Sugar Cane, the Lost Crop around Periana

Most visitors to the Costa del Sol will have a vague idea that there was a Moorish presence in Spain at some time in the past, and are attracted to tourist destinations such as Cordoba and Granada which have some of the most stunning Moorish architecture to be seen anywhere in Europe.  The Alhambra Palace in Granada is in fact the most visited tourist attraction in Spain.

Canes like these are still seen alongside riverbeds and not to be confused with Sugar cane. They are tradionally used as a building material or even to make musical instruments.

As we will see later there was much more to the Moorish invasion than just architecture and anyone travelling the roads around Periana some fifty years ago would have noticed the remaining sugar plantations started by the Moors over one thousand years before, and which until the middle of the last century was a valuable part of the local economy.  Plantations were established all along the Costa del Sol and as far inland as Periana, further inland the temperatures were too low and there was insufficient water supplies.  There were several sugar mills along the coast notably in Motril and Torre del Mar, but today all that is left of the latter is a chimney.  This refinery was for many years owned by the Larios family (of gin fame) and they were able to make not only sugar but also rum and honey.  We at Restaurante Cantueso still use Caña de Miel (Cane Honey) and find it popular on such dishes as aubergines in batter.

When sugar was first available in Spain it was in fact a luxury item and only consumed by the well off.  It became so important that a special sugar tax was levied and for centuries it provided vital revenue for the Kingdom of Granada.

Originally the canes produced around Periana were carried on mules but in later years transported to the mill via the little narrow gauge railway described in a previous blog.  In the centuries following its introduction into Spain explorers who visited Madeira and later the Caribbean found even better climates for sugar cane and (forgive the pun) they were sowing the seeds of their own industry’s destruction.  Then with the introduction of sugar beet, the urban development of land linked to tourism, and increased cultivation costs the end of Spanish production became a reality.

Historical Note:

In 711 AD, a tribe of newly converted Muslims from North Africa crossed the straits of Gibraltar and invaded Spain.  Known as The Moors, they went on to build a rich and powerful society.

Its capital, Cordoba, was the largest and most civilised city in Europe, with hospitals, over 30 libraries and a public infrastructure years ahead of anything in Northern Europe at the time.

Amongst the many things that were introduced to Europe by Muslims at this time were: a huge body of classical Greek texts that had been lost to the rest of Europe for centuries (kick-starting the Renaissance); mathematics and the “arabic”numbers we use today; advanced astronomy and medical practices; fine dining; the concept of romantic love; paper; deodorant; and even sugar cane.  Scholars from all over Europe went to Cordoba to study and help with the translation of forgotten Greek texts.

Much of this rediscovered mathematical knowledge was put to good use in buildings such as the Alhambra Palace and the Great Mosque of Cordoba, where the beautiful elevations we see today were based upon ratios used before in the building of Greek temples. In particular the formula: one to the square root of two was used.  This is the ratio which gives balance and symmetry to rectangular elevations.  A modern example of this ratio is A4 paper which when folded in half retains the original length to width proportions.  And for motor enthusiasts just observe the Rolls Royce radiator grille of the original models, it too has these classical proportions.

The occupation didn’t create the rigid, fundamentalist Islam of some people’s imaginations, but a progressive, sensitive and intellectually curious culture.  But when the society collapsed, Spain was fanatically re-Christianised; almost every trace of seven centuries of Islamic rule was ruthlessly removed.

With little resistance the Moors occupied and ruled most of the Iberian peninsular including today’s Portugal and even as far North as Poitier in France.  This area was called Al Andalus (The land of the vandals).  Gradually after some seven hundred years the northern tribes, which were Catholic, moved South re- capturing the land until only the province of Granada was left.

In 1490 the King and Queen of Spain were able to re-take Granada and this marked the start of the Spanish Inquisition and the forced conversion of the remaining Moors to Catholicism.  Eventually due to many Muslims secretly worshipping Islam, they were finally expelled having to leave the country without any possessions. More than a quarter of a million left most going to North Africa.

See also our posting about Banos de Vilo the Moorish sulphur baths close to Cantueso.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *