“When you go to Antequera, where do you really go?”
One of the biggest motivations behind why we travel is to “escape” from our everyday lives and routines. But how often does travel allow us to escape from familiar space-time experiences; lend us the opportunity to deep-dive into our past, or get a peek into the future? Such experiences force us to re-think where we are in space, time, and cultural continuum.
Antequera, a beautiful town located in the Southern part of Spain (an hour from Malaga) offers us this opportunity. While most travelers exploring Spain are likely to give Antequera a miss for the more famous parts of Andalusia… we disagree.
We embarked on a virtual tour and this is how we spent 36 hours there:
36 HOURS IN ANTEQUERA
10.00 AM: PORTAL TO PREHISTORIC WORLDS
Antequera is home to three Megalithic monuments from the Copper Age (the transitional period between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age). The Dolmens of Menga and Viera (“table-styled”, above-ground tombs), and Tholos (“dome”) of El Romeral make for important and fascinating examples of European Megalithicism.
The 5000-year old Dolmen de Menga is the largest and best-preserved Megalithic structure in Europe. While its famous counterpart, the Stonehenge in England, consists of a ring of standing stones, each 13x7 ft and weighing 25 tonnes, the largest of the 32 megaliths in Antequera is 90x20x11 ft and weighs 180 tonnes. It is older and larger than the Stonehenge in England.
Interestingly, when the grave was opened and examined in the 19th century, archeologists found several hundred skeletons inside. The prehistoric communities that resided in this region are believed to have been farmers, which makes us wonder why they would go through such lengths to transport such heavy stones in order to build these structures.
Some historians believe that several communities sharing common religious codes came together to construct these huge Megalithic monuments that primarily served as burial chambers. However, there are conspiracy theories by several scientists that the Dolmens might be “portals to parallel worlds, acoustic and astronomical structures, the emitters of ultrasonic waves or homes for animals”. Or perhaps they’re remnants of alien influence?
Dolmen de Viera is a similar complex and contains 29 vertical and horizontal stone blocks. It has a long corridor that opens into a rectangular-shaped gallery. A beam of light at daybreak is known to illuminate the entire dolmen. Due to this phenomenon, some scientists believe that the design of the dolmens is based on the movement of the sun. However, there are others who refute this claim, stating that the Abrigo (shelter) of Matacabras, linked closely with Dolmen de Menga whose central axis points directly to it, is in fact, located at the foot of the northwest face of Peña de Los Enamorados.
The Tholos de El Romeral is no less dramatic. Consisting of a long corridor leading into a small enclosure, there is much mystery around its history and purpose, reiterating how little we know, even in the Age of Information.
1.00 PM: LOVER’S ROCK
Peña de Los Enamorados, or “Lover’s Rock”, is a mountain near Antequera, whose peak resembles the facial profile of a sleeping man. It is also called “Montaña del Indio”, or the face of an American Indian.
The name of the mountain is derived from the belief that the site was where two Moorish lovers from rival clans plunged to death on being pursued by the girl’s clan. This legend inspired English poet Robert Southey’s romantic poem The Lover’s Rock. Here’s an excerpt:
Interestingly, when Christopher Columbus discovered Cuba in 1492, his chronicler Bartolome de Casas noted in his journal-
“Remarking on the position of the river and port, to which he gave the name San Salvador, he described its mountains as lofty and beautiful, like the peña de las enamoradas … “.
2.00 PM: WINE AND TAPAS
Spanish tapas are small-portions of Spanish dishes and act as appetizers or snacks, but can be combined to make a full meal. The name ‘Tapas’ is derived from the Spanish verb ‘Tapar’, which means “to cover”. It is believed that original tapas were thin slices of bread or meat, that sherry drinkers in Andalucia used to cover their glasses between sips to prevent flies. Tapas have evolved over time and adopted new ingredients and influences.
Recuerdos Tapas Bodega in Antequera offers lip-smacking Spanish tapas and a variety of wines to accompany the delectable fare. From their famous Iberian pork loin with pineapple to the homemade partridge pâté with rosemary oil and Seville orange marmalade, this homely restaurant comes highly recommended and is merely a ten-minute walk up north of the tourist office.
3.00 PM: AWAKEN YOUR SENSES AT A LIVING MUSEUM
The Neolithic adventure in Antequera doesn’t end with the Dolmens. Torcal de Antequera is a nature reserve in the south of Antequera and features breathtaking natural karst rock formations. The 150 million-year-old limestones date back to the Jurassic Age, and some of the caves also contain prehistoric rock paintings inside.
One of the famous artifacts is Cueva del Toro, or “Cave of the Bull”, representing a red-colored bovine, or headless bull. An added bonus is that the cave makes for a great spot to catch a panoramic view of the entire coastal stretch.
Torcal de Antequera is equally, if not more, stunning at night, but we will get to that later.
6.00 PM: DATE WITH THE WOLVES
A few miles outside Antequera is Lobo Park. It is a 400,000 square meter natural reserve dedicated to the study and preservation of Alaskan, European and Iberian wolves. They offer a range of tours and “wolf seminars”, but the most fascinating one is the “Wolf Howl Nights” organized every full moon.
As the day winds down and the night falls silent, experience the howls of wolves — something we hear only in movies. Learn more about how wolves communicate with each other through sound, smell and body language; and listen to them whine, whimper, yelp, growl and snarl with the spectacular El Torcal mountain range as a backdrop. What’s more, you can even adopt a wolf before you leave.
9.00 AM: A GLIMPSE OF THE SPANISH RENAISSANCE
Did you know that Antequera was an off-center of the Spanish Renaissance that took place in the 15th and 16th centuries? This period was influenced by the Greco-Roman traditions of classical antiquity, evident from the architecture, poetry, art, and culture from the time.
Real Colegiata de Santa María la Mayor, Iglesia del Carmen, and Real Colegiata de San Sebastián in Antequera are excellent examples of Renaissance architecture, and definitely worth a visit.
Real Colegiata de Santa María la Mayor is one of the most important Renaissance buildings in Antequera, a symbol of its Roman past. It has a triple-arch, ornamented facade, an old Moorish gate, and striated pinnacles reminiscent of Venetian Gothic architecture.
Inside the church resides Le Tarasca, an odd half-dragon, half-woman sculpture, believed to have been used in a 1970 religious procession in Granada. The woman represents faith and her (faith’s) dominance over a seven-headed dragon (or the seven sins). It is made of carved wood and is the only reproduction of a tarasque (a mythological European dragon) in Spain. Its importance lies in its ability to evoke what was usual in religious celebrations and Andalusian Corpus festivals during the Baroque.
Real Colegiata de San Sebastián is a 15th-century catholic temple in Antequera, It contains a beautiful Renaissance fountain, the Arc of Nueva Street, and beautiful Baroque brick towers with terracotta-work. It is home to an important collection of moveable heritage, including the art of the great Baroque religious painter, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.
Iglesia del Carmen, also a catholic temple, has an intricately carved red pine altarpiece, another example of exquisite Antiquarian Baroque art. It also contains the original image of the Virgin of the Socorro (Mercy), made of paperboard pulp and set on a wooden structure, and was gifted by the Catholic Monarchs to the church-mosque of Saint Salvador.
Talking about the Spanish Renaissance in Antequera would be incomplete without touching upon poetry and music. We found two renditions of a romantic Spanish Renaissance ballad that feature the Vihuela (a renaissance instrument that is shaped like a guitar) and could easily transport you back to the 15th century.
The song is a dramatic narration of a Moor from Antequera who carries a letter of sorrow written in blood, and describing 120 years of suffering that led up to the fall of Antequera in 1410. Complete lyrics below (and translation here):
1.00 PM: MORE TAPAS
Arte de Tapas is a quirky Spanish tapas bar in Antequera. They offer their own unique take on the traditional tapas, and their selection includes rabbit, escargot, pork, meatballs, a great selection of wine, and excellent dessert.
Antequera also has its own traditional bread called “mollete”. It is round and soft, prepared with pure olive oil. It consists of a tomato filling and is counted as one of the top 20 things to do in Andalucia at least once in your life.
2.00 PM: OF HISTORY AND CONQUEST
Antequera has a rich legacy of varied influences, thanks to its numerous conquerors over the years, from Moorish masters to Catholic kings. An excursion around the city provides a glimpse of this.
Alcazaba de Antequera is a 14th-century Islamic fortress that was built by the Moors to defend themselves from the Spanish Catholic Army. Its “keep” (fortified tower built within castles during the Middle Ages by European nobility) is amongst the largest in Moorish architecture, second only to the Alhambra in Granada.
From the fortress, one can also enjoy views of the Roman baths that were discovered in 1988.
Antequera also has plenty of museums. The Museum of the City of Antequera covers fine arts, archaeology, and ethnology, and holds the Ephebe of Antequera, a bronze sculpture from the 1st century, considered the epitome of Roman art in Spain. Interestingly, this sculpture was “found by chance” at a farmhouse near Antequera and brought to the museum.
5.00 PM: STARGAZE YOUR WAY BACK TO THE PRESENT
After experiencing a glimpse of the past, fast-forward to the future of travel: astro-tourism.
Head back to El Torcal de Antequera, where the night is sure to awaken your senses. The natural karst landscape is like a living museum and makes for an excellent location to gaze at the night sky and get transported to a different world.
9.00 PM: EXPERIENCE THE MAGIC OF THE NIGHT
The El Torcal Astronomical Observatory conducts astronomy courses, workshops, and night observation camps for astro-enthusiasts and the general public. Equipped with powerful telescopes, a team of experts, and a passion for astronomy, the sessions focus on the moon, planets, constellations, and deep sky bodies such as galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters.
Here’s a peek into what a night observation camp looks like-
When we decided to virtually travel to Antequera, we expected beautiful churches (Antequera boasts of over 30 Iglesias and the highest church to person ratio in Spain), Spanish tapas and endless olive groves, but mostly a quick stopover before visiting Málaga, Granada, Córdoba, and Seville. Little did we know that this beautiful Spanish town would also expose us to Andalucia’s rich archaeological legacy, offer a glimpse of the Spanish Renaissance, and allow us to embark on an expedition through the night sky.
So where do you really go, when you go to Antequera? We’ll let you answer that for yourself.
How to get there
The closest airport is Malaga and several low-cost airlines serve flights to and from different cities. Antequera is also well-accessible by bus and high-speed trains.
Visitors can also rent a car to get to Antequera as well as explore its surroundings.
When to go
The best time to visit Antequera is from March to June and October to November when the weather is pleasant.
Antequera is in Spain which is a part of the Schengen area, so you might require a Schengen Visa in case you’re ineligible to travel freely in Schengen countries.
Like other countries in the European Union, Euro is the official currency in Antequera, Spain.
Spanish is the official language of Antequera and is widely spoken.
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