A big boost for cultural tourism in Spain, and particularly in Andalucía, as the country’s latest candidate site for UNESCO World Heritage status has been approved. Spain now has 45 World Heritage sites, the third highest number in the world and Andalucía, with a total of seven, has more than any other region in Spain. And that number should increase to eight in 2018 as Spain’s next candidate for inclusion on the list is also in Andalucía, the Medina Azahara near Córdoba.
The latest example of Spain’s cultural heritage to get world recognition is a group of three Stone Age burial mounds, collectively known as the Dolmenes of Antequera and between 6,000 and 7,000 years old, individually named as Menga, El Romeral and Viera. Menga is thought to be the only dolmen in continental Europe to have its entrance pointing towards a terrestrial landmark rather than the sun. For a more complete explanation of why Antequera’s dolmenes are special click here: Currently, there isn’t a good website specifically for the Dolmenes but this page on the Andalucía Tourist Board site gives opening times and access information.
The other UNESCO World Heritage sites in Andalucía:
Seville: settled by the Romans and known as Hispalis, Seville is Andalucía’s largest city and Spain’s only river port. Columbus’s departure for the New World was from Seville, as was Magellan’s journey which led to the first circumnavigation of the world. It was already an important trading city when it was recaptured from the Arabs in 1248 but flourished even more as the Spanish empire expanded and Seville became one of the world’s richest cities. Three sites have World Heritage status:
The Cathedral, the 3rd largest in the world, housing the tomb of Columbus.
The Alcázar, the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe.
The Archive of the Indies, the repository housing documents recording the Spanish Empire in the Americas and the Philippines. The building in one of Seville’s finest renaissance structures.
Like many Spanish cities, the historic city centre of Seville is flat and compact and there’s no need for a car. Lot’s of people stay away from Seville in the heat of summer but although it is often over 40ºC in July and August it’s a dry heat and Seville is a city that really knows how to live even when it’s at its hottest. Seville claims to be the birth place of tapas, although Granada would disagree, but whoever is right there’s nowhere better for a tapas crawl in the evening, going from bar to bar, sampling the best on offer. However, most cultural tourists visit between October and June.
Córdoba: The first traces of human presence date back to the Neaderthals, the first recorded settlements were Carthaginian and the Romans conquered the city in 206 BCE. Under the Arabs it was thought to be the most populous city in the world with as many as 500,000 inhabitants before being reconquered by Ferdinand III in 1236. If you visit in early May you can catch the flower festival in which the patios of Córdoba are opened to visitors and the residents compete with each other to produce the most beautiul displays. The courtyards literally drip with flowers. More information here.
Granada: After the fall of Córdoba in 1236 Granada was the only seat of Arab rule in Spain, until it too fell in 1492. Three sites have World Heritage status:
The Alhambra, the Generalife and the Albaicín quarter. The Alhambra claims to be Spain’s most visited building, with more than 2.3m visitors each year and it is best to plan ahead. Everything you need to know is on this multi-lingual site.
The summer months are hot but not as extreme as Seville or Córdoba. However, it’s very different at other times of the year given the altitude, 750m or 2,500ft above sea level. Spring and autumn are chilly and winter is freezing, serious wrapping up is needed.
Doñana National Park, one of the protection zones for the Iberian lynx. On the Europe to Africa bird migration route so just about every bird making the journey lands to feed and rest, making Doñana a bird-watcher’s paradise. Guided tours are recommended and a useful resource to help you plan is here.
Úbeda and Baeza in Jaén province, with numerous fine examples of Arab and renaissance architecture.
Rock Art of the Mediterranean Basin: prehistoric cave paintings at various sites in the provinces of Granada, Almería and Jaén.
There are signs that Andalucía is starting to take cultural tourism much more seriously, important because this sector is less seasonal than sun ‘n sand tourism and runs year-round; when the heat of summer deters many, a younger crowd of backpackers and students moves in and takes advantage of low season rates. Instead of competing as in the past, the cities of Málaga, Sevilla, Granada and Córdoba have signed a collaborative agreement with a joint budget to pitch to the international cultural tourist, with particular emphasis on the long distance traveller from China, Japan and the U.S.