On the northern flanks of the Sierra Bermeja, the red mountain that overlooks Estepona on the Costa del Sol, with views over the Rio Genal, is the white Andalucian village of Genalguacil.
Until the end of the 20th century, Genalguacil had a history that echoed that of many other white villages, particularly the more isolated ones, in this part of Malaga province.
Genalguacil was established by the Muslims and takes its name from the river Genal. The small population earned their living from agriculture. As was the habit in those times, the village, little more than a hamlet, was self sufficient with its own patch of land. Other hamlets were close by, in Genalguacil’s case, Benestepar, Almachar and Benihexin were within a couple of hours walk. Following the reconquest in 1492, the Muslims were encouraged to convert to Christianity or leave. Persecution of the Muslims gradually increased and Almachar and Benihexin were depopulated between 1492 and 1570. Many of the evicted Muslims, called Moriscos, took to the hills and became bandits.
Persecution led to a minor revolt in Genalguacil in 1500 and a full blown war in 1568 when the Muslim rebels descended from the hills and sacked Genalguacil. The local people, converted Muslims and Christians, took refuge in the church. Legend has it that the rebels surrounded and burnt the church along with its occupants. The War of the Alpujarras lasted until 1570 when it was brutally repressed. Genalguacil was repopulated by settlers from Extremadura and other parts of Andalucia.
The population of Genalguacil fell to a couple of dozen people living in just five homes. Gradually, the population increased, reaching a peak in the late 19th century of over 1,600, then once again declined until the mid 20th century when the tourist industry on the nearby Costa del Sol started to attract the younger people away from the inland villages. The last of the neighbouring hamlets, Benestepar was finally abandoned about this time.
Genalguacil Arte del Valle
Faced with an older population and inevitable abandonment of the village, in the 1990s, the former mayor of Genalguacil, Fernando Centeno López, had a brainwave. He decided to open the village to artists, sculptors and other crafts people. In return for subsidised housing and workshops, these creative people were obliged to hold classes in their respective art. One resident even became the manufacturer of superb rocking horses that were in demand by noble families and royalty.
Genalguacil Arte del Valle
In 1994, Los Encuentros de Arte del Valle del Genal was established. This is a biannual event that takes place during first fortnight of August, a conference in which various artists work, create, co-exist and exchange ideas and experiences. The City Council provides them with accommodation, maintenance, as well as materials, means and tools and the publication of a summary catalogue. Artists from all over the world compete to be one of the dozen chosen creators.
The works of art become part of the town's heritage, the streets and squares of the municipality already house more than 200 pieces. Sculptures in stone, wood, ceramics, iron and cork, as well as murals, collages, paintings, photographs and other works of a diverse nature, embellish the streets, squares and alleys of the town. More are exhibited in the Contemporary Arts Museum.
The Genalguacil art meetings are complemented by a varied agenda of cultural activities. Musical concerts, theatrical performances, parades, conferences, and ceramics, cinema, painting and astronomy workshops.
The contemporary Arts Museum was opened in an old olive mill in 2004 and renovated in 2018. It contains works of art donated by many of the visiting artists.
Walking around Genaguacil is an experience unlike any other. Papier-mâché figures wait at bus stops, wooden heads gaze at you as you pass, murals and decorated tiles add colour to the white walls. Every street has its own surprise.
The village is only small so accommodation, mainly Casa Rurals and just one hotel, La Posada del Recovero, is limited. Most visitors are day trippers from Estepona. There is a decent restaurant and a couple of supermarkets.
Walking up through the village you will arrive in the main square, Plaza de la Constitución. The views from here are incredible. The Castle of Eagles at Gaucin is visible to the southwest and the white villages of Algatocin and Benarraba, nestle in the green woodland of the Genal valley to the northwest.
At the highest point of the town, the distinctive octagonal tower with its red painted top, marks the position of the parish church. The original church was burnt to the ground in 1570 and the church you see today is mainly as a result of construction in the 18th century, and restoration in the late 20th century.