The white village of Ardales lies at the foot of a huge rock of the same name and topped by the ruins of a castle, between the Serrania de Ronda, the Antequera Basin and the Guadalhorce Valley.
A maze of narrow streets and little houses with terracotta roofs, and with a population of less than 3,000, Ardales is still a very traditional place, where agriculture remains the main industry and where a mule is almost as common a sight as a car.
But Ardales is not completely undiscovered, and the area is beginning to attract out-of-towners and northern European expatriates who prefer living away from the hustle and bustle of the coast.
The Romans were the first to build a castle on the ‘Peña’, or Rock, of Ardales, below which the village grew up, although the existing ruins of the fortification date back to the 9th century. The fortification overlooks a wide plain below, which forms one of the natural passages to Málaga, and has therefore been of great strategic importance over the centuries.
It was also the Romans who built the stone La Molina Bridge across the River Turón in the 1st century. The three-arch bridge, located just down from the plaza de San Isidro, is still intact.
The Moorish period was an important one for Ardales. The village was conquered in 716 by the emir Alhur el Tagafi, who gave it the name ‘Ard-Allah’, garden or land of god. It was then one of the villages which made up a defensive arc around the fortress town of Bobastro, built by Omar Ben Hafsun, who led the uprising during the Muladi (Christian convert to Islam) uprising of the late 9th-early 10th century.
In the 13th century the castle was considered a particularly crucial position by Moors and Christians alike after the area became the frontier between Castilla and Granada. There were frequent Christian incursions to try and take over the fortification, and it changed hands more than once.The first conquest was in 1362, but six years later it was recaptured by the Moors.The castle was definitively captured by the Christians in 1453 or 1454, and ceded to the lord of Teba, Don Juan Ramírez de Guzmán by King Juan II.
Parts of the castle still remain, including nine towers. The entrance is through a curved doorway located behind the late 15th century Mudéjar-style Nuestra Señora de los Remedios Parish Church. Built on the site of an old mosque, the church tower, with its covering of green glazed ceramic tiles, was in fact the mosque’s minaret. The church had fallen into a poor state by the 18th century and was rebuilt in 1720, although the Mudéjar elements of its interior were preserved. Further restoration works were carried out in the 19th century.
The convent of the Capuchinos was built in the lower part of the village in the late 17th century, while the nearby by chapel of the Encarnación dates from the 18th century.
But really, the main charm of the village lies in everyday life going on much as it’s done for centuries. The Plaza de la Constitucion is a good place to watch the world go by, seated in one of the small cafés serving excellent tapas.
One of the most important sites in the municipality is Ardales Cave, also known as Doña Trinidad Cave, which was discovered in 1821 after an earthquake revealed the entrance and which is about five kilometres from the village. More than 50 prehistoric paintings and engravings of animals were found on the cave walls, notably the Stag of Ardales, painted in black with a red point where the heart should be, but also horses, goats and fish.
The cave stretches for more than one and a half kilometres.Among the highlights are the Grand Hall, the Hall of the Lake, the Buttress Gallery, the Engravings Gallery and the Hall of Hands. There are natural columns, lakes and beautiful formations of stalagtites and stalagmites in the caves.
It is possible to visit the cave in small accompanied groups, which have to be prearranged by calling 952 458 087.
A similar distance away from the village is the area known as the Mesas de Villaverde, where there are the ruins of Bobastro and the rock Mozarabic church.
Also very close to Ardales is the El Chorro gorge, the result of the Río Guadalhorce cutting through the vast limestone cliffs over thousands of years. The ‘Camino del Rey’ (King’s Path) is a walkway attached to the face of the gorge about 100 metres above the river, which was officially opened in 1921 by King Alfonso XIII, but which is now quite dangerous in parts and is therefore closed.
The natural park which surrounds the Conde del Guadalhorce, the Guadalteba and the Guadalhorce reservoirs in the Guadalhorce Valley is of great ecological and environmental interest. The area makes for a great day out in lovely countryside, whether swimming and sunbathing, fishing, strolling around the reservoirs’ shores or enjoying a picnic.
There are a number of good restaurants by the reservoirs, some with terraces overlooking the water, and a museum dedicated to the geology, nature, history and archaeology of the area within the park.
There is also a Municipal Museum of History and Traditions at the entrance to Ardales village, and next to the Town Hall in the Plaza de la Constitución there is an interpretation centre dedicated to the history of Ardales’ caves. As well as exhibits of archaeological materials and human remains there are reproductions of Paleolithic paintings on panels.