The SIERRA MORENA north of CORDOBA city, is a wild mountainous landscape of sparsely populated rolling hills where deer and wild boar roam free among the oak and pine forests. Few tourists venture into these wild and remote pine- and oak-clad hills, with its landscape, atmosphere and village architecture more typical of adjacent Extremadura or Castilla La Mancha than the rest of Andalucia, to which it belongs.
On the western flank of Cordoba´s SIERRA MORENA is the densely wooded Sierra de Hornachuelos Natural Park, which is similar in its gently rolling hills to the bordering Sierra Norte Natural Park in Seville Province. Like the Sierra Norte, the Sierra de Hornachuelos has been designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve for its principal land use: the dehesa, the mix of pasture - used for grazing livestock - and woodland - used for cork and producing charcoal.
On the SIERRA MORENA´S eastern side is the Sierra de Cardeña y Montoro Natural Park, its Mediterranean woodland sheltering one of the last refuges of the highly endangered lynx, along with the rare wolf. Birds of prey are frequently seen soaring overhead and the park is to home to one of Andalucia´s largest colonies of black vultures.
The SIERRA MORENA was the scenario of many battles and skirmishes throughout the Spanish Civil War. The battle of Cerro Muriano, part of the August 1936 Córdoba offensive in the region, is famous owing to the picture of a "falling militiaman" taken by ROBERT CAPA, a picture that sought to represent the tragic fate of the Spanish Republic. The Battle of Valsequillo (also known as 'Battle of Peñarroya'), involving the Extremaduran Army took place further west in the area of the range at the Extremaduran front line between 5 January and 4 February 1939 towards the end of the conflict.
There are many rewarding places to explore here: from remote coal-mining towns in dramatic locations, such as ESPIEL, BELMEZ, and FUENTE OBEJUNA, one of the last villages before Extremadura, where the villagers staged an uprising against a cruel lord, dragged him from his mansion and publicly executed in 1476. This dramatic event was immortalised by the famous 17th-century playwright Lope de Vega in his work Fuenteovejuna.
Let us tell you a little about the towns and villages that make up the area.
The earliest archaeological remains found in BELMEZ date to the final years of the Neolithic era, found onsite at Sierra Palacios. There is also evidence of former Roman presence, such as tombstones and copper and iron mines. A habitat found south of the village, El Hoyo, indicates that the area was once occupied by Visigoth settlements. Belmez was officially formed surrounding the castle after the Reconquest. There is also evidence of former Roman presence, such as tombstones and copper and iron mines. An inhabitant of Almadén discovered the carboniferous (or "coal-bearing") possibilities that characterize the natural landscape surrounding Belmez, causing a wave of immigration at the beginning of the twentieth century.
The castle of BELMEZ, like others that populate the north of the province of Córdoba, originally guarded the old road of LOS PEDROCHES. The fortress is reached by a steep and zigzagging staircase that starts on Calle Rafael Canalejo Cantero. There are landings at various intervals which allow you to catch your breath, and from which you can see the quarry which almost ruined this enclave in the nineteenth century. The balconies afford wonderful views, including Sierra Palacios, the Sierra Boyera marsh and an artificial lake originating in a mining exploitation.
The Museo Histórico de Belmez y del Territorio Minero is divided into four principal thematic areas; Archaeology, Historical Mining, Uses and Customs of the Guadiato Basin, and the Territory Museum. In addition to its exhibitions, the museum also organizes tour routes through Belmez, highlighting dolmens (megalithic tombs), charcoal pits and Roman remains. Dolmen Casa de Don Pedro has been fully excavated and is located a few kms south of the town, is the most significant of the twelve dolmens located in the municipality of Belmez and open to the public.
FUENTE OBEJUNA is known as the modernist jewel of Córdoba, with the Casa Palacio Cardona the town's most iconic building. The unique Palacete Moderno is now the Tourist Office and Municipal Historical Museum. The surroundings of Fuente Obejuna are perfect for lovers of archaeology. You will find the remains of ancient civilizations in sites such as the old Roman mining town of La Loba, and dolmens such as Los Delgados, La Horma and Los Gallegos.
Upon entering the village of VILLANUEVA DEL REY, visitors are welcomed by the Ermita de Santiago el Menor, a beautiful chapel providing just a small insight into the rich local history. Despite the remains of a medieval castle found in the nearby Cerro de los Castillejos, the history of the town only dates back to the fourteenth century. About 2 km south east of the town the Yacimiento del Ermitaño is an archaeological site dating to the Chalcolithic period, approximately 2500-2000 B.C. To the west of the Don Juan mine, in Puerto Cacho, several large megalithic tombs were found, all also belonging to the Chalcolithic period. The tombs have been covered with mounds of earth, leaving an open entrance facing eastwards.
VALSEQUILLO is a small village whose Plaza de la Constitución is a testament to the rich local history, with post-Civil War monuments, the Town Hall and the Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepción. The current settlement of Valsequillo dates back to the sixteenth century. The surrounding forests were used to obtain firewood, charcoal, bark, honey and hunting prey (rabbits, foxes, bears, etc) whose skins would later be used in the leather industry of Córdoba. Northwest of the town is the Castle of Aljózar in the Sierra de Torozo built during the Moorish occupation now a ruin.
VILLAHARTA dates to the first century and occupies a strategic spot on the crossing point between the north of the province and Extremadura. Villaharta has a series of water sources, along with some of the curious temples that sheltered the world-famous medicinal mineral springs during the 19th and 20th centuries. South east of Villaharta is the 13th century Monasterio de Pedrique, a place of meditation and spiritual retreat. It was purchased in the 18th century as an olive grove and orchard, demonstrating the self-sufficient prosperity of the site.
Remains found in the area suggest that LOS BLAZQUEZ finds its origins in the Paleolithic era, although archaeologists have failed to pinpoint these remains to a specific phase of Paleolithic history. Remains from the Chalcolithic era are much more in evidence, in sites such as Morisca and Piedras Gordas. The current settlement of Los Blázquez emerged at the end of the fifteenth century when, according to Ramírez de las Casas-Deza, a group of neighbours from Fuente Obejuna settled down in a single farmhouse that would serve as a starting point for the town's development.
Archaeological sites indicate that the small village of LA GRANJUELA has been inhabited in some form since the Neolithic period and there are also vestiges of Iberian and Roman colonization. Unfortunately the village was largely destroyed during the Civil War, so almost no historical buildings remain. La Granjuela is the most agricultural municipality in the region, with numerous cereal farms and small family orchards.
ADAMUZ can be found at the foot of Sierra Morena, next to the Camino de la Plata. The first signs of human population within the Adamuz area were found in Cueva del Cañaveralejo, including human remains and ceramics belonging to the end of the fifth millennium BC. The name Adamuz or Alamuz was given to the settlement during the Arab dominion, which would have consisted of an inn for travellers to rest on the road from Córdoba to Toledo, called Camino Real de la Plata.
The Pozo de Santiago is a public well dating from the 18th century and was an obligatory resting stop for travellers along the Camino Real de la Plata. Since its construction, it has been a stop for walkers and a water source for residents of the surrounding area. Ermita de San Pío V chapel was part of the only great manor house still conserved in the town, popularly called Casa de los Riberas. Some parts of the house are still well preserved and the rest have been modified.
The lack of written sources prior to the Re-conquest makes the origin of OBEJO difficult to determine. Various archaeological investigations have discovered Iberian remains, Moorish coins and Roman artifacts. The Moors left three castles during their occupation of the area; Castillo de Ubal, Castillo de Lara and Castillo de Peñaflor. Of the first, only the remnants of towers can be seen today, whilst Lara and Peñaflor indicate that this must have been a human settlement of great importance, serving military control of the route that ran through Mogávar and Pedroche to La Alcudia. Nestled in the heart of the Sierra Morena, the Paraje de los Conventos has impressive rocky headlands, olive groves and unaltered Mediterranean forest, which has a record of mystery and legend as the place chosen by Mozarabic monks for retirement in order to isolate them from the hustle and bustle of the world.
PENARROYA-PUEBLONUEVO was once an industrial and mining town and the chimneys of the old industrial zone are still one of the town's most striking features. The Geological-Mining Museum is located within La Yutera, a factory which dates from the mid-nineteenth century and was designed by Eiffel. Visitors can enjoy a tour of the geological history of the town, as well as a great variety of rocks and minerals, and the tools used for their extraction.
The fascinating town of MONTORO has been named an area of Historical and Artistic Interest, and has a privileged location at the heart of the Parque Natural Cardena-Montoro. The town sits above a bend in the river, which is spanned by the mighty 16th-century Puente de las Donadas, a bridge that was 50 years in the making due to lack of funds. The local women sold their jewellery to raise the money to finish it. As well as being the gateway to the Sierra de Cardeña y Montoro Natural Park to its north, the town is famous for its fine leather crafts and saddle making.
The 17th century Casa de los Palcos has viewing boxes that were once used to watch performances held in the square below. The balconies were accessed via two separate staircases, one for women and one for men. The Iglesia de Santa María de la Mota is the oldest religious building in Montoro and one of the most interesting medieval monuments of the province. It was built in 1240 on the site of a former Mosque. In the seventeenth century it underwent structural reforms, and today it houses the Municipal Archaeological Museum. The building housing the Olive Oil Museum was built in 1784 as a warehouse for the produce of ecclesiastical tithes. Visitors can learn first-hand about the process of obtaining and marketing this liquid gold that brings so much wealth to the town.
ESPIEL is an ideal destination for climbers, a 45-minute walk from the peak of the Sierra del Castillo; one of the most beautiful and popular climbing zones in Andalucía. Archaeological sites indicate that the Romans formed the first civilisation in Espiel. The town of Siciliana was a Roman settlement, with coins and ruined tombs indicating the town's early development. After the Reconquest, it became part of the Seignior of Córdoba, and in the year 1546, Pedro Sánchez de Sepúlveda won a provision for the town to have a Mayor, Sheriff and Scribe. Espiel's strategic location in the centre of the Guadiato Valley greatly influenced the protohistoric settlement of the area. The principal remnants of El Germo, constituting a Visigothic basilica and baptistery, were erected around 600 AD, and are now an archaeological point of interest. The Moorish castle of El Vacar is a fortress from the Caliphate era built under the rule of Al-Hakam II. In 1237, Fernando III bequeathed the castle to Cordoba. In the seventeenth century,
ESPIEL was bought and developed by Juan Jiménez de Góngora, the Marquis of Almodóvar de Trasserra. Despite the town's evident socioeconomic reliance on agrarian farming, and like other key municipalities in the Valley of the Guadiato, the development was motivated by the exploitation and expansion of the valley's mining basin and railroad. Towards the middle of the nineteenth century, the establishment of the Carboniferous and Metaliferous Fusion Company of Espiel and Belmez rapidly expanded Espiel's mining industry.
VILLAVICIOSA DE CORDOBA is located within the Hornachuelos Natural Park and just 45 minutes by car from the capital. It is an ideal place for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, canoeing, fishing, hunting, etc. Lose yourself on an endless number of roads, sidewalks and trails that will lead you to such picturesque places as the Castillo del Névalo, the Sierra de Cabeza Aguda, the Molino de los Pilones or the trails of Puente Nuevo.