Friday, 3 November 2023, 18:34
José Torres 'Joseíllo de Rosa', 77, from Frigiliana and José Rodríguez 'Pepe El Loro', a 75-year-old from Cómpeta, are the last two remaining artisan limestone makers in the Axarquía.
Until about 50 years ago there were more than 80 lime kilns in operation on the eastern side of Malaga province, where the limestone from the Sierras Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama mountains was fired to produce the so-called 'quicklime', which was used to give the characteristic white façades to Andalucía's iconic whitewashed villages that are famous all over the world.
However, synthetic paint has gradually sidelined the traditional limestone paint, which is entirely natural and handcrafted. It is still produced, albeit using more modern, industrial techniques, in kilns in Seville and Valencia.
On Joseíllo de Rosa's estate, the remains of his father's lime kiln, which was last fired in 2007 can still be found. The Junta de Andalucía prohibited him from using the kiln due to the risk of fire, as it is located just 200 metres from the mountains, which sit in a protected park area. But Pepe El Loro's kiln is still working and it was last fired in July. He still has lime stones for sale at a modest price.
The process of producing the paste is extremely laborious, requiring the collection of hundreds of kilos of limestone, which are still abundant in the Axarquía mountain ranges.
The kiln then needs to be prepared with the stones layered one on top of the other to form a pyramid before being lit at the bottom using a variety of firewood.
"The temperature has to be kept constant for six, seven or even eight days, depending on the atmospheric conditions and humidity," says Rosalind Burns, a visual artist based in Frigiliana who has made the documentary entitled 'La cal, los últimos caleros de la Axarquía' [Lime paint, the last limewashers of the Axarquía].
The documentary is available in Spanish on Vimeo and was shown for the first time at a conference on local uses and professions that have died out, held in the village in April.
"When I came to live in Frigiliana 17 years ago, together with my husband Christopher, we settled in a farmhouse in the countryside and I have Joseíllo de Rosa as a neighbour," says Burns, 65, who was born near the Atacama Desert in Chile, but who spent much of her life in the United States.
Her surname is appropriate for someone who has made a documentary about burning limestone. "My family and paternal surnames are originally from Scotland," explains the creator of the 26-minute documentary with which she has wanted to pay tribute to a profession "that is going to be lost in a few years if nobody helps it". Burns' niece Purto Hoffmann was in charge of the camera for the documentary that was made.
But there is hope that the tradition will continue as José Rodríguez's son, Samuel, 26, intends to carry on his father's legacy, having watched his father since he was a child.
Although Samuel recognises that it would be impossible to depend on just the production of the limestone paint, he says that he will continue with his father's kiln if the authorities allow him to do so.
In fact, to collect the limestone stones needed to make quicklime, Samuel and José have permission from the Junta to extract stones after maintenance work or landslides caused by rain, although with the ongoing drought and lack of heavy rain, the landslides are becoming less frequent.
For Burns, quicklime "has properties that synthetic paint does not have". "The older people in the villages tell you that lime was used to maintain the old houses as it gave strength to the structure, made them waterproof and disinfected them, as they were made of mud and stone." Burns adds that the material also helps to keep the houses cool in summer, "because the walls breathe".
The main disadvantage of using lime on the façades and interiors of buildings is that it is not as long-lasting as synthetic paint, so it requires almost annual maintenance. "The raw material is much cheaper, but the problem is the labour," explains Burns.
There are still town halls in the Axarquía, including Arenas, that buy lime from Pepe El Loro. "Thirty years ago there were many more," Burn says.
Another more recent use for the lime paint is on the trunks of the subtropical trees in the area to protect them from high temperatures and the ravages of the drought.
Rodríguez and his son Samuel hope that the people of Malaga province will continue to use lime as they have done for centuries. In the Sierras Tejeda, Almijara and Alhama mountains to the east of Malaga province there are dozens of abandoned kilns; silent witnesses of the loss of a centuries-old trade which is sadly dying out.
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