Located just 21 kilometres inland from Málaga city, Cártama is a bustling market town surrounded by agricultural land. In fact it is two towns - Cártama Pueblo and La Estación.
There are also six other urban areas in the same municipality - Doña Ana, La Ampliación, El Sexmo, La Aljaima, Loma de Cuenca and Gibralgalia – which all lie along the river.
There is a fair bit of modern development in Cártama Pueblo, but the old part of town stretching up a hill remains more or less intact and typically Andaluz, with winding streets and white washed houses.
La Estación, a few kilometres away by the río Guadalhorce, grew up around the railway station, which opened in 1865. There is an iron bridge across the river here, which was built in 1928, and the 19th century San Isidro Labrador Parish Church.
The municipality, also known as Lemon Valley, has historically been one of the most important in the Guadalhorce region, partly due to lying on a frontier, but also because of the río Guadalhorce and its position in the middle of a fertile flood valley. This is still an area where agriculture is one of the mainstays of the local economy, especially the production of olives, almonds, fruit and vegetables.
Cártama was settled by the Phoenicians, who found an Iberian hamlet centred around a small fortification on top of the Cerro del la Virgen hill. It seems both peoples coexisted for some time, and together reconstructed the fortress, calling the location ‘Carth-Ma’, or ‘Hidden town and mother.’
When the Romans arrived in the 2nd century they seized the fortification, then rebuilt and strengthened it, and called the town ‘Carthima.’ A bridge and aquaduct dating back to Roman times still stands where there are remains of the old Roman road which had linked Cártama and Alhaurín el Grande.
One can also see Roman arches for the channelling of water; one arch is in the centre of the village.Another remnant from the Roman period is the Cruz del Humilladero, a Roman column upon which an iron cross was placed in 1752, which stands at the town entrance.
And among the numerous historical and cultural findings in and around Cártama was a Roman mosaic depicting the 12 tasks of Hercules.The mosaic was discovered in Calle Concepción in 1858, and later taken to a farmhouse in La Concepción. Sadly, when the farmhouse was sold the mosaic disappeared
Cártama was a key fortification during the Moorish occupation due to its strategic location and the surrounding fertile plains, and it was at this time that it acquired its existing name.Again, the Moors rebuilt the town’s fortress, converting it into one of the most important military bastions in the area.
The Christians captured the town in 1485, bringing the Moorish period to an end. Once more there was reconstruction work on the building due to its crucial position for the conquest of Málaga and Ronda. In fact it was in this castle that the conquest of Málaga was planned by the King Fernando’s Council of Nobles.
The castle essentially fell into disuse after Granada fell, but in the early 19th century it was the scene of an attack against French troops during the War of Independence who had taken refuge there.
With this fascinating history in mind, it’s well worth taking a look at the ruins of the castle and its walls. It is a bit of a trek, but the effort is rewarded with great views of the surrounding Guadalhorce Valley.
And then there’s Cártama’s most obvious site, the Virgen de los Remedios Hermitage, which was built on the site of a former mosque below the castle and which attracts pilgrims from all over the region.
The original construction of the hermitage in the 16th century is related to the legend of an apparition of the Virgin appearing on the hilltop before a shepherd. After an image of the saint was carried through the streets of Cártama during an epidemic of plague, those who’d fallen ill seemed to inexplicably recover and the miracle was attributed to the Virgin. The existing building is however 18th century.
Every April 22 the Virgen is transferred to the San Pedro Apóstol Parish Church, the highlight of an annual fiesta in the saint’s honour. The church was built in the early part of the 16th century, its tower incorporarting part of an old mosque, incorporating a mix of Gothic, Mudéjar and Renaissance styles.
The González Marín theatre is a monument to a more recent piece of the town’s history. Inaugurated in 1942, the theatre was named after one of the most famous actors of the early 1900s, who was born in Cártama in 1889. The theatre closed in the 1960s, but there are plans to restore it.
Another cultural point of interest is the traditional folklore of Cártama, and especially the ‘Verdiales’, or music particular to the municipality
A distinctly unusual local attraction is the crocodile park. The only park of its kind in Europe, its 45 square kilometres are home to around 200 species of crocodile from around the world, ranging from babies to massive five-metre long adults. As well as tours of the park, there is a museum, a mini zoo, a video presentation, souvenir shop and a restaurant.
In terms of facilities, Cártama has pretty well all one would expect of a town of this size, including a health centre, a public library and a number of schools.
There are also municipal sports grounds and swimming pools at the entrance to the Pueblo and in La Estación, and the surrounding countryside with the river and backdrop of mountain ranges is ideal for walking and mountain biking.
BARS & RESTAURANTS
There are plenty of bars, restaurants and pubs to choose from in Cártama Pueblo and La Estación, including a handful of British-run establishments.
Restaurante Berrocal, Los Rondeños, 115. Cártama-Estación. Tel: 952 420 423.
Venta Los Cabales, Ctra. de Coín, Km.7. Cártama. Tel: 952 420 091.
Aprilm 22-26: Fiestas in honour of Cártama’s patron saint, Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, when the image of the Virgin is brought down from the hermitage to the parish church in the Pueblo. There is a procession on April 23, with followers carrying candles, singing and chanting, and throwing flower petals. There is also live music, a dog show and livestock fair.
May 15: Fiesta in honour of San Isidro in Cártama Estación, with processions, competitions, events for children, sporting events, live musical performances, dancing, food tastings.
June 24: Fiesta in honour of San Juan in Gibralgalia.
September 24-26: Livestock fair. Also, sports tournaments, giant paella.
CROCODILE PARK: Local road MA-402 km 22.5, La Aljaima,Tel: 952 118 318. Open daily.
EDUCATION: There are 12 schools and an adult education centre in Cártama municipality.
There are plenty of international schools in Málaga province:
St Anthony's College, Fuengirola. Age 3-18.
English International, Marbella. Age 3-18. Tel: 952 831 058.