Galera - Spring and Summer



Written by AnnaBeth and Olivier

We promised you a post about Galera and here it is. There is so much to share about this ancient Andalusian village and the surrounding Altiplano (high plateau) de Granada. Today’s post will give you an introduction.



Galera is a village in Andalusia, 100 miles northeast of the historic city of Granada. The population is mainly Spanish with a generous smattering of British expats who’ve chosen this area as their dream retirement home. A few Germans, Americans, Colombians, Peruvians add to the mix.

Galera is a white troglodyte village. The hillsides are peppered with cave houses dug out from the mountainside. Cave dwelling dates back to the ancient Moors. Local peasant farmers have used caves to house their livestock and some have built new caves and lived in them. That said, Spanish villagers have traditionally preferred to live in houses built in the center of town, associating the caves with their Moorish rivals whom they displaced. Since the arrival of expats who are enamored with the caves, Spanish villagers seem to be developing a new appreciation for the natural beauty and year round natural coolness of in-the-mountain living.

Our friend (and local yoga teacher extraordinaire) Josie and her husband Danny offer some info about the history.


Early spring just before the trees burst with green. The Caves are along the hillside, the houses are in the center.


According to the 2009 census 1,100 people live in Galera full time.  Village dwellings tend to appear rather empty most of the year, as many residents have moved to the cities during recent decades in search of work.

Galera is often so quiet that we hear our voices reverberate from our side of the hill across the valley. The peacefulness is profound. During summer festival time families return to the village to gather for their yearly reunion and the place becomes lively with children and music. But “lively” in Galera still includes the rich silence of an afternoon siesta which is sacred in the countryside of this part of the world.

Interesting note - In the cities, “siesta” is disappearing, as 9-to-6 office schedules and tourism encourage businesses to stay open throughout the day. Even when urban businesses do shut down from 2-5 pm, employees often live too far to return home for a rest. Yet the Spanish still sit down for dinner at 9 or 10 pm and commonly socialize or watch T.V. until 1 or 2 am. Apparently, Spain now has the biggest sleep deficit among European countries. Changing from a traditionally late night culture to a contemporary work world has its hazards!


Empty streets during siesta time, even during the “busy” summer time. We love the pace of life. 



View from the foot bridge over the Rio Galera. The river is now dry most of the year except in early spring. The rich soil of the riverbed is used by villagers for community gardening. 


Last winter it rained a lot so we had a lush spring and the farmers were happy. 


Early evening view of the footbridge 




The two churches of Galera at night 



We wanted to give you an introduction to the history of the place. The story is beautiful,  painful and complicated. It’s about a culture of tolerance and brilliance that was lost to centuries of war and persecution. The Spanish Inquisition was no fun and the people of Granada and its surroundings suffered dearly.

The Moors thrived in and around Granada for centuries but throughout the Moorish period Catholic powers were intent on reconquering. When they did, the Spanish Inquisition became an all out ethnic purging designed to eliminate the Moors, Jews, Protestants, Gypsies, and any other non-Catholic group from Spain. In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella finally conquered Granada, which had been the epicenter of Moorish culture. The war in the area around Granada had several phases and lasted about a century. In the end, the Catholic re-conquerors were ruthless. In 1570, Don Juan of Austria (brother of the Spain’s King Felipe II) led his army against the remaining residents of the Moorish village of Galera. Dwellings were burned, agricultural land was salted, and every single remaining resident was killed. Gruesome.



The original cave dwellings were built by the Moors who began arriving in southern Spain from Africa in 711 AD. The Moors were expert farmers, artisans and engineers who transformed the arid land into lush, fruitful gardens using land terracing and irrigation techniques that were innovative even by our modern standards.



Our British friends, Nicki and Graham, renovated these adjacent caves. They live in one and rent out the other to vacationers. 


This lovely, quirky cave is a short walk down the hill from where we live. 



“Reformed” caves, Spanish style. The Spanish people tend to prefer flat walls that resemble the walls of houses. The Brits prefer to retain the natural curves of the mountainside, moorish-style. 


A tiny “unreformed” cave.  Note the electric counter next to the door.


Some of you have been wanting to know what it’s like inside a cave house. Every one is different. Here are examples of two caves.

Our U.S./Brit friends Debbie and John fixed this cave up beautifully. 






 Home sweet home. The terrace of our cave. 


Throughout the winter, wood stoves are the most common type of heating. 




Every village has its summer festival and some people spend their summer nights partying from one village to the next. For a couple of weeks in August the Galera celebration begins in late afternoon and each day the village offers different festivities. There’s a horse procession, sangria party, games for kids, family tours of historic sites, outdoor theater (local theater troupe), and medieval night. This year there was even a laughter therapy hour sponsored by the Asociacion de Mujeres (Women’s Association).

The music starts around 11 pm. From our cave way up on the hill we don’t hear it but we have friends who live close to the Plaza Mayor (main square) who say the bands sometimes play till 8 am. This year we saw Flamenco, Blues, and a wild Spanish band with an Irish flair called Ambulancia Irlandesa.

This game is called cucañas. A blindfolded child pulls on a confetti string that’s hanging from the bottom of a bag and lots of little prizes fall out along with confetti. The children all rush to the ground to grab the prizes, then another child takes a turn pulling the confetti string of a new bag.



Here on the Altiplano de Granada, the tradition of Flamenco is alive and well. Flamenco has been influenced by the many cultures and ethnicities of Andalusia. The Romani or “gypsies” migrated from northern India and spent a couple of centuries passing through Iran and Africa, picking up influences from those cultures before finding their way to Spain around the 15th century. Their influence is an essential aspect of the passionate and complex Spanish flamenco music and dance, however Flamenco also includes influences of the Greeks, Roman Catholics, Sephardic Jews and North African Berbers who all lived in Spain.






Medieval Market night. Standing in front of the herbs and spices, breathing deeply felt like a healing. 


Festival decorations on the village square 


We’ve attached a little video of Ambulancia Irlandesa playing on Medieval Market night. It’s 11 pm and the crowd is just gathering. We especially love the children running around the fountain…