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Setenil de las Bodegas – The Spanish Town Built Under a Rock – Lesson

Around 3,000 people dwell beneath the giant rock.

A small town in Spain, Setenil de las Bodegas, was built within the narrow gorge formed by the Río Trejo River. The valley has abundant overhanging rock, which the locals use for their homes. Just over 3,000 people live in the quaint town that is known for producing meats, pastries, almonds, and olives. Though it may seem dangerous to live under a large, heavy rock, there is little chance that the stone will move or fall, and there is decreased risk of fires and earthquakes. How did this town come to be, and why would people choose to live there?

The Establishment of Setenil de las Bodegas

The formation of Setenil de las Bodegas is believed to date back to the 12th century, when the Moors added walls and enlarged some spaces in the rock to find some relief from the scorching summer weather and the cold winter temperatures. It was much more cost-effective to reconfigure the caves into homes than to building new ones, and there were added safety benefits beyond the more stable temperatures that made the sub-rock dwellings so popular. The benefits include a significantly reduced risk of house fires and a lesser chance of damage from an earthquake.

The town name, Sentinel, is a Castilian name from the Roman Latin phrase septem nihil, meaning seven times nothing. That is believed to refer to the many attempts to take the town during the Christian Reconquest. It took seven assaults for the Spanish Christians to take control of the town. The remainder of the name came in the 15th century, when flourishing vineyards grew. Unfortunately, the bodegas (wineries) were no longer useful after the invasion of aphids destroyed the vineyards and halted the production of grapes.

GettyImages-1371825681 Setenil de las Bodegas

Setenil de las Bodegas (Photo by: Bildagentur-online/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The town is still known for producing olives, almonds, pasteles (pastries), and meats, such as chorizo sausage and cerdo (a pork product).

The Town’s Attractions

Setenil de las Bodegas is a popular tourist site today due to its quaint shops and cozy coffee houses, breathtaking mountainous views, and delicious restaurant options. Tourists can walk the quiet streets and view the spectacular rocks that hang over the edges of the buildings. The town is just a 30-minute hour drive from the larger city, Ronda, where there are more accommodating overnight options.

Nazari Castle, a fortress that once stood on Setenil de las Bodegas grounds, is also a tourist attraction. Very little of the castle still exists, but the towers and corroded remains are a must-see for many travelers, as the views from atop the towers are remarkable.

With a population of just over 3,000, the town presents a peaceful small-town feel, welcoming tourists with the added pleasures of good food and beautiful scenery.