Settlement and Architecture
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Santiago-Pontones is the largest municipality in terms of extension and population dispersion, whereas others have only one town and hardly any villages. If we study the three regions – Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas – we find that the majority of the inhabited areas of the Sierra of Segura lie within the boundaries of the Nature Reserve, which has the largest number of villages and isolated hamlets.

In the Las Villas region, the towns lie outside the protected area and very few inhabitants live inside the nature reserve. Sierra de Cazorla is in an intermediate position, with Cazorla, at the entrance to the Nature Reserve, being the most densely populated town. The population is less dispersed, however, and therefore it has a different relationship with the environment then the population in the Sierra of Segura, for instance.

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In recent years, many of the municipalities that make up the Nature Reserve have gradually forgotten their cultural tradition, which was handed down from one generation to the next orally for centuries. Emigration, cultural changes in contemporary society and the integration of technology in everyday life have modified the cultural customs and way of life of the villages and towns. Travellers may still find many areas that afford images from the past in the vegetable gardens and whitewashed houses that retain a timeless quality.


Stone, tiles, timber and lime

Local adaptation to the environment can be observed in the villages and even in the old quarters of the towns. The self-sufficient locals, whose financial resources were meagre, did their own building using readily available materials, namely toba (a porous limestone), timber, cane, plant fibres, lime and tiles.

Unhewn stone bound by lime mortar was employed in most of the traditional buildings. Only the corners and visible sides were touched up, using softer stone, such as toba. The inside walls were made of adobe – straw mixed with clay –, which was inexpensive and well suited to interiors.

The inside framework was made of timber used as rollizos (posts) and cuartizos (one quarter part of a post cut lengthwise). The planking for the roof and the upper floors rested on the framework. The roofs consisted of a framework made of posts and planking. Timber was used to make the doors and windows, and the furniture was also made of wood.

The edifications were roofed using curved Arabic style roofing tiles, placed face up and face down in alternating rows, in such a way that the narrow part of each one was overlapped by the wider part of the next one.

The inside of the houses was curious, for in many cases a house consisted in parts of several houses and in others, part of one house was added to part of a different house. This was because inheritances often divided the houses among several heirs, and new rooms had to be added on. Rooms were not always on the same level, so sometimes there were steps going from one room to another. The coolest room in the house was used as the pantry, where the hams, earthenware jars and other produce were kept. The second floor was divided into storage rooms under the eaves where containers of grain and pork products were kept.

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Some villages were on the hills where there were springs and where paths leading to the roads could be built. Other villages were built in the valleys, close to the watercourses.


Community areas

The houses were grouped into hamlets and farmhouses surrounded by vegetable gardens and orchards irrigated with water channelled from the springs and reservoirs. Most houses had farmyards and barns close by, where the working animals were kept alongside the poultry. The threshing floors, oven, public washing place and some pasture land were communal property.

Certain activities were closely linked to village life and the subsistence economy. Farming was the main occupation, with the land being divided into irrigated land and dry land. Between them, they produced all the food a family needed. Cereals were planted in the dry land to provide fodder for the beasts of burden, and to grind into flour with which to make bread for the family.

Pigs were raised on kitchen leftovers, root crops and fruit until the time came to slaughter them at the matanza, a major family event. Matanzas are still held in many of the villages in the nature reserve. Small-scale herding was also common, and provided the family with meat, milk and wool. These activities were supplemented with bee keeping, where a few hives made from bark were kept for honey.


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