In the middle of Europe’s southernmost desert, during the 13th century AD, the Almohad people of Baeza and Ubeda found refuge in the folds of a canyon high in the Altiplano of Granada. There they dug about 300 cave dwellings in the side of the cliffs and founded the village of Gorafe. The gorge became known in modern times as Los Colorados, due to its resemblance, albeit on a smaller scale, to the Grand Canyon in America.
Almohad rule in al-Andalus had started to break down after a Christian victory at Las Navas de Tolosa, in Jaén province, in 1212 AD. The Christian forces marched south, and Baeza and Ubeda were besieged. Most of the inhabitants were burnt in the mosque at Baeza or enslaved. Those that escaped, scattered into the surrounding area and some of them found their way to the Badlands of the Granada Altiplano. They built cave houses in many locations including Guadix, Fonelas and Gorafe. The name Gorafe originates with the Arabic word ‘Gaurab’ which means ‘Upper Chambers’, referring to the caves built 150 metres up the cliff known as the Caves of Almohad’. The caves are interlinked and multi-storied to make defence easy. This style of cave-dwelling is known as Los Algarves.
Later, the Islamic residents of Gorafe became Christians and they built the Nuestra Señora de la Anunciación church. A small village grew on the side of the valley. The church, even after many renovations, still has some Mujadeer design features. Today Gorafe has a population of about 450 people. Life centres around the venta that also seems to be the local estate agent, jobcentre and community centre. Industry is primarily to do with agriculture and artisan crafts. Residents make household goods out of the esparto grass that grows wild in the area. Some tourists arrive each year to take advantage of the walking in the Badlands and the village became known for its clear night skies, ideal for stargazing. Gorafe is a quiet place.
Since the 12th century, the inhabitants of Gorafe had known about the ancient burial mounds that dotted the landscape, but it was not until the late 19th century that any of the mounds were investigated. Between 1955 and 1959, a survey was undertaken that found evidence of 242 dolmens either side of the canyon formed by the River Gor. Dolmens are megalithic burial chambers constructed from massive stones. They were built by the Neolithic people of the area starting some 5000 years ago. As the 20th century became the 21st, interest in the megalithic history of Europe intensified. Gorafe found itself with the enviable reputation of having the highest concentration of dolmens in Europe.
In 2011, a magnificent Centre for the Interpretation of Megalithism was constructed, mostly underground, at Gorafe. Researchers and an increasing number of people interested in prehistory started to appear. A new project, the Geoparc Granada, centred on Gorafe, was launched that included all the sites of prehistoric interest in the area. In 2020 the authorities behind the project plan to apply for UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Gorafe is likely to become a very popular place.
At the moment (December 2019) the price per entrant is 3 Euros.
The centre opens at 12 noon and 5 pm from Tuesday to Sunday.
The visit lasts about one hour and is a conducted tour so you have to be there at those times to gain entry.
A geoparque (geopark or geoparc) is a well-defined territory, home to a valuable natural geological heritage. The most important parts of a geoparque, due to their scientific, aesthetic, or educational value, are called geosites.
In the north of Granada, surrounded by some of the tallest mountains of the Iberian peninsula, what we know today as the Basin of Guadix or the Guadix - Baza depression or basin was, for 5 million years, a lake with no outlet to the sea. Sediments, brought down by the mountain streams, were deposited in the basin in horizontal sheets. 500,000 years ago the basin drained to the west and new streams carved out the canyons, ravines and badlands that characterise the area, the most southerly desert in Europe, today.
Gorafe is a geosite due to the concentration of megalithic dolmens in the immediate vicinity, the Centre of Interpretation of the Megaliths and the geological feature known as Badlands
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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