The town of Huércal-Overa sits at a strategic position near the border between Andalucia and Murcia, in the valley of the Almanzora river
The Arbol de la Vida, or Tree of Life
On the 8th October 1929, a mineral train carrying iron ore from the mines of the Sierra Filabres and Sierra Bacarese was steaming between the station at Almejalejo towards the El Hornillo ore loading dock at Aquilas in Murcia. At the next station down the line, Huércal-Overa, wagons from a goods train were being shunted when thirteen of them, carrying esparto grass, became detached and started to roll down the incline back towards Almejalejo. The runaway wagons met the mineral train just west of Huércal-Overa. The brakesman on the mineral train was killed. The mineral train, eight hopper wagons and two coaches were damaged and the esparto grass cargo caught fire. The total damage amounted to about half a million pesetas, a considerable sum in those days.
Castillo Fortaleza de Huércal-Overa
The railway was built by the Great Southern of Spain Railway Company Ltd, a British Company that built the line from Baza to Lorca to transport metallic ores from the mines of Granada and Almeria. The Huércal-Overa stretch opened in 1891 and the line contributed to the prosperity of the town until the last train chuffed down the line in 1985. Much of the railbed has been turned into a Via Verde for the use of walkers and cyclists.
Palacete de las Cuatro Torres
The town of Huércal-Overa sits at a strategic position near the border between Andalucia and Murcia, in a valley controlling major routes between the eastern parts of the Iberian Peninsula and the south. From the Almanzora river valley its is an easy route to Huercal-Overa and from there into the spreading plains of Mercia. The railway line, scene of the fatal accident in 1929, was built along this corridor by the Great Southern of Spain Railway Company between 1870 and 1894. Before that, the N340 was the main road since Roman times and latterly the new Autovia del Mediterraneo, the A7, takes advantage of this natural throughfare. Today the ferro de carril is a greenway, enjoyed by walkers and cyclists, its role having been taken over by road transport following the decline of mining in the mid 20th century.
Huercal Overa Theatre
The new A7 road is the reason most people speed past Huércal-Overa without realising it is there, which is a shame. The town has more to offer than you might think.
Great Southern of Spain Railway station Huercal Overa
The strategic location of Huércal-Overa was first fully appreciated by the Muslims that ruled al-Andalus from 711AD until 1492. This part of Almeria was re-conquered a little earlier, in 1488. In the second half of the 14th century, the Muslims built Castillo Fortaleza de Huércal-Overa on a hill overlooking the town. It was just one of a string of watchtowers and small fortifications built on the edges of the Kingdom of Granada and consisted of the tower you see today (fully renovated), and a wall with further towers enclosing a space that would have housed the garrison. The tower, known locally simply as ‘El Castillo’, is clearly visible no matter how you approach the town. It looks rather like a water tower with a metal appendage. Guided tours of the tower give an interesting insight into this crucial period of Andalucian history. Tours can be arranged at the tourist information office (not signposted as of 2021) that is located in the old Abastos building on the N340 on the eastern edge of town.
Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción
When the tower was being renovated in 2010, the workers found a stucco impression in the wall on the third floor. It was an impression of the Islamic Arbol de la Vida, or Tree of Life and represented the characteristics of the universe according to the Islamic philosophy. It also looks remarkably similar to a modern tree of life illustrating the evolution of single celled animal into the multitude of multi-celled creatures on the planet today. The Islamic illustration has been reproduced in metal and occupies the centre of a roundabout in Huércal-Overa.
The Muslims were defeated and Huércal-Overa was included in the territory overseen by Lorca, now in Murcia. Agrarian life continued uninterrupted until the War of the Alpujarras between 1568 and 1570. In common with most towns and villages in Almeria, the Moors were finally banished and Huércal-Overa was depopulated. New citizens were brought in after 1572. The economy was based on agriculture, mainly olives and almonds. Gradually the population increased until the end of the 17th century when it was deemed necessary to build a church in keeping with the town’s growing stature.
The result was the Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción in Constitución Square. Completed in 1739 this twin towered church, built in a beautiful mellow sandstone, is a fantastic example of Murcian Baroque architecture. It has a magnificent altarpiece completed by José Ganga in 1748 and one of the first works made for Semana Santa by the 18th century Murcian sculptor, Francisco Salzillo, as well as a beautiful image of the Christ of Mercy, the work of the 19th century Valencian sculptor, Francisco Bellver. The church and surrounding streets and squares are all now protected by inclusion in the Andalusian Historical Heritage catalogue.
A building no less striking in its way but far less likely to make it into the Andalusian Historical Heritage catalogue is the Palacete de las Cuatro Torres. You will see this abandoned and dilapidated building as you set foot outside the rather splendid Ayuntamiento building. It was built towards the end of the 19th century as a mansion. You can imagine the owners being prosperous mine owners or similar, now fallen on bad times and unable to afford the upkeep.
With a population hovering around 18,500, Huércal-Overa is what I call a ‘proper town’. It does not cater specifically to the tourist, but it has all the amenities you need, a large Monday street market, shops of every description, most of which prosper since there is no shopping centre hovering on the edges of town, cafes, bars and restaurants and a small market on Thursdays in the shade of the church. It is a nice mix of old and new. The leisure amenities include a modern theatre, a municipal swimming pool and a sports hall. The town also has a great indoor swimming pool and gymnasium. They hold many events including badminton tournaments and karate classes.
A favourite family venue in the evenings is the Parque Municipal de Adolfo Suarez situated in the centre of the town. Set in a pine wood, the park has ponds and waterfalls, children’s play areas a picnic area and a café. Roaming the park are peacocks and chickens and children are delighted by the goats, sheep and small donkeys, all as tame as pets. Look carefully in the ponds and you will see the resident tortoises, some as large as dinner plates.
It is all very Spanish and long may it remain so.