At midnight on the 23rd June every year the streets of Lanjaron are packed with people armed with hose pipes, buckets, water pistols, even lorries filled with water. For one hour Spain’s largest water fight takes place, part of the annual celebration of the town’s saint, San Juan. Sprinkled around this small town are over twenty fountains, all supplying chlorinated water these days and just outside the town three more with spring water. Water is obviously an important thing here. Even the name, Lanjaron, is derived from the pre Roman Iberian word ‘lanchar’ which means a place abundant in water.
Lanjaron became important during the Muslim period due to its strategic location on the south west slopes of the Sierra Nevada between La Alpujarra and the Lecrin valley. The triangle formed by Lanjaron and the nearby settlements of Cenete and Azocaque was called Aceituno and it was famed then for its water with health giving properties. The first mention of thermal waters at Lanjaron only date back to 1774 but word spread rapidly. Today there is a steady flow of people arriving at Lanjaron to ‘take the waters’ to cure their ailments. The water is called Chalybeate water and contains various iron salts. There is a full range of treatments available at the Balneario which is open from March to December.
Lanjaron bottled spring water, seen in every supermarket in Andalucia it seems, only really became available after 1980 when improvements to the road network in the Alpujarras region made it possible for heavy vehicles to ascend the mountain road.
Lanjaron’s next claim to fame occurred during the War of Independence, or Peninsula War as it is known in the UK, when the township of Lanjaron held out against the besieging French troops. Its inhabitants received the accolade of ‘canoneros’. This little piece of history explains the rusty 18th century naval cannon at one end on the main street. The tiled plaque on the wall behind the cannon points out that, in October 2000, the Spanish Admiral of the Straits noticed the fact that the canoneros of Lanjaron did not have a cannon. So, he sifted through his naval supplies and gave them one thereby signifying, as the plague on the cannon emphasises, ‘the special bond between canoneros and marine’.
Today Lanjaron is a very gentile town, apart from the night of the 23rd June that is. You can wander up the main street, take the waters and have coffee or tea complete with sandwiches, ice cream and cakes if you wish, all very reminiscent of Bath or Harrogate. Be warned though, siesta is taken very seriously here. The pictures accompanying this article were not taken at an early hour in the morning, nor have people been airbrushed out, they were all taken between 2pm and 3pm on a mid-week day in late June.
All this talk of water is making me thirsty. Somewhere at the far reaches of my memory I recall a grape variety called Lanjaron so I spent a happy hour or so in a shady bodega examining wine bottle labels. The Alpujarras does produce some fine wines and cavas that are available locally, sadly, none that I could find made from the Lanjaron grape. It transpires that Lanjaron is just one of the synonyms of Merseguera, a grape variety grown in the Alicante and Valencia regions. However you will find another product that genuinely comes from this area, honey.
Overlooking the town is the ruined ‘Castle of the Moors’. Legend has it that in 1490 the town, held by the Moors, was besieged by the Christian troops of Ferdinand and Isabella. Rather than surrender the town the Moorish captain, whose name is unknown, threw himself to his death from the tower. Historical research found that the tower only dates back to the sixteenth century and it was built by the Castilians.
You may by now have the impression that Lanjaron is vainly trying to become known for something other than its healthy water when there really is no need. The Alpujarras has plenty of marvellous walking which, with the clean mountain air, will certainly give you an appetite that can be satisfied by some excellent food and wine available in the local restaurants. If you feel the need for culture then Granada is only 1 hour away.