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When the Andalusians behold the sunrise they look towards Almería, the most eastern land in their community, located in the southeast of Spain.
Almería is influenced by the African winds that bring heat and dryness to their land, bestowing it with a Mediterranean climate and a landscape devoid of water and trees, which added to the mountainous terrain is the cause of the deserts of Tabernas- or the highly productive fields of Nijar or El Ejido in the south.
Rather than rivers, Almería has "ramblas" -dry riverbeds that can be walked along as if they were paths-resulting from prolonged drought, and which only carry water when it rains heavily, something that happens about twenty days throughout the entire year.
The torrents originating in the Sierra de las Estancias and the Sierra de Filabres (mountain ranges) form the Almanzora river, whereas the other important river, the Almería, emerges thanks to the confluence of two rivers, the Nacimiento and Andarax, springing from Sierra Nevada.
Aside from Sierra María in the north and those mentioned above, Almería has mountain ranges along its coastline (over 200 km), such as the Sierra de Calar, limiting with Granada, the Sierras de Gádor, Alhamilla and Cabo de Gata, which surround the capital: the Sierra de Cabrera, at the foot of which is the beautiful town of Mojácar, Almagrera, Pinos and Aguilón, which form a high rugged coast with beaches of fine sand and black gravel, leaving a low, sandy coast to the Gulf of Almería and Adra.
The mineral wealth of the province of Almería alone with its position in the Mediterranean area originated a neolithic culture which has reached our days thanks to the remains of stone constructions and objects that can be traced back to their origins in Africa, the Middle East and the rest of Europe, bearing witness of the active trade that took place in the past.
In the Bronze Age, around the year 1600 B.C., Almería experienced the culture of El Argar, so called because of the deposit located near Antas, close to the coast, where silver and bronze works appeared together with over one thousand tombs containing large earthen vats and the remains of a metallurgical centre.
The successive inhabitants of Almería did not ignore the different forms of mineral exploitation, excepting a few blank periods, that reached the 20th century. The Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Visigoths and Arabs founded factories and took advantage of the resources.
Portus Magnus for the Romans and Espejo del Mar (Mirror of the Sea) for the Arabs, Almería became the main seaport under the rule of the Omeyas, an arsenal of Abderraman I and an independent kingdom in the 11th century, after the fall of the Caliphate of Córdoba.
Towards the middle of the 12th century, Alfonso VII, with help from France and the Italian cities of Genoa, Pisa and Venice, conquered and ruled over Almería during ten years, which put an end to piracy during that short period.
Afterwards Almería was incorporated to the Muslim kingdom of Granada, and the attempts by James II, King of Aragón, to conquer the city in 1308 were fruitless. Almost two hundred years had gone by when in 1489 the Catholic Kings freed Almería from Muslim rule.
During the last century Almería underwent industrial development thanks to the raw materials of its mines, which favoured the entire communications system in the province. Today its fertile fields, marble, research and tourism contribute to the economic activity of the province.
The blue mirror that the sky and sea make of Almería brings together in the space of a very pleasant walk its monumental, commercial and entertainment areas. The outer points are the Puerta de Puchena, in the north, the Parque de Nicolás Salmerón and the harbour, in the south, La Chanca, neighbourhood of cave-homes, in the west, and the Avenue of Federico Garcia Lorca, in the east.
At a short distance, after crossing the Plaza de las Flores, one can see the church of San Pedro, erected over an ancient mosque, with interesting fresco paintings on the dome of the main altar.
After crossing the Plaza de la Constitución, where the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) is located, one reaches the hill of San Cristóbal, from the top of which there is a peculiar view of the city and of the old Muslim walls of Hairán, which lead to the monumental collection of La Alcazaba.
From the Baluarte del Saliente, at one extreme of the Alcazaba, to the Torre de la Pólvora, at the other one, the traveller can contemplate several centuries of monuments in the history of Almería and enjoy excellent miradors over the harbour, La Chanca and La Hoya, where a centre dedicated to the recovery of Saharian fauna is located.
Art galleries, museums, exhibition rooms, libraries and newspaper libraries, together with shops selling pottery, wood and wool handicrafts, etc., and areas for relaxation such as the beaches and bars give visitors a variety of entertainment possibilities in Almería.
In Aguadulce, 13 kilometres west of Almería, and on a marine littoral that becomes rugged -with cliffs over 200 m high, springs of fresh water spurt up along the coast and the sea bed. The salt beds surrounding the seaside tourist town of Roquetas de Mar, at the beginning of the route, remain in the traveller's memory and are a constant invitation to return.
Especially in summer and autumn, flamingos, ducks and seagulls gather in the natural park of Punta de Ias Entinas, where close to 150 species of aquatic birds have been seen, a delight for naturalists.
Along, the entire coast of the Campo de Dalías unmassified beaches alternate with practically virgin beaches, where one can practise water sports, scuba diving and horseback riding, on the beach of San Miguel, or play golf at the Almerimar golf course.
Looking inland towards El Ejido, a ‘plastic sea', there is the largest greenhouse in Spain for vegetables fruit and flowers, with such a volume of production that it rates among the most important in Europe.
Between its salads and lagoons Almería has the anchorage points of Guardias Vieias, with thermal waters and a castle currently being restored, Balerma, with a beautiful 7 km beach in a straight line, and Adra, about 70 kilometres from the capital, on a low coast that leads to Berja, a town with fine porticos in its Plaza Mayor, and the 18th century church in Alcolea.
Amidst orange groves and vineyards is La Alpujarra, also known as the Balcony of Andalucía, for it allows a view of the snowy white silhouette of Sierra Nevada in the background.
Almost 1,000 metres above sea level is the town of Laujar, which can be reached by the carretera comarcal (local road) 332 and overlooks the valley of Andarax, a landscape of pines and poplar groves.
Following the same road the traveller arrives at the white town of Canjáyar, through which little streams flow, and beyond its vineyards are Alhama and Gádor. Between these two towns is the deserted village of Los Millares, in Santa Fe de Mondújar, a prehistoric necropolis of great archaeological interest.
Before this, in Alicún, one has the choice of following the road to Enix, in the Sierra de Gádor, to enjoy the isolation, or continue towards Benahadux along National Road 324 and return back to the capital.
Following, the beach of Bobar, past Punta del Rio and Almería's airport, after reaching Retamar the road enters the marine and terrestrial natural park of Cabo de Gata-Níjar.
Rocky areas such as Fraile and Cerro Redondo hold the earth against erosion, and terraces form true orchards in places with water, such as Las Negras, Hortichuelas and Norias de San Antonio, which contrast with palm tree landscapes and volcanic terrain, as in the Sierra del Cabo, a semiarid environment.
Valleys, plains, ravines, dry river beds, gorges, dunes, beaches, coves and cliffs, a variety of flora comprising over one thousand species, aerial, land and sea wildlife, standard facilities for tourists, a network of miradors, observatories of aquatic birds, showers on the beaches ... all this adds up to make a pleasant visit.
Among the beaches in the province, starting, with the beach of Los Muertos, in the eastern part, there are some with very fine sand, such as El Mónsul, La Media Luna and Los Genoveses, near San José, El Playazo, near the town of Las Negras, with the castles of San Ramón and La Batería, used as defense against attacks by pirates in the past, and those of Cala de Enmedio and El Plomo, next to Agua Amarga.
The beauty of the landscape and sports activities is another combination in Almería's leisure offer, which can be fulfilled in the park of the Cabo de Gata.
One can also travel alone, sea routes, for example from Agua Amarga to San Pedro, or from Isleta del Moro to Cala Carnaje, routes on horseback, between Rodalquilar, reminiscent of gold mining, and Las Negras, passing through the "El Fraile" country house, the scenario of Federico Garcia Lorca's 'Bodas de Sangre', or by mountain bike, just to name a few possibilities.
Both the city of Almería and the town of Carboneras, located north following the coastline, are good base camps for hikes into the natural parks, and there are also other towns within the Campo de Níjar that can serve as starting points.
Here we recommend the continuation along Carboneras and its 16 km of coastline, which served as refuge for pirates and smugglers but are now places of rest, in a solitary and withdrawn environment with unmassified coves and beaches, for instance El Algarrobico and Los Muertos.
Between Carboneras and Mojácar there are plenty of cliffs along the coast, with beautiful coves of fine sand that are the delight of naturalists. El Sombrerico and the beach of Macenas make up a natural walk that enables one to discover Mojácar and the remains of its castles, traces of a very rich past.
The beauty of the Sierra de Cabrera, with wildlife including vultures, eagles and lynx, adds to a varied offer that includes horseback riding, golf, sailing and scuba diving.
Most of Mojácar is built upon a hill, with a certain Moorish style which can also be seen in the Parador de Turismo Reyes Católicos (State Hotel). The town is protected by the Indalo, a prehistoric totem of beneficial effluvial found in places where you would least expect it.
To the north is the fisherman's village of Garrucha, with a beach forming a large plain and typical seaside cuisine. A few kilometres inland are the towns of Vera, founded during the Roman period, and the Cuevas de Almanzora, caves which harbour the important archaeological deposit of Villaricos.
Travelling past Antas and Los Gallardos, along the National Road 340, you can reach Sorbas, located upon an isolated plateau and surrounded by the Aguas river, with hanging houses 40 m high.
The road continues between the mountain ranges of Los Filabres and Alhamilla, the latter having holm oaks on its peaks, deserted land on the slopes and oases in the valleys, after passing the Desert of Tabernas, where a solar electricity plant has been set up, in Retamares. In the town of Tabernas one can see the remains of an Arab fortress and its 16th century church.
The desert landscape originated the well known 'American town', used in the filming of Westerns and in shows with a 'Far West' cowboy atmosphere.
In Huércal-Overa, a town with Easter Week festivities declared of interest to tourists, the traveller has a choice of two routes through the mountain ranges of Almería. One heads in the direction of the Vélez towns, crossing the Sierra de las Estancias before reaching Sierra María. The other one follows the course of the Almanzora river alone the northern part of the Sierra de los Filabres towards Baza, in the province of Granada.
The contrast in landscapes present throughout Almería is especially noticeable in Huércal-Overa, because of its wild plains and the hot desert separating it from the province of Murcia. The landscape changes going up towards Vélez Rubio, one of the towns with most monuments in Almería, including a parish church in the transition from baroque to neoclassical style, slender towers and stone carved façades, as well as other monuments such as the Casa Consistorial (Town Hall) or the convent of San Francisco.
Nearby is the castle of Vélez Blanco, of Italian influence and overlooking the town. The Cueva de los Letreros is a good example of prehistoric cave art in Almería.
If travellers choose the route along the Almanzora river, beginning in Cantoria, they will see the white marble mines on entering Olula del Rio and Macael, and can learn about the culture of 16th century Mudéjar art in the towns of Tijola and Serón.
Almería's mountainous landscape doesn't end here. From the Desert of Tabernas, through Gérgal and its 16th century castle of the Conde de Puebla, and the Spanish-German astronomical observatory in Calar Alto, this route reaches Fiñana, following the course of the Nacimiento river, and from there one can see the incomparable Sierra Nevada.
Around Doña María Ocaña and Abla the terrain is irregular and spectacular, and their handicrafts, 'jarapas', are used as blankets and for decorative purposes. Mudéjar churches such as the one in Fiñana and Arab castles take the traveller to another culture in another age.
Ceramics, textiles and basket-making are the predominant handicrafts made in this land of sun, snow, desert and sea, but we mustn't forget joinery, still practised by some craftsmen in the capital, or works on coral taken from the Mar de Alborán, the sea near Adra.
When it comes to ceramics, both Níjar, with its bright colours and decorations, and Vera, with vases and jugs of various shapes, are representative of this type of artisanry. However, Cuevas de Almanzora, Alboloduy, Alhabia, Albox and Sorbas each have a pottery style of their own.
Moorish influence on textile works is reflected in the weaving mills of Velefique. The best known products are the 'jarapas', used for decorative purposes although originally they were just blankets. ‘Jarapas' can be found in La Alpujarra and Huércal-Overa, among other villages.
In Fiñana they make fine baskets and similar products, the same as in Carboneras or Alboloduy. Coral, baskets, pottery or wood works make good souvenirs of a pleasant trip.