Situated between the National Parks, Sierra de Grazalema and Los Alcornocales, Ubrique is an ideal centre if you are exploring the area. There are plenty of walking routes nearby that take you into the stunning Sierras where vultures and eagles soar above and where you will see evidence of deer, wild boar and mountain goat but rarely spot them. For the historian, there is the little known Roman town of Ocuri, with one of the very few remaining Columbarium, perched above the modern town and an exhibition of artefacts from that site in the local museum.
Although listed as one of the white villages of Cadiz, with a history dating back to prehistoric times, Ubrique is not the most photogenic place you will ever visit. It does have its moments up in the mediaeval part of town and the Convento de Capuchinos, that houses the Leather Museum, is quite beautiful. The Ayuntamiento is trying with parks, miradors, pedestrianised streets and so on but there is no escaping the fact that Ubrique is a working town. A good proportion of its population is involved in the leather industry, either making it or selling it in the numerous shops in the town.
Leather has been produced in the Ubrique area since before the Romans arrived. The cork oak trees growing in profusion around the town provide the tanning and there is abundant water from the surrounding hills. Although it was only during the 19th century AD that Ubrique started to make a name for itself. Italian immigrants arrived, skilled leather workers. Gradually the range of leather goods expanded from shoes, boots and bags to carrying cases of all sorts, ornaments and exquisite embossed panels for decorating walls. Using goat and sheep hide became more common. The ‘leather houses’ built grand mansions within the town that can still be seen although some imagination is needed to capture their former glory. Today Ubrique Leather is world-famous. Names such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton commission fashion accessories and European Royals patronise certain brands. 75% of the leather goods manufactured in Spain originate in Ubrique. Many of the processes developed over the years are closely guarded secrets. Some of the results can be seen at the leather museum.
There is also an odd story associated with Ubrique. Every year Ubrique celebrates the ‘Cruces de Mayo’, the ‘Crosses of May’. The fiesta was declared of Interest to Tourists in Andalucia in 2008. Part of this fiesta, in Ubrique at least, celebrates an event that occurred during the War of Independence. In 1813, Ubrique was invaded by French troops. Lacking sufficient arms the inhabitants of Ubrique fled to the hills. There they lit fires in order to heat up the roots of a plant with a special property. The thick root of the gamones plant, when hot and struck against a rock, explodes with a noise similar to that of a musket. Normally used to ward of wolves the ploy seemed to work against Napoleon’s men as well. The French were not amused and razed the town. On the 3rd May, on bonfires made from discarded furniture, the roots are again heated and the streets resound to the sound of muskets. On a more serious note, the same war produced a local hero, a renowned guerrilla fighter, Pedro Zaldivar who, from humble beginnings finished the war as a Colonel of the Spanish Army and leader of the guerrilla parties in the Cadiz province.
Nick has lived and worked in Andalucia for over 20 years. He and his partner, Julie Evans, have travelled extensively and dug deep into the history and culture, producing authoritative articles on all aspects of the region. Nick has written four books about Andalucia and writes articles for other websites and blogs.
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