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La Algaba de Ronda

A love of the area has been the driving force behind the long uphill struggle to give an old country house in the mountains of Ronda a new lease on life. The Algaba is home to a unique environmental education and sustainability initiative. An exploration of Andalusia’s natural heritage and the struggle to preserve it.

By: Cecilia Bogaard

Ecological centre
The Algaba Country House
Birth: 2005
Location: Ronda
Stands out for: first initiative of its kind in Andalusia
Did you know? given a special mention in the Europa Nostra 2008 awards in the category Education and Patrimony

Promoting the area’s rich legacy, supporting agriculture and organic livestock farming and understanding prehistoric Andalusia are just some of the objectives the team at la Alagaba are working on every day. “Re-connecting with countryside values is crucial,” explains María Sánchez, coordinator for the centre. With a doctorate in human and livestock ecology, she can’t help smiling as she describes the project based in the mountains of Ronda. Juan Terroba, director of the Environmental Education and Recovery of Native Breeds Programme, is equally enthusiastic. Drawing on their shared passion for the area they have created a centre dedicated to creating a way to understanding the past. Meanwhile, their combined vision is firmly centred on the future.

As visitors drive into the property they are welcomed by the sight of a two hundred-year-old country house. The gardens are full of flowers and herbaceous plants that add colour to the whitewashed backdrop of the house. The paths are littered with stones and Arab pottery. Portuguese, holm and cork oaks surround the property. All these elements combine to remind us of an Andalusia that existed centuries ago, and is today struggling to stay alive.

“We bought this country house ten years ago. It had been abandoned and access was very difficult. The first time we came out here, we ended up with six punctures before we finally managed to get to the house”, says Terroba. The restoration work took a long time and lot of funding. The Centre for Rural Development in the Serranía de Ronda (CEDER) financed 23% of the project. The rest came from partner organisations. “There is emotional involvement in this project, but somehow it doesn´t seem to translate into financial aid,” explains the coordinator when referring to the local authorities disappointing contribution.

La Algaba is made up of three different spaces, including the environmental education centre (located inside the house and consisting of several rooms used for meetings), the environmental observatory (over sixty hectares of Mediterranean woodland with numerous examples of native fauna) and the Neolithic settlement (over 4,500 square metres used to recreate the first human communal settlements that could be found in the area five thousand years ago).

The Neolithic settlement is one of the centre’s main attractions. Here you can explore the culture and lifestyle of the areas first settlers. “The documentation and research involved in this project took over twenty years,” explains Sánchez. “The architecture is experimental because it is our interpretation of history”. The huts, prehistoric tools, graves and animal enclosures represent an era that we have yet to discover.

Terroba’s main concern is that “people always question examples of sustainable business activity”. Meanwhile Sánchez struggles to educate people to look at country living from a different perspective. “The countryside is associated with ignorant, provincial people, a lack of professional security and poorly paid work. People honestly believe that this kind of initiative should be free for the public. This needs to change”.

All their effort has been well spent. “It has been a difficult but interesting challenge. It has been a challenge on an economic level, but most of all on an intellectual and human level,” explains Sánchez. After vanquishing these obstacles during the initial years, the project is now 80% complete. More and more links are being set up with different universities around the whole of Spain, including Granada, Cordoba and Madrid, and the number of visitors to the centre is rising on a monthly basis. Moreover, La Algaba has received two awards: the Arco Iris Prize for Best Initiative in 2006, awarded by the Andalusian Local Government’s Innovation Department, and the GAIA Environmental Prize in 2005, awarded by the Provincial Government in Malaga. “We are hopeful, enthusiastic and proud for having seen this challenge through to the end,” highlights Terroba. What is most commendable is their motivation: “Out of a love for the land”.