Filed under: culture, science, society, spain, sport, travel | Tags: archeology, mining
I’m staying in a small town called Minas de Riotinto, a town like many in outback Australia that thrived through a mining boom (a gold star if you guess the name of the mining company that benefited), but is now atrophying quietly and sadly like a loveless elderly person. A big difference between Australian ex-mining towns and this though, is that Minas de Riotinto is on the side of a mountainous national park and is an hour from Seville, which makes it arguably a lot more exciting and accessible than Broken Hill, for example. The town is also home to the regional hospital and a few other places of employment, so the 15 or so restaurants and variety of local shops continue to scrape by.
Despite its current misfortune Minas is quite a popular tourist destination for Spaniards, who come via Aracena or Seville to visit the mining museum and look at the eerie alien landscapes worthy of NASA research, then look at the beautiful mountain sunsets while listening to goat bells and birds in the valley below.
The town has a mining heritage that dates back to before the Romans invaded, so with all the digging that’s gone on it’s an interesting archeological site. For me though Minas de Riotinto has been a unique cultural experience, because of the English Club.
Last century when the English came to make a lot of money from the mineral-rich land, the town overflowed so they built a new town next to it, to accommodate the extra workers. Hence now there’s the old town with typical Spanish architecture, adjacent to the English ‘new’ town. Here is the only place outside of the Commonwealth I’ve seen English architecture classed as culturally significant. The ‘new’ town is heritage listed and there are signs and plaques around the area, with little maps of how an English house looks, in contrast with your typical Spanish place. These cultural curiosities are just like the home where I grew up. I found it strange reading historical information describing my own culture. The coast of Spain has survived invasion after invasion over the centuries, resulting in beautiful Arab and Roman architecture. Though the English didn’t make Spain a colony they had their own form of invasion nonetheless. Surely a turn of the century English cottage doesn’t deserve recognition like the Alhambra? In Minas de Riotinto it does.
Then there’s the English Club. After a year in Cambridge where I had free access to lush grass courts as well as a plethora of surfaced ones, I’ve been feeling a little tennis deprived here. I discovered in the centre of the English village there is an expat social club, complete with a big swimming pool (only open in the summer), billiard room and 4 tennis courts. This is about a 5 minute walk from where I’m staying. It sounds ideal, but it’s been a long time since this town had a big expatriate community, so the club has been taken over by a faction of locals. Considering Spanish time frames, it took me almost two weeks to establish who could give us access to the tennis courts, and where we could borrow four rackets and some balls.
This achieved, we set out one sunny Autumn afternoon to play tennis. The courts are worse for wear after years of neglect. They’re so rarely used that when we started playing a group of Spanish boys abandoned their football game to come over and watch us through the fence. Unfortunately it was difficult to put on a good exhibition match because the rackets were also from the 80’s. The grip on the racket disintegrated a little more each time I hit the ball, leaving my palm black. After five minutes of his powerful serves Ian had blown strings on two of the rackets. He then resorted to using the two rackets more like a lacrosse stick, catching the ball in his basket of strings and flinging it back over the droopy net.
Shortly after we gave up on tennis and resolved to stick to sports that the locals know. I don’t want to be a cultural relic in Spain.
1 Comment so far
Leave a comment