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Almeria

Almeria is struggling to shake off its reputation for being a bland and ugly city. But by showing off its vibrant cultural life and Cabo de Gata’s unique beaches, this easternmost region of Andalusia is gaining pace and catching up with the economic boom that is taking place throughout the province.


By:  Tania Martínez
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Travel NotesFind out more about this city with our insider guide.
Easternmost city in Andalusia
Population: 189,709
Area: 296,21 km2 at 23m above sea level
Stands out for: The Alcazaba citadel, Archaeological Museum, and the Andalusian Center of Photography
Did you know? John Lennon was in Almeria when he composed the song Strawberry Fields Forever

You can’t really claim to know Almeria until you have been up to the Alcazaba. Looking out from the top of this fortress, the first thing that strikes you is the intensity of the light which is both vibrant and blinding. The sun explodes in the sky and light bounces of the sea below, creating a flickering effect like the embers of a huge fire. “Tourists always look for shade because the light is very intense all year round” explains Adela Baena, a local guide. From Baluarte del Saliente, the easternmost part of the fortress, you can see the remains of the Arab walls, the Cerro de San Cristobal, the chaotic, jumbled city centre and the city’s old quarters with its narrow alleyways and colourful mosaic of tiled fisherman houses painted in shades of white, green and blue.

On the other side of the fortress towards the west you can make out Pescadería and a little higher up, La Chanca, where beauty and poverty rub shoulders together – as perfectly described by the writer Juan Goytisolo. Reggaeton and flamenco blare out of this poor district from the heart of the slums whilst Mercedes are parked outside on the streets.

If you cast your eyes a little further you can see the Mediterranean stretching out for miles. This same sea that was crossed by the Arabs centuries ago as they set out to become the protagonists of Almeria’s most glorious period in history. According to a famous expression of the time - “When Almeria was Almeria, Granada was just its farmstead”. Today, altogether different visitors from North Africa come and go by ferry during the holidays.

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In attempt to move away from its reputation as a bland and ugly city, Almeria has recently started work on a complete transformation. The central Rambla has now been completely transformed and many historic buildings are being restored with their original facades. The local authorities are doing their bit but the locals all agree that there is still much to be done.

Nonetheless the typical Almerienses remain firmly proud of their reputation and character. With their strong accents and sterotypical laid back image, they are known as lagañosos (a modification of the word legañosos, which means “people with sleep in their eyes”). This reputation has more to do with traditional manual labour involving esparto grass - that tires out the eyes - rather than implying that they are in any way lazy. Proud and chauvinistic, some have even founded their own separatist group.

The word to describe life in Almeria is relaxed. There was once a time when those with cultural aspirations would be hard pressed to find much of interest, and previous young generations would flee en mass in favour of cities like Granada or Madrid. Today however, the city is experiencing a cultural resurrection and is now beginning to entice people back into the city with attractions such as the festival Almeria en Corto or the renovated Andalusian Centre of Photography. Gerald Brenan described it perfectly: “Almeria was like a fair or the opera. Everything that happened had already happened many times before. Was it this that gave it an interesting richness?” he asked himself.

The main attraction of Almeria continues to be the beaches, which attracts die-hard sun worshippers all year round. The arid landscape provides a perfect backdrop for those looking to relax and lazily watch the city’s cultural rebirth as it rediscovers its buried history and prepares to present itself to the world in all its glory.

 

Facts


History

Almeria emerged as a Muslim region when Abd al-Rahman III positioned Yemeni soldiers in the city to prevent an impending Norman invasion. The name of the city, Almeria, was originally derived from the lookout tower in Pechina, known as the Al-mariyat Bayyana. As trade from the neighbouring port began to prosper, the Caliph decided to build a wall around the tower and in 955 the city was created. Almeria experience its most glorious period in history under Muslim rule.

Almeria's fortunes changed when Pope Eugene III called a crusade against the city in 1147 and it was annexed by Christian forces. The city continued to change hands for decades, resulting in its gradual decline. In 1490 the lands were handed over to army officials who first enforced the concept of señoritismo (privileges for the rich). This accelerated the decline that lasted until the 19th Century when the railway was introduced, the port was modernised and the mines were exploited. Intensive farming arrived in the 20th Century and today greenhouses are taking up an ever increasing amount of land at a frightening speed.

Neighbourhoods

Almeria is a diverse city with a wide variety of districts and neighbourhoods. This diversity can bee seen in the contrast between the rich chalets in Ciudad Jardín, deprived areas like Los Almendros, and recently emerging working-class neighbourhoods osuch as Tres Mil Viviendas or Colonia de los Ángeles. Undoubtedly, the most charming area in the centre of the city are Pescadería and the old quarters, although one should exercise caution when exploring this district as it lies next to la Chanca, one of the most deprived areas of Almeria. El Zapillo has a seafront promenade which takes in the most popular beach in Almeria and is also an area populated by students and immigrants because of the abundance of holiday flats.

People

Maestro José Padilla - composer - 20th Century composer who experimented with a variety of genres from religious music to cabaret, pasodoble and film music. He also wrote Almeria’s anthem.

Nicolás Salmerón - 19th Century philosopher and president of the First Spanish Republic in 1873 - a liberal who stepped down from his position after refusing to sign a warrant for the death penalty.

Celia Viñas – writer - famous for her poetic verses for children, she lived and died in Almeria.

Antonio de Torres – 19th Century luthier - known as the father of the modern classical guitar.

Francisco Villaespesa - writer – prolific 20th Century poet, playwright and novelist who wrote a work about Modernism.

Contemporary people

José Fernández, aka Tomatito - flamenco guitarist - developed his talent alongside Camarón de la Isla, they both grew up with pianists like Michel Camilo, one of the pioneers of jondo and fusion flamenco styles.

Manolo Escobar – singer - singer of popular folk songs and actor. He starred in many successful films from the seventies onwards.

Pedro Reyes – actor and comedian - today he is one of the pioneers of Spanish comic surrealism.

Manuel Martín Cuenca – film director - his films include La flaqueza del bolchevique and El juego de Cuba.

José Sorroche – flamenco singer - famous for perfecting and popularising cantes mineros in Almeria.

Carlos Pérez Siquier – photographer - founder of the influential group AFAL (Almeria Photography Group) in 1956, an organisation that has had a significant impact on the history of modern photography in Spain.

Politics

Almeria is one of the main strongholds of the Popular Party in Andalusia and they almost obtained an absolute majority in the municipal elections here in 2007. The mayor of Almeria is Luis Rogelio Rodríguez-Comendador. In 2007 he re-established his pact with GIAL (Almeria’s Independent Group), the party created in 2002 by Juan Megino, former mayor and member of the Popular Party. After the 2007 elections Megino found that his influence lessened somewhat, but he still holds power over key departments like Urban Development. The opposition parties are the Socialist Party and the United Left.

Economy

The economy in Almeria has undergone a radical transformation in recent decades, mainly driven by intensive farming and the business that this sector generates: plastics, biochemicals etc. Products are mostly exported to other countries and for that reason Almeria is known by many as “Europe’s garden”. The majority of greenhouses can be found in Vega de la Cañada, where the raf tomato is grown, one of the most expensive and sought after varieties of tomato which is exclusive to this area. Co-ops like Agrupaejido and Casi dominate this area because of their economic power. At the same time, construction and tourism have an important role in the economy, and the port is one of the most important communication links with Africa. The construction company Jarquil and the marble company Consentino are both significant in this region.

Media

The most progressive cultural publication is the monthly magazine Enterate, which gives full, up-to-date listings of all the cultural going-ons in the region. Daily newspapers include the well-established Ideal and La Voz de Almería as well as new local papers: Almería Actualidad published by the Joly group and Diario de Almeria which is free. Another important local publication is the monthly subscription magazine Foco Sur.

The most established local television channel is Canal Si - this pioneering project was set up in Aguadulce, Roquetas de Mar over two decades ago. Canal 28, Localia, Canal 34 and the recent Popular Televisión are broadcast from the city. With regards to radio, all national and regional radio stations are represented in Almeria with Onda Cero being the most well-established.

Education

Schools in Almeria are heavily subscribed due to the huge immigrant population. According to the trade unions, the number of pupils per classroom in neighbourhoods like Villablanca and Nueva Almería is as high as 29. The best state schools are Colegio Europa, Los Millares, and Nueva Almería. These are very progressive and contribute to the development of new methods in education. Colegio Diocesano stands out as a bilingual school where English is taught by British teachers.

Environment

Environmental groups are facing two major problems in Andalusia. Firstly, the ever growing number of greenhouses that are using strong pesticides and biochemical products; and secondly, the pressure to build more urban developments due to the recent trend of economic and population growth.

Some headway is already being made to resolve these problems. Organic farming is slowly increasing in popularity, and there looks to be a slowdown in urban development because of the current economic crisis. “Urban development is slowing down by itself, but the natural areas around Almeria are still not being respected” explains Montserrat Severian, the coordinator of the group Ecologists in Action. An additional problem comes from the increasing number of tourists to the region, the effects of which can already be seen in the rubbish that accumulates year round on the beaches and which puts the growing pressure on an already fragile eco-system.

Debate

Today Almeria needs immigrants in order maintain its current, lucrative economic system. Few locals want to work in agriculture and there are not enough workers for intensive farming. “No-one from Almeria wants to work in a greenhouse. The workers are always immigrants, except in small family-run greenhouses” explains Juan Pallarés, a representative from the trade union Comisiones Obreras.

Immigrants are required but they are also rejected. The general unease with the situation erupted in a town near El Ejido in the year 2000, when locals confronted a group of Moroccans, spurred on by growing fears over Islamic terrorism. Growing unease has caused an increase in friction between local Almerians and their new neighbours. Initiatives to promote integration and understanding may be necessary in order to ensure both groups can peacefully coexist.


Bibliography


These books related to Almeria may interest you.
  • • Goytisolo, Juan. La Chanca. Consejería de Obras Públicas
  • • Prieto, Antonio. Vuelve atrás, Lázaro. Planeta, 1973.
  • Naveros, Miguel. La ciudad del sol. Alfaguara, 1999.
  • • Martínez Durbán, Rafael. Puente Verde. Instituto de Estudios Almerienses, 2005.

Filmography


These films related to Almeria may interest you.

Links






3 comments

Pon tu propia imagen con Gravatar
El 21 April 2008 a las 1:50 PM, Lorenzo dijo...

Bienvenida Tania!! Buen trabajo, saludos


Pon tu propia imagen con Gravatar
El 9 February 2011 a las 8:40 AM, rocio dijo...

Buen trabajo? po cm to lo haga cm esto no veas va lista la niña.
Pa empezar la chanca es una parte de pescaderia y tu has estado en pescaderia pa ver como es o si en realidad la gente te hace algo, a lo mejor es q tu has estado y como tan visto la cara que tienes te han echado de alli,informate bien y no digas cosas tan feas de pescaderia, que solo hay buena gente y mucho encanto bonita.


Pon tu propia imagen con Gravatar
El 11 March 2011 a las 9:40 PM, Juanjo dijo...

El mote de “legañosos” viene como término peyorativo por parte de Sevilla y alrededores (Andalucía) para menospreciar a los almerienses. ¿Qué ocurre? Que hoy día usamos esa palabra para autodefinirnos, con la alegría de que pasamos a ser un pueblucho seco, a ser un vergel que supera en riqueza per cápita a todas las provincias de Andalucía.

Gracias de nuevo.



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