Vélez-Málaga is known as ‘capital’ of the Axarquía region. A number of other towns and villages, including Torre del Mar, Caleta de Vélez, Triana and Almayate all belong to it administratively and according to figures published by Spain’s national statistics institute (INE), the town itself has a population of 40,000 (2016). For the purposes of this article, we will just focus on the town of Vélez-Málaga.
Approximately four kilometres from the coast and 35 kilometres from Malaga city, Vélez-Málaga has a long and important history, of which reminders are still present today. It is easy to go to what is now considered the town centre, which stretches out along the Call Camino Antiguo de Málaga and Calle Canalejas roads from Plaza Carmelitas, on which the town hall proudly stands, without noticing the labyrinthine streets of the old town, which bend and weave up from the town hall. Once in the old town, however, it is just as easy to get lost in the seemingly endless narrow walkways and puzzle over how cars, never mind vans, make it up and down them with relative ease.
Vélez-Málaga’s history dominates the skyline and one of its most iconic sights is the medieval fort (la Fortaleza), which is the town’s highest point, at 80 metres above sea level. The Fortaleza dates back to the 5th Century and was used as a stronghold during the Islamic period. It was later to play and important role during the French invasion between 1808 and 1810 and then fell into disrepair, until a project to restore it started in the 1970s.
The Ermita de la Virgen de los Remedios stands on the Cerro de San Cristóbal and dates back to the mid-17th century, but what many locals will tell you about are the frescos painted onto the wall depicting scenes from Vélez-Málaga. Painted at the end of the 20th Century by local painter, D. Evaristo Guerra, the frescos gave the monument the name ‘transparent hermitage,’ as it is said that you can see right through the walls and over Vélez-Málaga itself. The cerro, or hill, offers panoramic views of Vélez-Málaga, stretching over to the sea and neighbouring towns.
It is well documented that Miguel de Cervantes wrote about Vélez-Málaga in his famous novel, Don Quijote. In chapter 41 he writes; “Thanks be to God, sirs, for bringing us to such good quarters; for, if I do not deceive myself, the ground we stand on is that of Vélez-Málaga.”
The quote is written in calligraphy on Calle San Francisco, outside the Casa Cervantes, where the writer is believed to have stayed during his time as a tax collector in Andalucía. Casa Cervantes is now home to the town’s official language school (Escuela Oficial de Idiomas) and is open to the public from Tuesday to Saturday.
Another historical figure and daughter of Vélez-Málaga was María Zambrano, a renowned philosopherand essayist. Born in 1904, Zambrano lived in exile during the civil war and ensuing dictatorship, during which she was considered a “dangerous person.” The philosopher returned to Spain 1984 and lived in Madrid, where she remained until her death in 1991. A park is named after her in Vélez-Málaga, as well as a secondary school in Torre del Mar and the train station in Malaga.
Vélez-Málaga boasts the province’s most spectacular Semana Santa (Holy Week) processions outside Malagacity. 19 ‘brotherhoods,’ known as Cofradias, take it in turns during the week to parade their ‘trono’ around the streets of old Vélez, to the music of the trumpet and cornet. Each ‘trono’; a giant float bearing huge statues of Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary, is carried by the men of the cofradia and each one has a set route, starting with the ‘salida’ (departure) and ‘encierro´ (closure) at a specific time. Typical food eaten during Holy Week is ‘ajo bacalao’; a paste made with cod, garlic and bread.
‘Veleños’ hold Semana Santa very closely in their hearts with many having a favourite cofradia. The Semana Santa museum in the Iglesia de Santa María de la Encarnación on Calle Real de la Villa is open all year round from Tuesday until Sunday and offers a fascinating insight to the history and tradition of Holy Week. In 2017 Semana Santa will be from Sunday 9th – Sunday 16th April).
A convenient and informative way to see Vélez-Málaga is on the local tourist train, which runs every Friday and leaves from the new Mercado Municipal (market) on Avenida Vivar Téllez at 10am. The route takes three hours and takes in the key sights in the town, including the fort, hermitage, Semana Santa museum and Casa Cervantes, among others. Through April the train is free.
La Casa de las Titas, a family-run company, also offers walking tours around the old town starting at the house on Calle Magdalena. The regular tours are only given in Spanish. However, tours can be arranged in English if booked in advance. They offer a great way to learn about the town through the words of a local family whose house has been passed down through the generations.
Vélez-Málaga’s fair runs over the last weekend of September and the 28th, San Miguel (Saint Michael) is a local holiday. Expect to see ladies and girls in traditional Malagueñas flamenco dresses and different ‘casetas’ offering food, drink, music and more. At night the festivities move to the ground next to the El Ingenio shopping centre with a more casetas and fairground attractions.
Other things to see and do in Vélez-Málaga include the remaining section of the old town wall, the old granary (el pósito), and the Las Claras, San Francisco and Jesús, María y José (Las Carmelitas) convents. The town also boasts the Carmen theatre, which regularly holds performances of flamenco, tango and other shows. The contemporary art centre (CAC Vélez-Málaga) in Calle Páncho López holds permanent and temporary exhibitions, as well as concerts. There is a good live-music scene in the town, with a number of town centre bars showcasing local bands and in March the town holds its annual ‘Ruta de la tapa,’ (tapas route).
Just north of Vélez-Málaga in the Trapiche industrial estate (polígono industrial de El Trapiche) is TROPS; producer and exporter of avocados and mangoes in the area. Thanks to the success of these tropical fruit, the company has opened a shop which sells local products as well as a café/restaurant. TROPS also organises guided tours and activities forchildren. For further information visit: www.trops.es
The commercial and business hub of Vélez-Málaga is located around Plaza Carmelitas, with all of the major banks, independent clothes and shoe shops, café and bars, supermarkets and other services.
There is a regular bus service to and from Malaga, and buses also serve the villages belonging to Vélez-Málaga including Torre del Mar. Buses depart from the estación de autobuses, to the north of the town, on the site of the former train station (1908-1968) and there are a number of stops at different locations through the town. Visit www.alsa.es for timetables.
The well-stocked tourist information office can be found behind the town hall on Calle Romero Pozo. Visit: www.turismo.velezmalaga.es for further information on festivals, monuments and other activities.
Written by Jennie Rhodes
Photographs taken by Rob Bell Photography