Local Traditions and Produce

On approaching the population of the mountain ranges which form the Sierras de Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas Nature Reserve, we should do so taking into consideration the extent to which the lack of communications and other infrastructure has isolated this area of the province of Jaén.

Many villages had no electricity or tap water until the 1980s, and the population has grown accustomed to the difficulties of travelling from the mountain villages to the province's administrative centres. Moreover, the Nature Reserve's present territory did not belong to the province of Jaén until the current provincial division was made. Of the province's three regions, the Segura region retains special ties with adjacent areas of Castilla-La Mancha, with which it shares cultural features and many elements of speech.

Change and tradition

The communications and technological changes witnessed in the past few years, however, mean that we are now speaking of the same sort of population that can be found in any other part of Spain. Nonetheless, we should avoid stale clichés when defining the regions' local population as "…astute and mistrustful, victims of a hostile environment that forced them to sharpen their wits and be highly cautious". This description by Genaro Navarro López, published in the 1960s, is completely outdated when we take a look at our towns today.
Naturally, certain remnants of the traditional isolation experienced in these mountains endure in the collective memory. In many places, low population mobility meant nearly everyone had family ties with each other, so the terms 'brother' and 'uncle' were frequently used to refer to distant relations. The habit is still prevalent among the more elderly village people. Nicknames were also widespread and passed from one generation to the next, with many of them still being used.

Currently, only 14,000 people live within the boundaries of the Nature Reserve, although the total population of the municipalities concerned is 80,000 inhabitants.

Mountain communities combine native cultural elements with others imported by the local people who emigrated and then returned, and by new arrivals with fresh points of view. The new technologies and increased mobility are breaking down the physical and psychological barriers the mountain population has had to face.

Olive oil, lamb and tourism

The economy in this mountain area has always been based on agriculture, livestock farming and forestry-related activities. Historically, there were big landowners whose magnificent houses are still preserved in our towns, and small farmers, craftworkers and people related to logging activities who supplemented their domestic economy with vegetable patches close to the banks of nearby streams.

Nowadays, the regional economy is based on the olive groves which grow on the Nature Reserve's mountain slopes, making them less profitable compared to the groves in other areas of the province of Jaén. Nonetheless, they produce top quality extra virgin olive oil awarded with the Sierra de Segura Guarantee of Origin and the Sierra de Cazorla Guarantee of Origin.
There are many examples of the modernisation of the olive oil industry in the Nature Reserve, but we will mention two of considerable renown. One is the Sierra de Génave Cooperative Association (in the town of Génave), a pioneer in organic olive oil in Andalusia, which exports most of its production. The other is Potosí 10 (in Orcera), where the focus is on the excellence of their olive oil. On several occasions they have won awards by the Ministry for the Environment and Rural and Marine Affairs for the best olive oil in Spain in several categories.

Another mainstay of the local economy is the Segura sheep, a breed native to the Segura mountains that is raised in the Nature Reserve and many nearby regions. Segura lamb has its own Protected Geographical Indication ‚Äďa certification similar to the guarantees of origin‚Äď that is making this outstanding product known to consumers and boosting the livestock farming industry.

Tourism has emerged as a thriving industry over the last twenty years, though it is unevenly distributed across the protected area, being mostly concentrated in the Cazorla region. The problem with tourism is that it is seasonal, so many employers and workers are compelled to seek other jobs for the off-peak periods.

In general, despite certain regional differences, the inhabitants of these mountains share most of the traditions and cultural elements described below.

A singular dialect

The dialect spoken in the Nature Reserve combines the influence of the dialects of Andalusia, Murcia and the Castilla-La Mancha region with its own highly original expressions. Each region preserves certain local peculiarities, but in general, as Id√°√Īez de Aguilar pointed out, they date back to the period when the mountain range formed a natural border with the Moorish kingdom of Granada. Moreover, when the Christian conquest ended, the population ceased to be mobile and was able to preserve the local dialect, contrary to the areas with higher levels of emigration and immigration. The speech of the elderly population includes Arabic idioms and archaisms, and one or more phonemes are often turned around as well, as in cieca instead of acequia (irrigation channel). The mountain people are very ingenious and expressive in their speech, which is peppered with idioms and expressions that surprise visitors to the area.


Many towns in the Nature Reserve have regional dance groups that keep the local folklore alive. Mountain folklore was closely related to everyday life and events like the Day of the Dead, San Antón Day, weddings, Carnival and the matanza (traditional pig slaughtering and subsequent feast). Courting and the rituals observed during the engagement period are never missing, accompanied by risqué comments and plays on words.

The most common dances performed in the Nature Reserve area are jotas, seguidillas, malague√Īas and fandangos. Prime examples are the malague√Īas of Siles, the jota of Benatae, the Los Cristos dance in Beas de Segura, the seguidilla in Segura de la Sierra, the malague√Īas of Puerta de Segura, the fandango of Chirichipe, the Jota del Remeneo, the bolero of Villacarrillo and the fandango robao of La Iruela and Cazorla.

Cycle of Festivities

Every town has centuries-old traditional festivals, such as the luminarias, bonfires around which the townspeople sing and share food washed down with a type of local sangria called cuerva. The festivities of Santa Lucía, San Antón and the Candelaria are still celebrated.
Christmas is an occasion not to be missed. An entire village close to Pozo Alcón is transformed into a 'real life' Nativity, with 250 actors re-enacting the birth of Jesus. The town of Huesca holds a festival in honour of San Silvestre, in which the townspeople draw lots for the offices of captain, standard-bearer and guinche, and dress in 18th century uniforms to accompany the saint in a religious procession through the streets. In February, Villanueva del Arzobispo and other towns hold a religious procession followed by festivities in honour of San Blas, whereas Puerta de Segura and others prefer to launch thousands of fireworks.

Easter processions are held in every town during Holy Week, although the most impressive event takes place in Segura de la Sierra and Villacarrillo, where the Passion and Death of Jesus are re-enacted. In Segura de la Sierra, practically all the residents have a role to play and they make use of the prettiest places in town to do the Stations of the Cross.

In May, altars with crosses are decorated in many towns and villages to worship the Virgin Mary. Spontaneous altars are set up and the locals hold a vigil during the night over a Cross adorned with sheets, flowers and aromatic plants. In Cazorla, the caracolada also takes place in May, to celebrate San Isicio's Day. It consists in lighting little oil lamps made from empty snail shells and placing them along the route followed by a religious procession in honour of the saint. The Corpus Christi religious festival is heralded in many towns by covering the streets with flower petals, rushes and other materials. In Villacarrillo, extensive 'rugs' made with damp sawdust or sand depict the traditional symbols of the Eucharist.

Many romerías (religious processions followed by festivities), are held year round at the sanctuaries of Tiscar and Fuensanta. The romerías held to worship the Virgen del Campo, Santa Quintana and San Isidro are also very popular.

Bulls are run through the streets of almost every town, and most notably in Iznatoraf and Santiago de la Espada. Arroyo del Ojanco and Beas de Segura celebrate San Marcos by releasing a large number of bulls on the municipality's streets.

New events

A number of festivals for all ages complete the summer and autumn cultural events. The most popular festivals are the International Air Festival in Segura de la Sierra, Bluescazorla, and the Theatre Festival in Cazorla, as well as medieval street fairs and other cultural activities.
One curious event is the 'crazy car' race held every year in Villanueva del Arzobispo during the local festival. It is the only race of its kind held in the towns that fall within the boundaries of the Nature Reserve.

Mountain-style bowling, an ancestral sport

Mention should be made of the mountain-style bowling game played since the Middle Ages in these mountains. It is Andalusia's only ancestral sport and it is gradually becoming more popular. Bowling clubs have been set up in many towns in the area to promote and enhance the sport .

The towns routinely organise bowling competitions for the local festivities, and other competitions are held by the clubs, the most important of which is the all-day Bolos (bowling) competition held in Beas de Segura. The Copa Diputación de Bolos Serranos, a Bowling Cup organised by the provincial council of Jaén, has also promoted the game in the Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y las Villas Nature Reserve. The Andalusian Bowling Federation organises a full calendar of sports events every year that includes around twenty competitions.

Bowling combines strength and precision, for the players can use only one ball to knock down wooden pins called mingos. There are two different types: high-mountain and valley bowling. They are unevenly distributed in the Nature Reserve, with the valley version being relegated to the Segura valley. Apart from being a sport, bowling provides an opportunity to have a good time with friends, the family and residents from other towns who come to play a game. Travellers who come across a bowling game have no trouble joining in to learn something more about this ancestral sport.

Here is a link to tell you more about the bowling game and its rules, and even show videos of championships: www.bolosserranos.es. The Andalusian Bowling Federation also has a website with federation info: www.boloandaluz.org.

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