Álora Castle was a cemetery for two hundred years / SUR

A fortress that was once the town cemetery

The imposing castle overlooking the Guadalhorce was officially used as a burial ground from 1818

ANDREA JIMÉNEZ

Álora castle is one of the town's most well-known landmarks, with its rich history making it a must-see ancient monument in the Guadalhorce valley.

Built by the Arabs in the middle ages, this fortified complex has been used for many things over the centuries: from Muslim stronghold to Gothic church, and, in the last two hundred years, a cemetery. Its cemetery status is less well-known among the town's younger generation. But why did this castle become a burial ground?

The story of the castle's cemetery came to an end in 2009, when Álora town hall approved its permanent closure. This was the end of a process which lasted 11 years, from the opening of an inquiry into its future until the removal of the final remains.

Although the cemetery had been officially opened there in 1818, it was first used as such several centuries before, explains María José Sánchez, doctor of Art History and director of Álora's municipal museum.

From the end of the 15th century until the end of the 17th century, the cemetery was in the castle. The former Saint Mary of the Incarnation church, built on top of the preexisting mosque in the castle, was Álora's first burial site, according to a document dated 1685, in which José del Castillo declared it had a "chapel and burial grounds dedicated to Jesus".

At the start of the 17th century, Álora had just over 600 inhabitants which meant that the parish was still small. It was then that the construction of a new, replacement parish church in the town's Plaza Baja started, further down the hill from the one in the castle. This was not finished until 1699.

However the cemetery did not move to the town church until the century after, next to the side door which opened out to Calle Benito Suárez by the current town museum, The 'new' Saint María of the Incarnation parish church in the town is still one of Malaga province's largest places of worship.

With the coming of the Enlightenment era, new concepts and ideas of public hygiene meant that church burials started to be scrutinised, explains a study by Francisco José Rodríguez.

For that reason, in 1804 yellow fever victims were buried in an enclosed area up at the castle. This method was also used in 1812 for those who died during famine and war with the French.

The decision to move the cemetery again, which Carlos III ordered in 1787, to a site away from the urban settlement became official in 1818.

The old church in the castle became home to the new cemetery and the remains of the earlier seat of the parish were then restored to become the cemetery's chapel. As the need for space grew, the castle expanded to the five courtyards seen today.

The parish death records provide information about the last burial that took place next to the main parish church in the town, that of Juan Reinoso Oviedo on 24 October 1820. The first burial in the new cemetery in the castle was of Juana García on 3 August in the same year.

The cemetery was looked after by a person known as pegleg, Dr María José Sánchez explains. The majority of the burials took place in niches, although the first family mausoleums on record date to 1889 and were rebuilt in 1935.

Restoration

In 1997, a new cemetery was opened in Álora to begin the process of moving all the niches to the outskirts of the town, as they "completely" took up the space in the two precincts which made up the medieval stronghold.

The removal of the remains to the new San José cemetery was carried out over ten years, until March 2007, when the process of closing the castle's old burial site began.

The demolition of all the niches was carried out under the supervision of archaeologist Francisco Melero, who kept a close eye on the work so that it did not disturb the medieval walls. Several of the mausoleums at the entrance and upper enclosure were preserved.