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The remarkable geology of Accitania

The Gorafe Desert looks especially colourful during the autumn months
The Gorafe Desert looks especially colourful during the autumn months / Javier Almellones
  • In the area known as Hoya de Guadix some landscapes give the impression of being on a different planet

Erosion, combined with the nature of the geology of the Hoya de Guadiz, has created an amazing landscape over millions of years; nowadays, this is a place of desert land, olive groves and even hot springs.

All these can be seen around Guadix, a town which is surrounded by villages such as Gorafe, Marchal and Villanueva de las Torres, which are especially well-known for their natural beauty. Some areas are waste land where nothing grows, and they resemble such far-off places as Dakota, in the USA, or even the surface of the moon.

One of these areas which has the greatest impact is the one known as the Gorafe Desert, in the centre of the Hoya de Guadix, a region which is also known as Accitania or Tierras de Acci.

By following walking routes, or even in a vehicle, you can take a trip through a geological labyrinth which is astonishing not only because of its dimensions but also for the sensations it arouses. In a very short period of time, you can pass through an olive or poplar grove and then find yourself unexpectedly in a truly desert-like landscape.

What is most striking about this area, however, is the mountain formations which have resulted from severe erosion and the lack of vegetation. This area is what is known as the ‘badlands’: local people use the English term here, to describe bare land which is not suitable for any type of cultivation.

Within this extensive wilderness, and in the municipality of Gorafe, is an area called Los Colorados which, not surprisingly, gets its name from its colours. There, along a winding track from the neighbouring village of Villanueva de las Torres, you enter a rugged and reddish landscape which never fails to surprise and impress even the most experienced traveller.

The oxidation of sediment has made this a landscape which is as rugged as it is astonishing. It is very close to the impressive Sierra Nevada, which can be seen from the highest points of this terrain.

Esparto and capers are some of the species which are able to survive in this part of the Gorafe Desert. It is hardly surprising that this enclave in Granada province has been chosen on numerous occasions as the location to film several advertisements.

Not far away, you can see another formation with similar characteristics, which is known as the Geodésico. This is another rugged and rocky area, with colours ranging from yellow to ochre, where you can see the result of the erosion which has been caused by torrential rain over the countryside.

Equally impressive is the area called Los Filetes del Diablo, whose shape is reminiscent of the famous town of Petra, one of the seven New Wonders of the World, in the Jordanian desert.

Before leaving Gorafe, don’t miss the chance to take a walk through Los Llanos de los Olivares. This is a woodland, and as such it almost seems like an oasis amid this large desert in Granada. Surrounded by inhospitable terrain, this is an area of flat ground on which typical Mediterranean trees alternate with fields and farms.

The geology is also unusual in another place in the Hoya de Guadix, Marchal, which is particularly famous for its gullies and ravines. At some time movements of the terrestrial plates produced a large depression which, with the passage of time, gradually filled with soft mineral materials such as clay and lime.

As a result, there are few fertile areas and the torrential rain has gradually carved out ravines and ditches over thousands of years, revealing colours which range from ochre to green and grey.

Thanks to the clay-like characteristics of these rock formations, in Marchal and other villages in the area they have been excavated for centuries to build the famous ‘cave houses’, which are attractive to live in because they are naturally weatherproof and the temperature inside remains constant.

This troglodyte landscape extends not only through the Hoya de Guadiz but also through the Altiplana district. Here, the ‘badlands’ can be seen from the shores of the Negratín reservoir, between the Cazorla and Baza mountain ranges.

This enormous reservoir, which is also known as the ‘sea of Altiplano’, has an interesting view of these geological formations from the hamlet of Negratín. There is a beautiful contrast between the reddish colour of the soil and the blue of the water and the sky.

Another very interesting contrast in this area is to be found in Alicún de las Torres, where there are some remarkable hot springs. This is a thermal station, and one which is surrounded by a very unusual water channel. It has been created not only by Man but by the minerals in the waters, which maintain an average temperature of 35ºC all year round.

In this beauty spot, which is beside the road which runs from Gorafe to Villanueva de las Torres, you can not only enjoy the curative waters of the spa but also the views of the unusual landscape. The green and leafy irrigation ditches provide a relaxing soundtrack as you contemplate the lovely views over the desert environment of the old Accitania.

Beside the spa you can also see what is today one of the most important dolmen complexes in the whole of Europe.

In fact, this valuable prehistoric archeological site is not the only place of interest on this route, because in this area other remains have been found which demonstrate the presence of man on this land thousands of years ago.

More information can be obtained about prehistory in this area of Guadix from the Megalith Information Centre , which is in Gorafe.