Image of Salares, which has just 187 registered residents. E. Cabezas
Salares, an authentic Islamic treasure tucked away in Malaga province's Axarquía

Salares, an authentic Islamic treasure tucked away in Malaga province's Axarquía

Malaga architect Pablo Farfán is researching the Nasrid legacy in the village which includes the remains of walls and towers built into houses

Eugenio Cabezas


Wednesday, 17 April 2024, 21:25


Malaga-born architect Pablo Farfán recalls the trip he made through the heart of the Axarquía on the eastern side of Malaga province, when he first discovered the village of Salares. "It was purely by chance, because we had another plan, but it went wrong," he recalls.

This trip was in 2015 when they decided to take the road that connects Algarrobo to Cómpeta and took the detour that leads to Salares via Árchez. "I started to look at the names of the streets, at the limestone walls that were up to ten centimetres thick and I thought that each layer was a layer of the centuries of history in front of my eyes," he recalls.

So taken was Farfán with Salares that he bought a house in Calle Castillejo; a traditional building that is still in need of renovation, which the architect plans to carry out staying true to his principles of applying traditional architecture. He says he will use ancient techniques brought to the present day. "I have travelled and done a lot of research about traditional architecture and I think that the centre of Salares is the oldest I have seen, having travelled through Portugal, Venezuela, Morocco and Cuba, among many other countries," Farfán says.

Originally from Malaga, Farfán, 51, worked in Madrid for over 20 years before returning to his native city 10 years ago. Although he was born in the city and has family in Alhaurín de la Torre, Farfán had never been to Salares, one of the smallest villages in the province, with just 187 registered inhabitants on 1 January 2023, according to Spain's INE national statistics institute.

"I did know Cómpeta, Canillas de Albaida and Frigiliana, but this part of the Axarquía was new to me," he says, adding that once he'd discovered the village, he "became obsessed" with investigating its architectural, historical and cultural legacy.

Nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Almijara mountains, also known in that area as the Sierra de Bentomiz, Salares forms part of the old royal road and the gateway to Granada province.

Strategic location

"The location of Salares is very strategic, so it must have had a very important castle, more than a farmstead," says the researcher, who points out that in the centre of the village, made up of around 300 houses, still has numerous reminders of Spain's Islamic period and especially from the 12th and 13th centuries.

These include the remains of walls and towers and the minaret which now forms part of the church. "It is a real treasure, a hidden gem which has remained almost intact, despite the fact that more than eight centuries have passed," summarises Farfán, who is finalising the publication of his research in a book which he plans to call 'Arquitectura nazarí de Salares en la Axarquía' (Nasrid architecture of Salares in the Axarquia).

After more than seven years of research and with the help of Alberto Escolano, Farfán has been able to locate the remains of what were the ancient walls, several of the towers and the possible location of what was the Nasrid castle. "It must have been a very important fortress, because it was the last point before passing through the mountains towards Granada, which was the capital of the kingdom," he points out. He also says he is grateful for "all the help" that the owner of Bar Teo has always given him.

These reminders of Salaras' Islamic period can be clearly seen in the materials of which many of the houses are made: stones collected from the river, rubble and mud, "with a technique which can also be seen in the irrigation channels and in the medieval bridge," describes Farfán.

Another of the construction techniques that are still visible are the rammed earth walls, "which is a Berber technique that can be seen in other towns in North Africa, in Morocco, such as Chauen, or in the Alcazaba in Málaga," he explains.

Brick samples

"Salares is possibly the best example, but there are similar elements in other villages in the region, such as Árchez, Canillas de Albaida, Canillas de Aceituno, Cútar and Frigiliana, mainly," says Farfán, who stresses that Salares town hall is actively helping him in his research.

Salares, Pablo Farfán showing one of the thick limestone walls. Pablo Farfán / Ana María Marrero
Imagen principal - Salares, Pablo Farfán showing one of the thick limestone walls.
Imagen secundaria 1 - Salares, Pablo Farfán showing one of the thick limestone walls.
Imagen secundaria 2 - Salares, Pablo Farfán showing one of the thick limestone walls.

"We still want to do some more tests, taking samples of bricks in order to know more accurately the age of the materials," he explains and adds that he is looking for signs of the possible existence of the remains of tanneries. "All of these elements have been identified in the Marquesado del Zenete in Granada and they coincide with what is in Salares," he points out.

For Farfán, the greatest value of his work is precisely that "it can serve as a methodological model to be applied in other municipalities in the area." He adds that "more the authorities protecting this heritage, I believe that it should be made known and valued, so that younger people become aware of its great potential, because the new generations are increasingly looking for old houses to reform," says the architect.

In his opinion, the public administrations should try to reach agreements with the owners of the abandoned houses in Salares to reform them in an attempt to stop depopulation "because this area has incredible potential" he concludes.

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