If you’re idea of a caveman is an animal skinned
Neanderthal dragging clubbed women back to his lair then think again, for in Guadix, near Granada, half the population live
as troglodytes. Four thousand caves hewn over centuries from the bizarrely shaped countryside form the biggest
concentration of inhabited caves in Europe.
Guadix itself is an eclectic mix of the old and the new and has been around since
nearly the year dot. A former Paleothitic settlement, Julius Ceaser built a roman town here to mine the silver found in the
surrounding hills. It was the Moors who put the town on the map however, and it is from them that Guadix gets its name.
In those days Guadh-Haix, meaning ‘River of Life’ was an artistic town renowned throughout the conquered lands for its
poetry and beauty. The Moors developed an important silk industry and revived the fortunes of the town which even rivalled
Granada in its hey day. Around the 15th Century though, those pesky Christian Kings arrived and drove out the Moors. They
fled to the hills and became almost invisible by burying themselves in the mountainsides, thus beginning cave culture in
La Barriada de las Cuevas is situated in the northern part of the town and entering
the district is somewhat like entering a set for a Star Wars movie. Every hill sports a bright white washed fašade, a
little front door and one or two windows. Behind, white chimneys protrude randomly on the rising hillside, evidence of the
underground abode within. It may sound odd living in caves but there are fantastic advantages. For one, the caves stay at
a constant temperature year round, this seems to vary depending on whom you ask but suffice to say they are a very
comfortable 20░C, summer and winter. I figured the small differences reported may be attributed to the depth of the room
in question for I noticed in most of the caves, hollowed out of the wall, a natural larder, which stays a couple of degrees
cooler than the rest of the cave. This ability to create space is also another advantage. Think about it. When a new
child arrives or a family requires a bit more room, simply hack into the hillside a bit further and voila, a larger home!
I wondered did people ever inadvertently end up in the cave of their neighbours around the hill? It would lend a whole
new meaning to ‘dropping in’ wouldn’t it?
Se˝ora Purificacion Serrano Gomez, is 83 years old and has lived her entire life
in the caves, in the same cave no less, even born in it. I was nosily photographing the bright red peppers hung up to dry
on her terrace wall when she emerged and invited me in to closer inspect her home. Entering Purificacion’s cave, the room
seemed like any other. Built away from the rock face a part has been added recently for as with most of the cave dwellers
here, she was subsidised by the Junta to build the extra rooms. Gas is forbidden in the caves by law, also water pipes,
so many people have their kitchens and bathrooms in the outside rooms. Obviously very cave proud, Purificacion took me
deeper into the cave itself, the box like rooms giving way to bright white textured walls, domed ceilings and the odd
window set back nearly a metre from the inside wall. Purificacion pointed out members of her family in the framed
photographs that covered the walls; her beloved, late husband in full military uniform and sons and grandsons on their
wedding days, most of whom still live in the Barriada de las Cuevas.
I spent hours wandering around the district and spoke with many of the
people there; Julia, whose family has lived in the caves for over 200 years, Antonio, laying his almonds out on the terrace
of his sister’s cave (his was being used for some other agricultural pursuit) and little Javier playing miniature pool with
his friend in a rough storage cave next to their home. His aged grandmother, Francisca, looked on and told me that their
family have also lived in the caves for generations. In the local Barriada bar, the locals were enjoying their mid
afternoon vino and watching Cuba thrash another team in the Olympics (women’s’ basketball fans every one, nothing to do with
the tight very short shorts!). They don’t like the non-cave part of Guadix, it’s too busy, too hectic, they told me. I
left the boys to their game and walked as far as it seemed you could go up the mountainside, and discovered old abandoned
caves, the doorways and ceilings so low I had to crouch to enter. I tried to imagine life here when the moors hid from the
Christians in these very hills, unseen and unheard in their caves.
I quite fancied the idea of getting a cave of my own so asked the
ever-helpful Aaron, - who was a veritable font of information – what the local real estate market was like. Whilst
showing me around his family’s cave he explained that until a few years ago, a reasonable two or three bedroom cave with
all amenities would go for a mere 3,000 euros. He grinned as my mouth fell and told me that nowadays it will cost you
18,000€. You wouldn’t get the drip tray of someone’s fridge freezer on Marbella’s Golden Mile for that.
The following day I drove to Paulenka. Only minutes from Guadix, Paulenka is a tiny
hamlet, made up of caves built into a cliff and the surrounding hills. With a view of the snow capped peaks of the Sierra
Nevada at one side, the town of Guadix on the other, the weird Star Wars mountains all over the place, its picturesque
little church and of course it’s caves, Paulenka is stunning. The pace of life here is laid back, tranquil and like the
Barriada in Guadix, very rural. Sweetcorn and peppers are hung out to dry on the outside walls, chickens and goats cluck
and bleat about the place, old men with caps compare tomatoes in the sunshine and mules stagger under their loads down the
In Paulenka I met Mateo and Maria who also invited me into their home to
have a look. Theirs had no outer rooms, simply a doorway into the cliff face; a semi-circle of white paint to create the
fašade of their home. Simple and well kept, I felt privileged to be invited into these peoples’ homes. How many of us
would let a camera toting stranger into our house? Encarna and her husband, who I met later, told me that they had a cave
for sale and, still coveting one, my eyes lit up. It was the highest cave of the village, easily visible from where we were
standing, 8 rooms that needed some work and the electric installing. If you want to reach me from here on in, just ask for
Jax in Paulenka, top cave on the right, I’ll have the peppers hung out by next week.