcal and Talará: leaves from San Rafael hostelry in Alhóndiga Street every day at nine o’clock in the morning. Seat price: 1.25 to Dúrcal, and 1.50 to Talará.

Wagon Service

To Dúrcal and Talará: wagons leave daily from the San Rafael hostelry in Alhóndiga Street.

Delivery Service (takes persons or items from one village to another)

Chite Talará: two services that stop at the San Rafael hostelry. They travel by cart, there is no fixed timetable, and a seat costs six reales.

Mondújar: one service that stops at the San Rafael hostelry, and makes the trip two or three times each week.

To begin with, the Isabel II road forded the River Torrente. It turned off where the brick factory is today and followed the river to where the bridge is today, crossing the river at this point but not via a bridge, for there was none. It is said that once, Natalio Rivas (an important Granada politician during the Regency of María Cristina) got stuck in the swollen river and asked local people for their assistance. They gave it, but in exchange for his promise that a bridge would be built across the river. Tarmac surfacing, which did not exist at that time, may have been carried out under Primo de Rivera.

The road from Talará to Solana via Melegís, Restábal, Pinos and Ízbor (26 km) was planned in 1895 and the first kilometres started to be constructed from Talará, as can be seen from the maps in Luis Seco de Lucena’s yearbook for that year. In 1927, negotiations with the Provincial Government were in hand to build the road to Albuñuelas.

Mention must be made of another type of communications infrastructure which was very important for the area and the province in the first half of the 20th century: tramlines and cable railway.

The best way to link the Granada area to the coast was via railway. In 1895 the first plan existed to build a railway line from Granada to Calahonda port that would pass through the Valley, but this plan never came to fruition. From 1916, TEGSA Company (Granada Electric Tramlines Ltd) announced its construction of a railway line to Motril, timed to make the most of the opportunities offered by the expansion work being completed on the port at that time. The extension of Granada tramlines towards the coast started with the construction of the first section Granada-Armilla-Padul-Dúrcal, which opened in 1924. This section crossed an elaborate iron bridge over the Dúrcal ravine, with a span of 189 metres and a height of 51 metres. TEGSA's aim was to offer a fast, cheap and efficient transport service from Granada capital to the other areas of production and consumption, in order to facilitate the outwards movement of agricultural products from the fertile plains surrounding Granada and to make the inwards movement of raw materials and finished goods cheaper. However, the major difference in altitude between Dúrcal station and Motril port, plus the rugged terrain between the two areas, made the extension of the Granada-Dúrcal tramline onwards to Motril an unviable proposition for the Company.

On 18th December 1924, TEGSA called an Extraordinary General Meeting at which the construction of a cable railway from Dúrcal to Motril was approved, with a branch line to Órgiva. The cable railway, which had been operating under trial conditions since 1925, was opened on 17th April 1927, in the presence of Minister of Development Diego Benjumea Burín, Count of Guadalhorce.

The most significant features of this piece of engineering were:

- It was the only cargo transport cable railway in Spain open for public use.

- It was the longest cable railway of any that has operated in Spain, covering almost 39 kms.

- It was the basic axis of outwards transport of goods from Granada to the port of Motril, connecting in Dúrcal with the Granada-Dúrcal tramline.

- It operated for a short period of time, from 1925 to 1950.

When it came into operation, the cable railway had 300 trucks. Maximum weight was 1000 kg, and load capacity 700 kg. Each truck was suspended from a rail fitted with four wheels which ran along the rail cable, and a clamping device which attached it to the motor cable. Principal goods transported were flour, sugar cane, fertilisers and Chile nitrate. From 1932, the amount of goods transported began to descend, for two main reasons: firstly, from 1930 onwards a large part of Granada's economy entered a slump (the sugar industry, mining and even agriculture), which obviously had a negative impact on tramline traffic in general, and on the cable railway in particular, and secondly, keeping the cable railway in good working order was a complicated affair, since its materials and technology came from abroad and very often its operators had neither the training nor the replacement parts necessary to carry out maintenance.

Another of the cable railway’s problems was that goods were transported unprotected from the elements and were subject to damage by rain and even theft, since the cable railway speed was slow. During the Civil War, the cable railway reduced its activity drastically and entered a period of crisis which, from 1946 onwards, made its operation unviable. By 1950 it had completely stopped operating, and its licence lapsed in 1953. Shortly afterwards, the line installations were dismantled and scrapped, and all that remains of it today are the foundations of the posts and the cement constructions of its stations. Thus a very special chapter of the history of transport in Spain came to a close.

It was at the beginning of the 80s, when democracy was established and Spain's economy was starting to take off, that a new change to the road route from Granada to Motril was made. The main reasons can be found in the saturation of the existing road which became too "small" given the massive increase in the number of cars in use, and also in the growing transport demands and requirements of the booming Spanish economy. The new road maintained the old route as far as Dúrcal, then a new section was built as far as Ízbor. The carriageway was considerably wider, there were hard shoulders and the sections with a large amount of curves (Torrente, Béznar and Ízbor) were bypassed. But its principal novelty was that, unlike the old communication routes, it did not pass through the towns and villages but went around them, thus avoiding causing traffic jams in built-up areas. This was the case of Padul, Dúrcal, Talará and Béznar. To overcome the complicated orography, various bridges were built to cross the Rivers Dúrcal, Torrente, Tablate and Ízbor.

For decades, the coast's desire for agricultural and tourism development have been dependent on reducing the journey time between Granada and Motril. This has brought with it a new road infrastructure, the Bailén – Motril dual carriageway which will link up with the Mediterranean dual carriageway. Technology and massive investment mean that the obstacles of the Valley's terrain can be overcome to provide the quickest, shortest route. The dual carriageway has been built in sections: in 2001 the Alhendín – Dúrcal section was opened; on 14th March 2002 the Dúrcal – Ízbor stretch was opened (which is a widening of the old road) and currently being constructed is the Ízbor – Vélez Benaudalla section.

Paradoxically, the more the dual carriageway brings the towns and villages closer together in terms of journey time between them, the more it isolates them on other levels. Anybody driving along the dual carriageway can enjoy panoramic views of the Valley, taking it its numerous and anonymous villages for a few seconds. But gone are the times when travellers would pass through the villages, cooling down by the Mono fountain, or buying oranges and lemons in Béznar, or stopping for a moment at the Tablate chapel. Travellers, do not drive on by, stop in the Valley, discover its scenery, its inhabitants, its villages and take a stroll along its roads, tracks and short cuts trodden by many cultures for thousands of years.

We cannot finish this chapter without a brief mention of other routes, such as the long ramblers' routes G.R. 7 and G.R. Sualayr , and the livestock trails, a term used for any kind of route used for moving livestock. There are three categories: stock routes, grazing paths and tracks.

Stock routes are no more than 90 varas wide, around 75 m.

Grazing paths are no wider than 37.5 m.

Tracks are no wider than 20 m.

Transit strips of land can vary in width.

Generally speaking, livestock trails have watering places, resting places, folds and other places associated with livestock movement. Spain is crossed from north to south by stock routes and it could be said that they represent the country's oldest network of organised roads, covering 1% of its territory. This reflects the social and economic importance that transhumance had for centuries. From the early Middle Ages, monarchs supported this livestock activity, creating, protecting and strengthening the emerging pastoral groups (‘juntas’, ‘ligallos’, ‘mestas’, associations dedicated to sheep and cattle herding and recovery of strayed animals), which over time became powerful guilds, their most significant example being Honourable Council of the Mesta.

The Valley is traversed by various livestock trails, the most significant being the Royal Stock Routes from Suspiro del Moro – Almuñécar (now a road) and the Jayena – Restábal stock routes. A great number of tracks and transit strips of land provided connecting routes across the entire area and to neighbouring areas, stretching from the deepest valleys to the highest peaks of Sierra Nevada.

Autor: Placido Molina Molina