We diverted on our route to Granada for a brief stop at Gaudix. Spain has the largest
European population of cave dwellers and one of those areas is in Gaudix. In stark contrast to the natural backdrop of ocher-coloured, craggy cliffs, are the whitewashed chimneys of the troglodyte dwellings. The dwellings are not made from natural cavities, but are in fact man made by digging the caves from the soft sandstone rocks.
Although Gaudix is where most tourists come to see these man-made cave dwellings, you can also see them from the main highway and also in many of the little towns surrounding Gaudix, but with a smaller concentration and less touristy.
Gaudix was originally a Roman town where silver was mined. It’s importance rose during Arab reign as it provided a natural pass between the coast and the city of Granada and this is why the Moorish fortress was built to protect it.
Although there was cave dwellers back during the Arab occupation, it was after the Christian reconquest that an influx of cave dwelling took place. When the Moors lost power and feared persecution, they fled the cities and established their homes in dwellings like those found in Gaudix and the surrounding hills.
It is estimated that around 10 000 people are living in caves. Why would you live in a cave you may ask? There are actually some advantages, like a constant year round termperature of about 20 degrees, so while the temperature reaches 40 degrees outside in the summer and it regularly snows in the winter, the cave is the perfect temperature. Another advantage is the natural insulation provided by a cave making it a quiet home.
The hills surrounding Gaudix are littered with older, abandoned caves, evidence of a simpler past, where the caves were little more than rooms with simple doors and windows and unpainted.
Today most of the caves are modernised with electricity, running water and all the normal domestic appliances. Some cave dwellings have been extended out from the caves adding extra rooms and patios and some are even fitted with marble floors. The further from the centre of town, the more isolated the homes are, with only the odd chimney, door or window which can be seen.
There are a few miradors around town that offer views over the chimney swept landscape, although some are a little tricky to find. To reach one of the miradors in the centre of the troglodyte homes, you have to walk past a few homes and we were invited in to have a look, be aware that there will be a charge for the opportunity.
Some of the more elaborate dwellings below the mirador
After visiting Gaudix we had a bit of time before we could check into our apartment in Granada, so we decided to stick with the cave dwellings and visit Sacromonte as well. I must say driving the very, very narrow, windy, uphill streets of Sacromonte, requires not only nerves of steel, but constant folding mirrors in and out and both the driver and passengers looking for oncoming traffic. Parking is a premium and I can’t image summer, but it does mean you don’t have to walk the steep streets.
Sacromonte is far more touristy and less authentic than Gaudix, but if you don’t have a car or the time to make a side trip, it will still give you an idea of cave living. Sacromonte is the original home to the gypsies who settled in the area after the Christian reconquist in 1492. It is believed that in the 16th century, when the Jewish and Muslim populations were driven from Granada city, that they began to build their own individual and unique caves and mixed with the nomadic gypsies adopting some of their customs. The area became the home for those marginalised, who couldn’t live within the city walls.
The Cave House Museum of Sacromonte
The museum has used 11 caves to re-create what life was like living in the caves, but also to display the typical trades and crafts that were carried out by the gypsies.
There are caves that illustrate the layout of the kitchen, always at the front of the house, a bedroom and animal quarters. What was interesting was that sometimes the animals would be kept in an adjoining room to those living in the house, with the purpose of sharing the animal’s warmth and their smell no doubt. Apparently chickens and pigs were kept in separate caves, it was only the horses and donkeys that lived close to the owners. If the owners where really lucky, they also had a room to store all their tools and equipment.
Along with the caves illustrating the home-life of gypsies, there are also caves showing their crafts and trades. Some of the crafts shown are basket weaving, pottery, weaving, metal work and information on Flamenco.
Tourist Information on the Cave House Museum of Sacromonte:
5 euros per person, groups of 10 or more people the price is reduced to 3 euros
- Winter (October 15 to March 14): From 10 am to 6 pm (Monday to Sunday)
- Summer (March 15 to October 14): From 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Monday to Sunday)