The vast majority of people pass through El Pozo de Los Frailes on their way to the coastal beaches of San Jose, just 2 kilometres away. Many may remark on the unusual structure that resembles a Ferris wheel within a whitewashed wall, an image that has become emblematic of the Cabo de Gata-Nijar Natural Park. Few stop to spend a few minutes appreciating this small village.
A clue to the use to which the structure was put is in the name of the village. El Pozo de Los Frailes which means, ‘Well of the Friars’. During the 18th century, a number of cortijadas collaborated to exploit the fertile valley that leads down to the coast. Until that time the area had been prey to marauding pirates. A series of coastal defences, manned by militia from Nijar, reduced the number of raids and encouraged people to repopulate the area.
The well is properly called a noria and has its origins in the wells and irrigation techniques developed hundreds of years earlier by the Moors. There are many designs of noria. The one in Pozo de Los Frailes involved digging a narrow trench down to the spring. A wheel was mounted vertically in the trench so that the bottom of the wheel was in the water. Around the circumference of the wheel, clay pots were lashed to the frame. The wheel was turned by donkeys, horses and sometimes manpower, harnessed to a wooden pole that extended from a second wooden wheel mounted horizontally and in such a way that the outer rim of the horizontal wheel interlocked with cogs extending from the outer rim of the vertical wheel. As the horizontal wheel turned, the cogs rotated the vertical wheel The clay pots filled with water in the spring and discharged their contents into a trough that, in turn, fed the water into a mini aqueduct that took the water off to the agricultural land via the communal laundry. The noria was in use until 1983. Today the pots have been removed and water is drawn from the spring by an electric pump.
In the images above, I took the one showing the clay pots in position in 2004, the others in 2020.
A coffee at one of the bars opposite the noria may encourage you to look at the menu and stay longer. You will find that the ingredients for many of the dishes are obtained locally, including the partridges, of which the area has an abundant supply. The whitewashed houses conceal a small, plain, church and, if you look diligently, one bodega. Life is unhurried in El Pozo de Los Frailles, little changed for over 200 years.
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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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