If you visit La Alpujarra, you’d be foolish to ignore the fantastic Museo Casa Alpujarreña, next to Bubión’s church. It’s a typical house of this area, barely altered since its previous – and final – occupier lived here.
A time-capsule of a former home, it’s as if someone entered one day and asked for the clocks to be stopped – although putting out the stars would be a mistake, such is the perfect stargazing sky here. The last owner – nicknamed Anica – was born in the property around 1910 and left in 1990 to be cared for in Madrid by her children. Her family still own several properties in the village. Houses like this were owned by people with land – and therefore money – who over the years bought even more land and buildings. It’s the same down our way, in and around Órgiva.
Our guide, Lurdes – who as a child decided to drop the ‘O’ from her name and “leave it in Barcelona” – took us around the house. She painted a fascinating picture of life here over the centuries. The Moorish building is over 500 years old and built on hard rock, its foundation, and was home to countless families – and animals. They resided on the lower level while the upper floor was where people lived, cooked and entertained their guests.
Entering the house, you’re greeted with a relic of a TV, the first ever in the village where neighbours would be invited to bring their own chair to watch it. Anica‘s photograph – her wrinkled skin surrounding dark eyes and a toothless mouth – sits on top. The furniture, pictures, crucifixes and ornaments were all hers left, in situ, while other items – farming implements and additional cooking items – were donated by villagers when it became the museum.
As well as the thick walls to keep the heat/cold out, a striking element is the sky-blue ceiling, typical of the Alpujarra: chestnut beams, flat stones, plaster and small pieces of slates. Red peppers and fruit once dangled from the beams in every room; the bent nails, which they were tied to, are still there. Without fridges a supply of produce throughout the winter was vital.
The rudimentary bathroom didn’t get running water until 1972; before then a hand-pump in the level below brought natural fountain water to the room. Waste was once sent to a communal pozo negro (cesspit).
The cute bedroom, with the ubiquitous marble-topped tables, contains a handsome bed with a sheeps-wool mattress with a divet in the middle (Anica had quite a few children).
Like most kitchens – this one beautifully cluttered with utensils and faded ceramics – had a hearth at its heart. A glimpse up the chimney and beneath a hearth that, Lurdes assured us, was painted in white every day to keep it ‘clean’. The layers are so thick the hearth tapered in at the bottom. A small, ‘modern’ (1950s) Aga-like cooker stood at one side.
A small scullery, used to wash the dishes, was also where meat was hung and morcillo (a type of black pudding) and sausages were made – the meat, blood and spices being mixed in traditional Moorish bowls that anyone visiting Granada province will recognise. Weeks before the slaughter took place, a man would visit the village and repair any bowls (valuable to the owner), often adding iron staples to the rim.
In the centre of the kitchen is a table with a brasero at its base. This would be filled with hot coals and provided warmth; the long tablecloth being pulled over ones lap to trap the heat. A bit like a bedpan for the nether regions.
A wooden rattle, similar to those once used at football matches, sits on an old chestnut table. It was only used at Easter when the church bells fell silent and the altar boy hit the streets to announce another forthcoming mass. There’s a pasta maker too! – an astonishing, if crusty, version of a modern-day imperia.
A room leading off from the kitchen is a sweetshop of farming tools – including a Roman plough. Many items cover the walls, including a sledge-like device with blades underneath that was dragged over straw to cut through it, plus a wooden fork cut from a single branch, used to separate wheat from the chaff. Also iron tools to scour the earth. Items made of esparto (a course, dried grass) hang from hooks – including a lunchbox and round cheese moulds.
In days gone by, and without the choice of working at the local bank or Zara, most people toiled on the land; hay for the animals, olives and almonds, rearing goats, sheep and chickens – and then killing them. Several rooms echo with their screams; they ate from the troughs that are still here. During the day, the chickens roamed the nearby streets. Each house tied a different coloured piece of material around the chickens’ legs to differentiate them. They slept in a space under the stairs with a small hole in the wall above, for air.
In another room a large pressing area for grapes vies for space with an olive press (not originally in the house). The doorways generally in the house are tiny – a reflection on the stature of people in those days.
A large, square pit where grapes were pressed has a well-like hole at its side to collect the juice. The last of the juice and grape skins, with various herbs added, were made into a strong liquor. Today, shops sell liquors and spirits in all colours of the rainbow (we’ll do a taste test another day).
It was interesting to understand how people lived throughout the year: the harvest, slaughter times, storage of grains, the dried peppers – a production line of sorts that kept families self-sufficient all year. We don’t know how lucky we are today with our fridges and ready-chopped and minced meat. Although making homemade wine is still on the agenda.
The museum is thoroughly recommended, and only costs €1.80 per person. Our advice? Get to Pampaniera, the village below, and, if you can, walk the 30 minutes or so to Bubión.
Museo Casa Alpujarreña: Plaza de la Iglesia, 1. Bubión. Tel: 958 763 032.
Open Sunday to Thursday, 11am-2pm: Fridays and Saturdays, 11am-2pm and 5pm-7pm. Closed Tuesday.
© con jamón spain