A view of the village of Sayalonga. SUR
Sayalonga: Is it really all about Roman women in long dresses?

Sayalonga: Is it really all about Roman women in long dresses?

There are a number of theories about the name Sayalonga which go as far back as the Bronze Age and could even have Germanic rather than Latin origins

Eugenio Cabezas / Jennie Rhodes

Friday, 3 March 2023, 18:34


Sayalonga claims to be the níspero (loquat) capital of the Axarquia and even has a day to celebrate the fruit, which is normally held on the first Sunday of May.

Nestled in the mountains and by the river Turvilla, which rises in the foothills of La Maroma mountain in Canillas de Albaida, the village has a population of just 1,700.

Sayalonga is surrounded by steep hillsides where as well as nísperos, avocados, mangoes, almonds, olives and Alexandria Muscatel grapes are also grown.

The 'round cemetery', which is actually octagonal, is one of its main tourist attractions.

But where does the name Sayalonga come from? Valentín Fernández, PhD in History and teacher at the Reyes Católicos Secondary School in Vélez-Málaga, points out that the name Sayalonga «presents many unknowns».

According to the local historian, «the oral tradition of the name of the village comes from the word 'saya', meaning woman's dress in Latin, and 'longa' meaning long, suggesting a Roman origin».

However, Fernández points out that only one Roman remain has been found in the village; part of a marble column found in a private garden, which today can be seen in the village's museum.

Apart from this column, there is no other archaeological evidence to prove that the village is Roman.

What is certain, according to Fernández, is that right next to the current location of the centre of Sayalonga there was already a settlement dating back to the Bronze Age.

Germanic origin

The historian quotes Chavarría Vargas, who in his work on Latin names in the Axarquía, states that the first word for Sayalonga, 'saya', has a Germanic rather than Latin origin.

«This hypothesis would tell us that when the Visigoths occupied the peninsula there was already a population on the site, possibly of late Roman origin,» notes Fernández.

The historian adds that another thesis has subsequently emerged which links the first part of the word Sayalonga, 'saya', with a derivation of the place name 'Jayr', which comes from the Arabic word for 'good'.

Fernández lists other names that Sayalonga has received throughout history as Xaialonga, Salalonga, Sallalonga and Sailonga.

«What is clear is that in the place where Sayalonga is located today there has been a settlement since the Bronze Age, which is linked to the settlement of El Espolón de Sayalonga,» concludes Valentín Fernández.

There is a saying in Spanish, 'Hasta 40 de Mayo, no te quites el sayo'; until 40 May, don't take off your tunic. Obviously there is no such date as 40 May, but in Spanish, 'mayo' rhymes nicely with 'sayo' (the masculine form of saya) meaning tunic or long dress.

The expression basically means that until about mid-June the weather is not guaranteed to be hot, so be prepared and take a jacket or jumper with you when you go out.

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