Pedroches Valley from the Mozarabic ¨Camino de Santiago¨ Pilgrimage Route
You can arrive in Alcaracejos by way of the Mozarabic ¨Camino de Santiago¨ route but at that point a wide range of options arise for experiences, from its local heritage to its natural surroundings, from history to biodiversity. Pedroches Valley, a crossroads and a borderline, has preserved many of its traditional elements thanks to its isolation and remoteness from major decision-making centers. Since the 18th century, the main routes between the Guadalquivir river Valley and the Meseta diverted to Despeñaperros and the option of Pedroches Valley to travel from north to south on the Iberian Peninsula faded into the background. We find ourselves in the largest natural region in Andalusia, located between three districts and four provinces, which has made this territory of 3,600 square kilometers a meeting point of traditions and cultures for centuries. If we consider history, we can divide the region into four historical units: The Seven Villages of Pedroches Valley, the Estate of Santa Eufemia, Belalcazar County and Conquista and Cardeña, which did not belong to the first three units but whose history has had a unique origin in each case. If, on the other hand, we consider the region from a geographical or geological point of view broadly speaking we can distinguish between the granite batholith area, where almost all of the towns are located, the metamorphic rock area marked by the presence of slate and mountain ranges, to the south of the Cordoba Sierra Morena, and to the north of Sierra Madrona and Santa Eufemia mountain range. But for this quick guide we will refer to its history.
The Seven Villages of Pedroches Valley
Pedroche and, to a lesser extent Torremilano (Dos Torres), are the original towns of the region. Their neighboring villages were inhabited between the 13th and 15th centuries which would later be called the state or community of the Seven Villages of Pedroches Valley: Pedroche, Torremilano, Torrecampo, Pozoblanco, Añora, Alcaracejos and Villanueva de Cordoba. Pedroche surprises visitors with its tall tower on the El Salvador Church, which in 2020 celebrated the five hundredth anniversary of its construction. The tower, El Salvador and the Santa Maria del Castillo church are located on the site of one of the most important castles in the north of Cordoba, destroyed during the era of the Catholic Monarchs.
From Pedroche we can continue on to Torrecampo, almost on the border with Ciudad Real, and get to know its Virgen de Veredas chapel, the Santa Maria de Gracia church, which may have been a synagogue, and la Posada del Moro (the Moorish Inn). From Torrecampo to Villanueva de Cordoba, we can observe one of the impressive dehesas (unique pasturelands) where hams from the Pedroches Valley Designation of Origen come from. Villanueva de Cordoba is the most well-preserved center of the dehesa and one of the birthplaces of the best acorn-fed Iberian pork. Apart from tasting this delicacy in Villanueva you can visit the Audiencia (historic house), the San Miguel church, the Spanish Civil War bomb shelter and the Local History Museum, which preserves an important collection of remnants from the past, especially from Prehistory in Pedroches Valley. But you have to visit Villanueva during the Ham Festival, which is celebrated in October and which receives millions of visitors in search of a one-of-a-kind product. And from Villanueva to Pozoblanco, the most populated municipality in the north of Cordoba and the administrative and commercial center of the region. In Pozoblanco you have to visit the bull ring, known world-wide for the death of Paquirri, its Pozo Viejo (old well) square, or the town square where Santa Catalina Church stands, one of the largest religious sites in the province.
Añora and Dos Torres are located five and seven kilometers from Pozoblanco respectively. Añora surprises visitors with it’s well-maintained architecture and the harmony of its town center. It is the municipality in Pedroches Valley which has best preserved the so-called ¨casas de tiras¨: granite facades with symmetrical lines painted with lime. The Virgen street, the ermita de Piedrasantas chapel or the surrounding area of the ermita de San Pedro chapel are places which hold onto that robust aroma which defines the austere nature of Pedroches Valley. The square in Añora, with the noria (waterwheel) and the San Sebastian church, is the center of the urban area full of crosses which are adorned in May during one of Pedroches Valley’s most special celebrations. And from Añora to Dos Torres. Torremilano, among the Seven Villages, and Torrefranca, the Estate of Santa Eufemia, give rise to Dos Torres in the mid 19th century. Declared as a historic site, Dos Torres maintains an impressive patrimony of emblazoned houses, an extraordinary example of traditional architecture. The Asuncion church, the Pozo de Nieve (a ¨snow well¨) or its Plaza de la Villa (town square), which fills each year with people who meet around a bonfire for the Candelaria. These are a few displays from a town which has undeniable appeal.
And from Dos Torres, we come back to Alcaracejos, the entrance into all of this patrimony.
The Estate of Santa Eufemia
After the Christian conquest of Cordoba, in 1236, Santa Eufemia was the first area which was handed over to the control of noble families, along with its castle and a territorial scope which would later include El Guijo, Casas de Don Adame, what is currently known as El Viso, and Torrefranca, which became a part of Dos Torres. Santa Eufemia is the northernmost town in Andalusia. Together with its stunning mountain range, its village stands out, where we can visit the Encarnacion church, with traces from the Gothic-Mudejar late middle ages. And up above: the Miramontes Castle, on Mount Horcón, from which we can gaze upon what is perhaps the best panoramic view in Pedroches Valley. In Santa Eufemia we can enjoy its spectacular natural surroundings, declared a Site of Community Importance and Special Conservation Area. In addition, in the Sierra (mountain range) Guadalmez Valley stands out. If we follow it upriver, we arrive at the boundary of El Guijo, which includes within its limits what may have been the Roman city of Solia. This is why a visit to the Majadaiglesia arqueological site is a must, along with the Virgen de las Cruces chapel, in the spectacular El Soto natural setting. From El Guijo, on this special route we travel to El Viso through Dos Torres. El Viso appears below the Encarnacion church tower. This town is known for its Santa Ana encierros (running of the bulls), declared a tourist attraction. Each year steers run through the streets in a celebration which is both a tradition and a gathering place. From El Viso we return once again to Alcaracejos to begin another route towards Belalcazar County.
There are scarcely 3 kilometers between Alcaracejos and Villanueva del Duque. Getting to know the municipalities of Belalcazar County is as simple as following the Mozarabic pilgrimage route to ¨Santiago de Compostela¨. This neighboring town has a shared past with Alcaracejos in terms of mining and the influence that this had on both municipalities. In fact, in the surrounding area of Villanueva del Duque we have some outstanding examples of industrial heritage such as the ruins of El Soldado or the area of las Morras. From the heritage in Villanueva del Duque what stands out is the San Mateo church and the Virgen de Guía chapel, one with some of the greatest artistic value in the north of Cordoba province. Our Lady ¨Virgen de Guía¨ is worshiped by five towns, one of which is Alcaracejos, and take turns with worship services, festivities and ¨romerias¨ (celebrations that include a pilgrimage to a shrine). From Villanueva del Duque routes emerge leading to the mountain range, which holds gorgeous landscapes in this area. On the way to Belalcazar and Hinojosa we pass through Fuente La Lancha, a small, charming town with a village of lime and granite settled on the plain.
And we arrive to Hinojosa de Duque, whose San Juan Bautista church is known as the Mountainside Cathedral (Catedral de la Sierra) because of its elegant design. It is a church from Medieval times which owes the beginning of construction on its current building to Hernan Ruiz El Viejo. Its construction was finished over the course of the 16th century and beginning of the 17th century, to which it owes its mixture of Gothic, Plateresque and even Baroque styles. All devotees of historic heritage who come to Pedroches Valley must visit this shrine.
Belalcazar, which closes this journey through the county, is a municipality with an impressive historic patrimony; perhaps one of the most important ones in the province. Almost on the border of the Badajoz province, its castle stands out. This beautiful fortress which gives its name to the town (called Gafiq in the Muslim era and Gaete subsequently) is of secular Gothic style. The castle’s keep (torre del homenaje) is the tallest on the Iberian Peninsula and it is now open to the public thanks to the beginning of the process to restore the fort. In Belalcazar we must also visit the Santa Clara convent (also Gothic style), El Pilar (a fountain and drinking trough) and the Santiago church.
Cardeña and Conquista
Cardeña and Conquista are situated on the eastern edge of the county. Conquista came about in the 16th century along what was called the Silver Route (Camino de La Plata), which joined Cordoba with the Meseta (Spain’s central plain). Due to the existence of highway robbers and the enormous unsettled region between Villanueva de Cordoba and Almodovar del Campo, in Ciudad Real, this village was founded in the heart of the grasslands, very close to the Guadalmez River and from where we can make out breathtaking views of the Sierra Madrona mountain range.
Cardeña, which belonged to Montoro until the 1930s, makes up the western edge of the Pedroches Valley and stands out due to its extraordinary natural wealth. A must-see stop is a visit to the grasslands that surround the municipality and, together with Yeguas Valley, are part of the Sierras de Cardeña y Montoro Natural Park: one of the best nature reserves in Spain, inhabited by species like the Iberian lynx, the imperial eagle or the black stork.