Margaret Watson LRPS AFIAP
Galera is situated in a long corridor of land, one hundred kilometres in length (the Altiplano or High Plateau), where the province of Granada borders Jaén and Almeria, and is one of the worlds richest and most passionate landscapes. This flat plateau, situated at a 1000 metres (3000 ft) above sea level, was in pre-historic times an enormous lake and is now an infinite plain broken only by deep indentations made by the rivers which cross it and that create populated and cultivated oases such as Galera. It is first and foremost a farming community, followed closely as a rural tourist attraction, well known in Spain but undiscovered by the rest of Europe.
Archaeological digs have shown that it was populated more than a million years ago. The Altiplano has a wealth of remains of prehistoric cultures. The Iberian Bastetano people, founders of the city of Basti (the origin of modern Baza), one of the oldest in the Iberian peninsula, settled here in the 6th century BC. The Lady of Baza, chief among Iberian remains, was also found here. Galera and its neighboroughing village of Orce was the first known settlement in Europe.
Although caves are probably the oldest form of shelter known to mankind, they have largely been forgotten as dwellings by modern civilised countries, consigned to the waste bin of ancient history. However in a few far flung places around the world cave houses have continued to be used as homes through out the centuries up to the present day.
The elevation of Galera, its situation, and the total lack of light pollution make this area an ideal location for astrophotography.
Cave life in Andalucía has acquired enormous historical relevance and continues to do so. The caves were lived in during ancient times as in many parts of the world but cave life was most active in the 19th and first part of the 20th centuries. At the end of this period there was an impoverishment of life in the area and cave living became assoiciated with poverty. However in the last ten years there has been a substantial revival in the popularity of caves, first as Spanish holiday homes, then for rural tourism and now as both holiday and permanent homes for Spanish and foreign nationals alike.
The modern history of the cave homes in Spain's northern Andalucía stretches back hundreds of years. If you wander the hills and valleys surrounding Galera you will be amazed to see just how many abandoned cave houses there are. Just forty years ago almost all of these rather primitive dwellings were inhabited and it is only since then that they have been abandoned. Back then the population of Galera was about 6,000, today it is a mere 1,300. In the late sixties and seventies most of the population of Galera fled the grinding poverty of life on the land for jobs on the coast and the cities of Barcelona and Madrid.
Not all caves were abandoned, a good percentage continued to be the main residence of many people, while others became fine holiday homes for those working in the cities and on the coast.
Today there is a huge revival in interest in this type of housing. Modern cave homes are still relatively inexpensive, compared to conventional housing and have all the facilities you would expect in a normal house while retaining the charm and character you hope to find in a rustic country cottage. This revival in popularity has seen the end of unemployment and an injection of wealth accompanying a growth in population for the first time in thirty years.
Modern cave homes are charming, light and airy, connected to mains electricity, water and sewerage. If you want to stay connected to the modern world most have access to mains telephone and satellite broadband internet and if you are really desperate to keep up with the outside world - satellite television.
I actually live in a cave house, images of which are shown above!!