Artana exudes diversity in every sense of the word. The rocks that make up its terrain – limestones of various shades of grey and reddish sandstones – fight amongst themselves to impose their colours and those of the shrubs and plants that cover them. From their green and red kingdom, the dense forests of pine trees and cork oaks salute the holm oaks and Aleppo pines that now stand in the space that was lost over centuries of cultivation. The proud orange trees give way, between La Plana and the Sierra de Espadán, to majestic carob trees and centuries-old olive trees that have witnessed many of the events experienced by the different civilisations who have inhabited this territory over time.
Neolithic, Iberian and Roman inhabitants worked hard to dominate the area of Espadán, but it was the Muslims – who later became known as the Moors – who lived here for 900 years, who undoubtedly succeeded. Their best legacy was working out how to maximise the potential of the Sierra’s water, creating a network of ponds, dams, wells, reservoirs and water mills. There are also many natural springs throughout the area, the most famous of which is the Baldriana spring, which is bottled and marketed under the name of Orotana. Villagers drink from this spring in the same way that they walk through its ancient streets; slowly, savouring the cultural legacy of their forefathers with every drop. As they do so, they know that they represent the gateway to the Sierra de Espadán Natural Park: a world of wildlife that is steeped in history.
Les penyes altes
Les Penyes Altes is the most impressive place to visit in Artana and, without a doubt, one of the most outstanding geological land formations in the Sierra de Espadán. The Penyes are a series of immense sandstone rock formations which, with their distinctive reddish hues, rise above impressive cliffs. The sheer size of them, towering over the Artana watercourse, is simply breathtaking. Home to a wide range of plants and animals, they have also been marked by the presence of mankind since time immemorial.
SAN JUAN BAUTISTA CHURCH AND PARISH MUSEUM
This church was built in the late 19th century. The entire temple, which is topped by a ribbed vault, is conservatively decorated with gilded stuccoes that repeat floral motifs. It features a Baroque chapel with interesting exterior inscriptions; early 20th century cherub heads; beautiful 17th, 18th and 19th century canvases; and a sculpture of Jesus Christ on the crucifix crafted by Vicente Castell. Interestingly, the Parish Museum showcases a Muslim tombstone that was found in the church itself. On it, an inscription in Arabic reads: ‘This stone was raised by the valiant Ali Zobei. God is Allah and Mohammed is his prophet’.
SANTA CRISTINA HERMITAGE
This popular enclosure comprises an early 18th century hermitage dedicated to the town’s patron saint, Santa Cristina; an inn, which has since been turned into a restaurant; an ancient, monumental olive grove; a green watercourse; and a spring that has seemingly been used to water the orchards since the time of the Ibero-Romans, and which was also used by the Moors for the same purpose. The cork oak groves that surround the church and the lush vegetation of the watercourse that penetrates them lend the enclosure a natural harmony that stands unrivalled in the rest of the municipality.
LA FONT DE FERRO MINES AND THE MINING MUSEUM
This is the most extensive mine in the Valencian Community, with almost 5,700 metres of underground cavities. Iron was extracted from the mine as early as the Roman times, with this activity lasting until the mid-20th century. After its golden years in the mid-1900s, the mine was shut down in 1963. In two of its nine shafts, there are various informative panels that explain everything from the origins of the mine to its influence on the town in the 20th century, the tools that were used and various mining plans. The Mining Interpretation Centre can be visited in the Artana town centre.
If they’re feeling brave, visitors can follow in the footsteps of the ancient Christian reconquistadors in the fight against their fierce Muslim opponents by scaling the slopes that lead up to Artana’s ancient medieval fortress, whose origin can actually be traced back to the Roman time, if not earlier. The Castle can be reached by following the signposted routes that wind their way up the mountain. Visitors will find remains of towers, cisterns, moats and castle walls and will be greeted by astonishing views across the valley, the town and the Sierra de Espadán, showing the strategic importance of this ancient defensive structure.
From the winding streets of the El Pardinal neighbourhood, which is the oldest in the municipality, you can walk up to the Via Crucis and visit its different stations. Flanked by tall and ancient cypress trees, this route leads to the El Cristo del Calvario hermitage, which is station number 12. The image housed within this small, white-walled hermitage is deeply cherished by the people of Artana. In fact, one of the most popular processions of the year is held here on the first Sunday after Easter, when El Cristo del Calvario is taken to the village before being returned to his peaceful hermitage.
EL TRONC CAVE
This is the largest natural cavity in Artana. The dissolution of limestone rock over the centuries has shaped this underground gallery, which is 67 metres deep and runs for more than 450 metres. Like many other caves in the Mediterranean, where nature and culture go hand in hand, the El Tronc cave was previously used as a pen for livestock. Nowadays, it houses a sizeable colony of bats. Its viewpoint also offers fantastic views across the municipality of La Plana.
THE MONUMENTAL OLIVE TREES
Artana is known for many things, but above all it is renowned for the amazing quality of its olive oil. Artana’s liquid gold has a long history to tell. Evidence of this is found in the age and size of the dozens of monumental olive trees that are distributed across the town’s fields. These living monuments – some of which are more than 1000 years old – aren’t found anywhere else on the planet. Each olive tree – with its own distinctive silhouette – has witnessed the defining moments of the area’s history, and continues to bear its best fruit.
THE TOWN CENTRE
Artana’s town centre is also worth paying a visit. With a distinct Muslim layout, characterised by narrow streets that twist and turn from the church right up to the upper part, the various neighbourhoods reveal their charms to visitors who pass through them: old white-washed houses with blue-framed windows; cobbled streets and refreshing fountains; and most interesting of all, a wide range of colourful tiled shrines on the walls, dedicated to different saints and virgins who are, after all, the town’s most vigilant patrons. We also recommend taking a look at the town’s various modernist houses.
Up until a few generations ago, lime was found in every single household. There would be a bowl of lime in every single family home. 3 people were involved in the traditional production of lime: one person extracted and transported the limestone from Xautena; another collected the firewood from the area around the kiln; and the third person – the lime burner – started the kiln and fired the stones.
In Artana there are a large number of bird species due to its variety of environments, such as the historic orchards and its ancestral irrigation system, rainfed crops (carob, almond and olive trees, some of them millenary), the wooded masses of the Sierra de Espadán with cork oaks, pinaster and white pines, and a wide cohort of shrubs. The siliceous rock cuttings of the Peñas Altas, a favourite place for raptors, are a geological landmark without equal in Valencian territory. In the midst of this diverse mosaic, you will be able to discover species from both environments.