AREA: 26,40 km ² ALTITUDE ABOVE SEA LEVEL: 416 metres AVERAGE ANNUAL RAINFALL: 630 l/m²
AVERAGE ANNUAL TEMPERATURE: 175 ºC POPULATION, CENSUS 1994: 1,267
HISTORY AND LANDSCAPE
Arenas is situated near the Seco river at 416 metres altitude, between Cerro Alto (627 m.) to the north and Benthomiz (706 m.) to the south, in the Axarquía mountains. The landscape characterizes these mountains: hills covered in almond trees, olives and vines, and speckled with farmhouses. Sometimes a small pine grove breaks the monotony of the surroundings, which takes on a notable showiness when the almonds come into flower over the hillsides of Benthomiz; a great hill, which covers the major part of the municipality and on which the ruins of a castle are found. From the peak, one can contemplate excellent panoramas of the Axarquía region, which go from the Sierra Tejada, to the north, up to the sea, on the south.
Arenas history is narrowly tied to the castle of Benthomiz, at least in its origins. It seems to be that this castle has Iberian origins and that the Phoenicians and Greeks took advantage of it, to establish some settlements. Later, it was occupied by the Romans, judging from the remains found, such as the Baths belonging to that era. But the Arabs gave the castle more relevance, giving it a fundamental importance as a defence post for the area. Judging by some chronicles, it was one of the first bastions in the Arabic defence system in this region: "three castles guard the Axarquía, Comares, Benthomiz and Zalía".
After the Christian conquest, the inhabitants of the fort made a pact with Fernando el Católico and continue to keep its mosque, religion, customs and are still judged by their cadis. During the moorish rebellion, they did not intervene, but they were still affected by the rights they had. Benthomiz swore obedience to the king of Granada, Aben Humeya and offered a strong resistance.
Places to Visit
The town offers the possibilities of recreating a typically Arabic architecture and urbanism, with two-storey houses built on hills and therefore on different levels to each other. The most emblematic building is the parish church of Santa Catalina, a 16th century Mudejar work which was seriously affected by a fire in 1926, although fortunately part of its tower remained which was once the minaret of the old mosque and on which it was erected. Close to the urban nucleus, on a hill, are the ruins of the Benthomiz castle, a fort which was Roman and then Arabic; decisive for the defence of the area until 1487 and a refuge for the rebel Moors in the 16th century. Only a few vaults (dungeons) are left and part of the exterior walls which are crowned in some parts by battlements. In the Daimalos area there is another minaret and an Arabic fountain.
They are trying to recuperate the handicrafts with a school workshop.
The popular gastronomy is based on larded rabbit, and fried kid with almonds. In the winter there is breadcrumbs fried with garlic and herrings. And in the summer is the gazpacho (cold soup). As in most parts of the Axarquía towns, the olive oil is one of its jewels which can be bought in shops and oil mills.
FESTIVITIES AND TRADITIONS
The patron saint's festivities in honour of Santa Catalina are celebrated on the second weekend in August. The Candlemas festivities take place on the 7th and 8th of September with the traditional bonfires, lit by the youngsters in the farmhouses while the verdiales and zambomba play. These are typical popular folklore expressions. Other festivities are the carnival, strongly connected with the "mask carnivals", which is no more than people dressing up in old clothes and running through the towns streets scaring their neighbours.