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The Bobastro ruins, Ardales, Andalucia

The ruins at Bobastro are one of the most unusual archaeological sites in Spain.

Bobastro is located in an area known as Mesas de Villaverde, some 10 kms from Álora and about the same distance from El Chorro, right in the heart of the Desfildares del Chorro natural area. 

It was at Bobastro, that General Umar Ibn Hafsun (or Omar Ben Hafsun), united Mozárabs and other Islamic groups to defend country life in opposition to the Umayyads. From these inaccessible hilltops, he headed the rebellion against the Emirate of Cordoba, Abdullah Ibn Muhammad, in the 9th and early 10th centuries.

The rebellion he lead had a few notable victories, with Umar Ibn Hafsun successfully rallying groups of Mozárabs and Mullawads, who under the rule of the Emir of Cordoba suffered high taxes (Mozárabs at the time had to pay the jizyah, a personal tax, and were subjected to a number of religious, social, and economic restrictions that came with their status). He quickly gained influence, land and castles in Málaga, Granada, Jaén and Seville.

As his empire grew, General Ibn Hafsun moved from the castle at Bobastro to the more centrally located town of Poley, now known as Aguilar de la Frontera. It was at Poley, that he suffered a massive defeat and had to retreat back into the mountains and the almost impregnable fortress of Bobastro. 

By all accounts, the Muladi rebel leader was a colourful character who regularly switched allegiances and made the huge strategical mistake of converting to Christianity in 899, costing him most of his Muslim support. It was around this time that he built the Mozárab church.

Umar Ibn Hafsun died in 917 of natural causes and left his sons to carry on the rebellion he started. Bobastro eventually fell to Abd-ar-Rahman III's armies in 928. The remains of Umar Ibn Hafsun and one of his sons were dug up and crucified near the doors of the Great Mosque of Córdoba as a warning to others. 

What to expect at the Bobastro ruins

Most of the site still remains relatively untouched and undiscovered. Large sections of the mountainside haven't been evacuated yet. Whether they will be in the future, is anyone's guess. You can wander around and find caves that used to be dwellings and see structures that could have been watchtowers or part of the defensive walls. The area is also littered with old pottery and ceramics.

Some parts of the Bobastro ruins are closed to the public. If lucky, the guide will let you wander around on your own, or take you on a tour of them.

We were given a hand drawn map and told where to go after the official tour ended. 

What is visible today (and part of the tour) are three large structures, the ruins of the Alcázar, a Muslim necropolis and most importantly, a Mozárabic church - the only one of its kind in the world.

The basilica-shaped church was carefully orientated towards the east and has a 9 by 10 metres floor divided into three naves - the one on the right is higher than the other two. The naves are separated by horseshoe arches, a couple of which have been preserved. 

 

The effort that must have gone into creating these structures is just mind boggling. The whole complex was carved from rock.

The building of the structures and the defensive walls that surrounded them, involved each and everyone of the inhabitants. It is said, that every person had to pay a yearly fee of a carved slab of rock, something that must have taken months of hard labour. The dimensions of each slab were carefully measured and each one was added onto the defensive walls or used in construction. 

Opening times and prices

The ruins are only open from Friday until Sunday, from 10am until 3pm. There are tours that run every hour and start on the hour (last tour at 2pm).

You may need to wait if turning up while a tour is in progress. The gate is usually locked. The entrance price for adults is 3€ and for children 2€. 

Getting to the Bobastro ruins

Getting there is straightforward. If coming from Málaga drive towards the lakes at Ardales. Just before reaching the campsite and the 'beach' areas, you'll come to junction with a turning for El Chorro - signposted. Take a right here and follow the road as it snakes downwards through the woods. After approximately one kilometre you'll see signs for the Bobastro ruins on the right. Take a sharp right here and keep following this road as it veers upwards. You'll eventually come to a wooden cabin (the ticket office, you can't miss it), park here. 

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