Sierra Nevada, Spain - Agriculture

Agriculture in such an area is bound to be limited, and can be divided broadly into three main types; that of the high northern slopes, that of the arid foothills, and that of the high southern slopes. Few people try to eke out a living on the northern slopes; those who do live either in small villages like Guejar Sierra, or else in isolated farmhouses. At lower altitudes olives and vines flourish, and small terraced plots, irrigated from tiny streams, supply all the vegetables needed, while a few cattle are kept and sheep and goats pastured on the hillsides. At higher altitudes it is too cold for olives or vines, and the staple crops are wheat, maize and potatoes, all grown on minute plots hacked out of the steep hillside and irrigated by tiny runnels led off from springs. Chestnuts give a measure of variety to local food supplies, and some sheep and goats are kept -- but they are rarely to be found above 8,000 feet, since there is little grass at this height. Methods of farming are primitive; the wheat is often pulled up by hand, and then trodden by donkeys, the only beasts able to negotiate the steep slopes. On the southern slopes much more variety is possible, since it is much warmer, and it is here that a line of villages has arisen along the Rio Grande, where the streams of the mountains emerge from their gorges. Olives are grown up to the 3,000-foot contour line, oranges, vines and a great variety of vegetables flourish in the southern valleys, while chestnuts, mulberries and walnuts can be grown up to 5,000 feet, and rye and potatoes up to 8,500 feet. As a complete contrast one comes to the limited agriculture of the barren foothills, where only in the river valleys is there any extensive agriculture. A small number of sheep and goats are kept, some esparto grass is collected, and in a few spots, as for example along a spring line, a little wheat is grown; otherwise the foothills are useless for agriculture.

The most important of the cities include Berja, with its lead mines, Orgiva, a small agricultural centre, and Alhama, with its mineral waters. There are other even smaller villages, such as Trévelez, an untidy huddle of houses built below the peak of Mulhacén, surrounded by small runnels of pure spring water mainly derived from snow-melt, and boasting, despite its diminutive size, of the fact that it is the highest village in Spain (5,395 feet). Another interesting village is Pitres, which retains, as do so many of these mountain villages, the original Moorish houses of its medieval occupants, still occupied by their descendants. Communication between such villages is usually only by rocky mule trail; only occasionally is there a road which can take wheeled traffic. Oddly enough there is a motor road to the top of Veleta, which was used by cars for the first time on September 15th, 1935, and has since facilitated the transport of many tourists from Granadax for skiing in winter and in summer for mountaineering or sightseeing (visibility is exceptionally good on a clear day).

Este mirador es, pues, unico en el mundo. . . . Los valles septentrionales estan petrificados por el hielo y por el frio; los meridionales, calcinados por el calor y por el sol. En los cortijas que miran a Granada se vive al amparo de fogatas, bien cerradas las puertas y ventanas; en los de la Alpujarra, se duerme a la luz de la luna, sobre montónes de paja, al aire libre. Los labradores de Guejar o de Monacil almacénan bellotas y cerezas; los de la Contraviesa almontan almendras o naranjas. Aquellos conservan patatas bajo la nieve; estos secan higos al calor del sol. Las del Mediodia son suaves lomas de alegras tonas azuladas; las del Norte son crestas terribles, sombreadas, y negruzcas.

(Moreover, this sight is unique in the whole world. . . . The northern valleys are petrified by snow and ice; the southern ones roasted by the heat of the sun. In the farmhouses around Granada people crouch beside an open fire, and keep doors and windows well shut; in those of the Alpujarra, they sleep in the moonlight, on piles of straw, in the open air. The farmers of Guejar or Monacil store away acorns or cherries; those of the Contraviesa put by almonds and oranges. The former keep potatoes under the snow; the latter dry figs in the sun. In the south there are wide rolling hills, light blue in colour; in the north menacing peaks rise up, shadowed and black.)

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