Hidden Corners of Spain: Níjar
A small village with mucho arte: Níjar isn’t really near anything in particular, but if you’re in Almería it’s a great place to stop and visit. The municipality of Níjar is actually one of the biggest and most expansive in the entire country (the fourth largest). It spans a distance of 25 kilometers, which is pretty big for Spanish municipalities. It encompasses the natural park Parque Natural Cabo de Gata-Níjar which is home to the Spanish peninsula’s only volcanic mountains, as well as protected beaches.
The actual town of Níjar is tucked away just off the A-7 highway and is situated at the base of a mountain range called the Sierra Alhamilla. Its known history dates back to the 9th century A.D., even though there are traces of settlement dating back to 3,000 B.C. In written accounts from the 9th century, the village was already known for its artisan wares, specifically its hand-painted clay pottery.
It was an area of Christian-Muslim conflict for a number of years, and later, in the 16th century the town was at risk for literal pirate attacks. So not too many Níjariños (I made that up) hung around, and the town became abandoned for quite a while.
The village was brought back to life by some political changes in the 1800s, when it became a hot spot for mining lead. Fast forward to today, and Níjar is mainly dedicated to agriculture, as can be seen from the numerous greenhouses surrounding the town.
Additionally, Níjar is still known for its artisan traditions. You’ve never seen so many ceramic shops per inhabitant as you’ll see here. And there are signs everywhere advertising ceramic workshops. I want to go back just to sign up for one! (Another reason to go back: there’s a butterfly garden! Sadly, I didn’t have a chance to visit.)
Another popular artisan item made here is called jarapa in Spanish, which is basically a rug that’s woven by hand in a variety of colors. People use them as floor rugs or as wall hangings, and I even saw some jarapas that were beach mats and purses. It’s hard to come to Níjar and leave without buying anything! I did buy a couple of ceramic hand-painted mugs. I couldn’t quite find a reason to buy a jarapa this time around.
The houses around town are mostly white, giving it a charming aesthetic along with the brightly painted doors, flowers, and cacti everywhere. You really get a sense that this town is buzzing with creativity and proud of its heritage.
On the way out, I couldn’t resist snapping a photo of this man carrying flowers behind his back. Who were they for? It was just too adorable. Another thing I liked about Níjar was how friendly everyone was. Nearly every single person that you cross in the street says hello, even kids. It seems like a warm and kind community where people can enjoy living.