Struck by a meteor? A Setenil Street
The 3,000-odd inhabitants of Setenil de las Bodegas, a city in Spain’s beautiful Andalucia region, seem to be stuck between a rock and a hard place. When they enter their houses, they see rock face; when they stroll through their city, they walk on rocks. Has the city been hit by a meteor, and if not what caused its unusual construction?
Setenil’s “hard rock cafe”
Setenil de las Bodegas, about 18 km away from Ronda in the province of Cadiz, has wedged itself between the cliffs eroded by the Rio Trejo river. The old houses especially are built under the cliff overhang and the newer ones against the hillside.
Image: Elli & Beau Capper
Stuck between a rock and a hard place?
The name Setenil developed from the the Latin septem nihil – “seven times no” – which refers back to the period of the Christian reconquest, when Catholic kings tried to win back territory from the Moors, who had come from Africa and ruled the Iberian peninsula since 711. In Setenil’s case, only the seventh reconquest attempt was successful, in 1485, making the city one of the last bastions of the Moors until they were driven out of western Europe in 1492.
The city of Setenil and the Rio Trejo valley
Regarding the second part of the name, “de las Bodegas,” at least two different stories circulate. According to one, Sentenil proudly added “de las Bodegas” to its name in the 15th century because of the many vineyards that had sprung up. Sadly, vine pests ended this tradition in the 1860s.
According to another story, since the early 16th century, “bodegas” referred to Sentenil’s big storerooms under the rock, which kept all kinds of produce cool even in the hottest of summers. Regardless of which version is true, the fact is that even today, Setenil is famous for delicacies like chorizo, cerdo, olive oil, honey, jam and excellent Andalucian wine.
Old and new: Most houses in Setenil have a rock connection
Other than being built into the rock, Setenil is also one of the typical White Villages of Andalucia – villages that try to stay as cool as possible in this hottest region of Spain by whitewashing their houses every year, as white reflects sunlight best.
When looking at images like this, with a whole village literally living in the shadow of a huge rock, one wonders: why, isn’t it depressing, especially in the winter?
The reason people choose to live here is pragmatism, more or less. The natural caves at Setenil proved perfect living quarters, it is believed since pre-historic times. Instead of having to build a whole house and insulating it against heat in the summer and cold in the winter, many rock caves just needed a façade and, voila, there was a house in tune with nature!
Image: Image Elli & Beau Capper
One of Setenil’s oldest streets
Also, one shouldn’t forget that Setenil de las Bodegas is a city that is many centuries old and thus has seen its fair share of fighting. And which enemy would go for the city with rock solid defenses, literally, when the next town over has no such protection? After all, that’s why it took the Catholic kings seven attempts before they won Setenil back from the Moors…
Overall, a very minimally invasive building style. Rock on, Setenil!