At the crossroads of Andalucia, historic Antequera is both medieval and modern. It epitomises what "Real Spain" is all about …
Nuestra Señora de los Remedios
Feria de Primavera (agricultural fair, 1st week of June)
Real Feria de Agosto (last, or penultimate week in August)
Nuestra Señora de los Remedios (8th September)
Antequera has a history which dates back into the mists of time, a story told by ancient burial mounds (some of the most important ever discovered), Roman baths, a Moorish castle and a profusion of Gothic churches, Renaissance fountains and baroque bell towers.
Increasingly prosperous and stylish these days, it still retains an almost medieval air.
Inhabited since at least 2,500 B.C., Antequera has always been strategically important because of its location in the centre of Andalucía, at the crossroads between Málaga, Granada, Córdoba and Sevilla.
The huge valley below the town is one of Andalucía’s most fertile areas, its rich farmlands irrigated by the Guadalhorce River. Asparagus, cereals and – above all – olives - are produced in abundance here. In summer, fields are ablaze with brilliant yellow sunflowers.
Which makes it what it is, a town with far more than its fair share of historical treasures, yet one which remains what it has always been - an unpretentious old market town. Trade between the great cities of Andalucía has always passed through and, with its rich farming hinterland, Antequera has a long history as a bustling agricultural centre.
A real, work-a-day Spanish town with a population of 45,000, its people are friendly and cheerful, their pace of life unhurried. Restaurants and tapas bars are authentic and traditional with prices to match.
The main industry here is olive oil, not tourism, so it still retains its essential Andalusian soul. Far less well known than Granada, Sevilla and Córdoba, its relative lack of fame means that the town's charm remains undimmed by coach parties and souvenir shops.
If you are interested in burial mounds, baroque churches, Roman baths and renaissance palaces, there’s plenty of sightseeing to be done in this “city of spires”. Every major western civilizations since the beginning of time have left their mark.
Just outside the town, the impressive Dolmen Caves are some of the largest and most important Bronze Age burial mounds found anywhere in Europe. The Romans gave the town its name and many traces of its ancient splendour in those days continue to turn up, including the recently excavated bath house.
The Moors took over in the 8th Century and extended and strengthened its defences, building the Alcazaba fortress at the top of the town and surrounding the Medina with a wall. After Sevilla and Jaen were captured by Christian troops, the town was vitally important in the defence of the Kingdom of Granada. It finally fell in 1410.
There’s a great panoramic view from the fortress and well worth the climb up. From here you can see over the whole of Antequera, including its 12 convents, 32 churches and a dozen palaces, all built in either Renaissance style (15th and 16th Centuries) or Baroque (17th and 18th Centuries).
There are more places of worship per head of population in Antequera than anywhere else in Spain.
It's an extraordinary architectural heritage from the towns economic heyday, a time when the Church was the dominating political power. Street names like Calle del Infierno and Calle Purgatorio are reminders of their methods of subjugating the people.
They obviously scared the wealthy too who vied with each other to impress God – and, no doubt, their contemporaries - by building all these fine churches. There are some splendid secular buildings too, as evidenced in the historic city centre.
Bad times followed and decay set in during the early 19th Century. New prosperity came, briefly, thanks to a thriving textile industry but it wasn't long before the doldrums set in once again.
It was only in the latter part of the 20th Century that the towns' economy returned to full swing as its pivotal position in the centre of Andalucia became all important as the hub of the modern communication network between the major cities.
When you enter the town, one of the first things you will see is the nineteenth-century Plaza de Toros (bullring) where, during the Ferias of May and August, the most famous bullfighters in Spain will be in action. Close by is the beautiful tree-lined promenade of the Paseo Real, which finishes in a large children's playground. Here the locals like to meet, walk and relax in the shade of the giant trees which line the park.
From here, the main street (Infante don Fernando, named after the leader of the conquering Christian army that retook the town in 1410) leads up to the the historic area. Leading off from the Infante are any number of streets with wonderful shops.
This is a shopoholicks paradise, where you can buy beautiful shoes, handbags, silverware and exquisite, embroidered Spanish shawls. Do not miss the covered market with its array of fresh seafood, and be sure to pick up some delicious pastries, handmade by nuns from the local convents.
The old, original part of Antequera stretches up the hill from the Plaza de San Sebastian to the Castle. It's a different world - narrow, whitewashed streets, flower-decked patios and, of course, beautiful churches.
Whichever way you turn, there is another beautiful old building or ancient church - and always the smell of something delicious cooking as you pass the bars! Continue climbing up the hill to the castle where you can see right over the red roofs and bell towers to the rolling Andalusian countryside beyond.
There are some wonderful places to visit around and about, including the saltwater lagoon, Fuente de Piedra, one of few nesting places of the Greater Flamingo in Europe; the fantastic, almost eerie, limestone rock formations of El Torcal; the lake district of El Chorro and the beautiful, wooded hillsides of Las Montes de Málaga (see our guide to the surrounding area for more information). There is a first class, 18 hole golf course and spa hotel just 3 kilometres away.
The town, and the vast fertile valley which spreads out beyond it to the north, are overlooked by an almost vertical, 800 metre high, limestone outcrop, La Peña de los Enamorados, "The Lovers' Leap", where legend has it that two young lovers, a Christian man and a Moorish woman, hurled themselves from the top rather than renounce their illicit love. Like all good stories, it has improved with the telling – in the original story they were both Moors, albeit from rival factions, pursued by the girl’s disapproving father and his men.
The townsfolk are justifiably proud of their beautiful town. Both medieval and modern, Antequera epitomises what "Real Spain" is all about.