More than 2,000 years ago, between the 1st and 3rd centuries BC, the Romans were already walking between the oak trees of the Sierra del Benalfí, in the foothills of the Sierra de Grazalema, along one of their famous roads, those works of civil engineering which have resisted the passage of time. Now other Romans, but contemporary ones, are returning to walk these thousand-year-old paths in an event which attracts an increasing number of visitors each year.
There has been such as excellent response to this initiative that the organisers have introduced more ambitious elements, so this has become much more than a walk down the Roman path. This year the programme includes activities such as conferences, historic reenactments, gastronomic events and activities for children. On Friday 20th at 8pm, at the Centro de Recepción de Ocuri, a round table discussion will be held about this Roman town, with the participation of historian Luis Javier Guerrero Misa; Giacomo Gillani, a specialist in Classical Literature, and Fine Arts specialist Joaquín Domínguez Ordóñez. On Saturday 21st at 9pm, this same reception centre will be the venue for a performance of the classical ‘Fabula Belli Troiani’ by the ¿Tea Tre Ves? Theatre Workshop of Ubrique. After that, the II Convivivm Ocvritanorvm will take place, with a typical Roman menu prepared with products and recipes from the era.
The actual descent down the Roman trail itself will take place on Saturday 28th. On the Friday, at 6pm, a Roman market will be held in the Town Hall square (Plaza del Ayuntamiento), organised by Andalucía Medieval. Then at 8pm, the Cohors Praetoria Ocvritanorvm and the Legio X Eqvestris will take part in a street procession which starts at the Plaza de la Estrella and finishes at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento.
On the Saturday from 4.45pm, the people who want to take part in the descent along the Roman path leave from the bus station. The bus will take them to the starting point of the walk, in the neighbouring municipality of Benaocaz. The only condition for taking part is that people dress as Romans. The Roman legions are expected to arrive at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento at 9pm.
The following day, Sunday, there will be a children’s procession at midday, with the youngsters dressed as Romans, and a puppet show. The festival closes with a firework display.
The Roman path down which the ‘descent’ takes place is included in the catalogue of footpaths in the Sierra de Grazalema natural park. In Benaocaz, it begins on the A-2302, beside the bus stop for the village. If we start in Ubrique, we need to look for the church of San Juan. The footpath goes continually downhill through limestone landscapes with dolomites, clay and gypsum, and there are some lovely views of the Alta and Ubrique mountain ranges.
Baths and forum
However, Ocuri is neither a legend nor the fruit of historians’ imagination. The path passes below the Salto de la Mora, where the remains of the Roman town are situated. Surrounded by a formidable wall and with impressive infrastructure such as water deposits and channels, we find the remains of public baths, houses, the forum and the cemetery, which were built during the 2nd century BC.
This complex can be visited from the information point at kilometre 20 on the road between Ubrique and Benaocaz. A stretch of the wall is still intact, about 26 metres in length, three metres wide and an average height of 2.14 metres, and experts believe the wall, which was built for defensive purposes, was originally about 40 metres long and was constructed in the 5th century BC. In 2012 the wall suffered major damage and part of it collapsed. At present, restoration works are being carried out on these stretches and to consolidate the span of the entrance to the archaeological site.
The path continues downwards to the stone, or head, of the bull (a bull’s head is painted on the rock). Legend has it that a battle took place at this point between the inhabitants of Benaocaz and Ubrique over the image of San Blas. They hurled rocks at each other because the people of Ubrique tried to steal the image as a mate for the Virgen de los Remedios. It is here that the organisers of the ‘Bajada’ designed the ‘ocuritaurus’, a bull’s head made out of fibreglass which has become a legendary totem.
Once the participants arrive at Ubrique, the Romans who have taken part in the Bajada for the first time are baptised in the ‘fountain of nine spouts’ and are given names from that era.
Interesting places in Ubrique include the Capuchinos convent, which is a 17th century church, the 18th century chapel of El Calvario and the parish church of Nuestra Señora de la O, built in 1773. The image of Nuestra Señora de la O is the work of sculptor Jerónimo Hernández. It was created in 1575 and painted by Álvaro de Ovalle in 1576. It was originally in the El Salvador church in Carmona. In the chapel of El Sagrario is a painting of the Immaculate Conception attributed to Italian artist Lucas Jordán, highlighting the beautiful and magnificent silver tabernacle which was created by the Navas Parejo goldsmiths in Granada.
The town’s principal industry is leather and there is now a Leather Museum, the Museo de la Piel de Ubrique, which is situated in the Convento de los Capuchinos, in the rooms which were once the cells of the friars.