Eslida is a town that stands 381 metres above sea level in the very heart of the Sierra de Espadán Natural Park; set at the bottom of the majestic Puntal de l’Aljub (949 m), it is located in the foothills of its Muslim castle.
Its fascinating orography includes lush forests of pine trees and cork oaks, and also comprises impressive peaks such as La Costera, Tarraguán, El Puntal de l’Aljub, Fonillet, El Batalla and Cocons. In a small valley in which the Anna river, flanked by several steep ravines, is the main watercourse, visitors are still able to appreciate the intense agricultural activity and terracing that the area has been subjected for more than a millennium.
The Origins of Eslida
The town’s oldest remains date back to the Copper or Bronze Age (1900 BC). In the 1970s, several funerary artefacts were uncovered in the Cova de l’Oret archaeological site, which lies just outside of Eslida. Archaeologists who worked on the project were able to uncover tools made of stone, adzes, two copper axes, different kinds of necklace beads, tools made of animal bones (spatulas and burins) and other animal bone remains, various human teeth and ceramic pieces. These have since been handed over to the archaeological collection of the Museum of Fine Arts of Castellón.
In the absence of further investigations, little else is known about the town’s evolution throughout other historical periods. During the Muslim period, the territory was organised into a main nucleus (the modern-day Eslida, sitting at the foot of the castle) and various farmhouses and agricultural sites that were dependant on the area’s water courses such as Lauret, Benissanda, Almoxarca, Cilim, Benalbutx, Alfetx, Alcúdia and Castro, with these being intermittently populated over the 8 centuries of Muslim rule.
In the late Middle Ages, Eslida was the capital of a small district. It acquired a certain prestige due to its cultural and religious significance, boasting a school for leading faqīh legal experts from Islamic intelligentsia. When James I of Aragón conquered Burriana in 1233, this area of influence in La Plana gradually surrendered – without too much opposition – thanks to the friendly pacts signed between the Saracens and the Christian king. In 1242, a town charter was conceded to Eslida and other farmhouses under its influence. By means of this charter, the new regime allowed them to continue living in their secular space and practising their religion and customs. Essentially, the only thing that changed was their lord.
Over the years, those Muslims (Mudejars) living under the rule of Christian lords continued to colonise some of the remaining, unclaimed land offered by the abrupt and fractured terrain of Eslida. In the early 16th century, a series of events took place that would change the status and identity of this group of people. These were the Revolt of the Brotherhoods and the introduction of the Habsburg Hispanic Monarchy under Charles I, which brought about the forced baptism of all followers of Islam (who came to be known as ‘moriscos’). The Revolt of Espadán in 1526, which took place at the same time as the Rebellion of the Alpujarras in Granada, marked the end of the period of tolerance and the decline of these Muslim communities, who were definitively expelled from the land in the autumn of 1609. Along the way there were periods of harmony, renewals of pacts, protests, failed attempts at evangelisation, selective expulsions, abandonment and destruction of farmhouses and accusations of collusion with the Berber pirates who patrolled the coast…
The Duke of Segorbe (who later became known as the Duke of Medinaceli), who was the Lord of Eslida and other villages in the Sierra de Espadán, found it necessary to repopulate his domains with new inhabitants so that he could continue to benefit financially from his possessions. In 1611 and 1612, population deeds were signed with several families – known as ‘old Christians’, at the time – from La Plana. The original population centre was given a house and land which were always owned by the duke, who was paid a census for the use of the basic communal services (oven, mills, shop, butcher’s shop, etc.). The town began to grow towards the end of the 17th century. By the 18th century, there was already a need to expand basic buildings such as the parish church, which was extended and renovated in 1750 in the baroque architectural style. The growth of the town required an expansion beyond the old town walls. The first great extension took place in the early 19th century with the laying of new streets beneath Carrer de Baix, which marked the easternmost point of the old town wall. With the 20th century came another gradual extension beyond El Barranquet ravine, which represented another natural and protective medieval border. The latest extensions, which remain to this day, were made around the main road and in some small-scale urbanisations.
Insofar as the town’s economy is concerned, it can only be classified as a subsistence economy until well into the 20th century. Traditionally, the town’s economy was dependent on agriculture and livestock keeping (with little surplus), basic mining, bee-keeping, charcoal making, etc. With the change of settlers in 1611, the community started to work on new lands. As the botanist Antonio José Cavanilles wrote in 1797, ‘Artana, Eslida and Haín never cease to reduce to cultivation even those sites that seem useless for agriculture’. He described our town in the following way: ‘The buildings of Eslida, located to the right of the riverbed on the slope of a steep limestone hill, are arranged like an amphitheatre, producing a fabulous close-distance view which I have tried to copy in the enclosed picture. They have all that is needed for the shelter of farmers, and form streets that are very uncomfortable to walk on due to their rough and continuous slopes. There are 170 inhabitants who live in the area, who keep themselves busy trying to reduce it to cultivation. This could be an hour and a half from east to west between Artana and Haín, and a shorter distance from north to south between Veo and Alfandeguilla de Castro. It is all mountainous, with some less steep terrains. Many almond trees used to grow there, as the founder granted the first settlers a fruit of their choice, and they chose the almond. Today, this tree is barely found in the area’s soil. However, the number of olive trees have greatly increased in numbers over the course of the last 100 years (…)’.
Other cultivations which would become more popular in the 18th century included the mulberry tree. This was used for the breeding of silkworms to make silk, which was sold for the manufacture of luxury fabrics in foreign workshops. Cork, meanwhile, was a material that had been used since ancient times for house covers, floats and bee hives, known as ‘vessels’. While various vessel workshops still existed in the 1980s, this family industry, which supplied various Valencian industries, was already on its deathbed in the early 1900s due to the arrival of new tools that improved productivity and made it easier to extract honey. This did not stop the beekeepers of Eslida from adapting to these new changes. By 1930, they were already building wooden box hives and extractors and exporting them all over Spain. The beekeeping tradition continues until the present day, with several families extracting and selling honey and other high quality bee products in their own shops.
As we’ve seen, the most intense cultivation of olive groves since the 18th century gradually placed Eslida among the largest olive oil producers in the Sierra de Espadán mountain range, which came to have 10 oil mills and was renowned for the production of high quality oils. The vine was also an important crop, as were wheat, maize, dried figs and various vegetables that were grown and consumed at home. The carob tree occupied an area similar to that of the olive tree, with a production of 90,000 kilos per year. However, this was progressively replaced by the almond tree as farm animals disappeared and market demands changed over time. Linen was still produced in small workshops for the manufacture of fabrics used for underwear and household items. However, with the arrival of cotton in the 19th century, the production of this material declined until it eventually disappeared.
During this period, the town hall (1868) and public washhouse (1899) were built at the outlet of the historical spring which led to the town being founded by the Muslims.
During the first third of the 20th century, the cultivation of mulberry trees, vines (due to the phylloxera disease) and flax gradually disappeared. The population continued to grow until the 1910s, when it reached a total of 1,552 inhabitants. The emigrations were initially of a temporary basis, with people leaving Eslida to work on large agricultural sites in other areas. However, with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, these moves became permanent and the town’s population dropped to its current figure of 725 inhabitants. However, the population tends to increase to around 3,000 people during the summer season, with many people attracted by its beautiful scenery. This temporary migration phenomenon has existed for almost one century.
Currently, in addition to its high-quality apicultural products, it is important to highlight the importance of the cork industry for Eslida’s local economy, with the town being renowned for the good performance of this locally-produced material.
Sant Josep Spring. The Sant Josep spring is located at the foot of Penya Miró. It has 3 low-flow tributaries. Its waters have organoleptic properties. It drains into the rocky area. There is a picnic area by the spring.
Les Fosques Spring. This is the town’s most prestigious and best-known spring. It has 6 tributaries. The waters are believed to offer mineral and medicinal benefits for the treatments of kidney ailments. They have low levels of mineral salt and therefore facilitate diuresis. The spring is reached along the Carretera de Aín road. After crossing the bridge that passes over the Oret ravine and La Rambla, you can climb up to the Les Fosques natural spot along a concrete track.
El Fonillet Spring. Standing at 527 metres above sea level, El Fonillet is an aquifer spring with little underground flow and minimal contact with the ground, with these explaining why its waters contains such a low mineral content. They are notable for their diuretic properties. The spring drains into its sandstone banks. It is immersed in a peaceful and beautiful natural landscape. The area itself it beautiful, with low stone walls separating small sections containing tall pine trees and cork oaks. In 1936, there was a plan to build a sanctuary for tuberculosis patients on this site.
Matilde Spring. There are two springs: one in the lower part, where very little water flows from (Gregori spring); and another nearby which is more abundant. It is a light and pleasant-tasting water. It drains into the rocky area. There are cooking stations and picnic tables alongside the small Chóvar ravine. There are three ways of getting there: from the road that lies between Eslida and Artana; from the road from Eslida to Chóvar; and from the town itself, along the ancient Camino de Alfetx (also known as the Camino dels Caminets).
Castro Spring. The Castro spring is found alongside the ravine of the same name. It only flows when it rains, and the water is notable for its cool temperatures (12º C). The spring drains into its sandstone banks. It is reached along the road that connects Eslida to Artana. Around 500 metres outside the town, you will need to take a tarmacked track that crosses the Castro ravine and then splits into two. To reach the spring, you’ll need to head left at this fork.
Les Escaletes Spring. This spring is located in Ombria de l’Oret. It has one tributary whose flow is dependent on the amount of rainfall in autumn and spring..
This castle, which is perched atop a cliff, presides over the town of Eslida. Nowadays, all that is left are remains of the double walled enclosure and the homage tower. This tower, the only one which is visible from afar, is a triangular-shaped construction with cubes at the apexes (along with that of the La Mola castle in Novelda, they are the only examples of Muslim towers with triangular floor plans in the Valencian Community). It has recently been acquired by the Eslida Town Hall, and a plan currently being drawn up for its recovery and consolidation. You can just about make out the Mediterranean from the top of the watchtower.
In Medieval times, the construction that we now know as the Molí d’Aire served as an additional tower. This was located on a nearby mound that monitored access through the Oret ravine.
El Salvador Church (or La Transfiguración Church)
The current structure dates back to its extension in 1750, in which it was remodelled in a Baroque style. However, it seems that by 1430 the construction of a Christian church had already begun on a site just one metre away from the mosque, since the small chapel in the castle was already dilapidated by that point.
The church is therefore not built directly upon the old mosque, but right besides it in the main public square.
La Rambla Aqueduct
Eslida has various aqueducts across its different ravines and canal networks, with the scarcity of irrigation water forcing the 17th and 18th century settlers to find a way to make the most of the water they had in the cultivated land on both sides of the watercourses. These aqueducts tend to have a maximum of one or two arches.
The aqueduct that crosses the Anna river, also known as the La Rambla aqueduct, has a different historical background. It is believed to date back to some point in the Middle Ages, and was constructed by Muslims who sought to find a way of carrying the abundant water from the public fountain to the orchard in the village of Almoxarca and, possibly, to the public washhouses. This aqueduct, which has been rebuilt several times throughout its history, has as many as five arches or eyes.
El Calvario chapel (or El Cristo chapel)
This chapel, which is dedicated to the Santísimo Cristo del Calvario, was inaugurated in 1722 as a simple Christian chapel designed in a rural baroque style. Over the years, it has been subject to various extensions and decorative changes. The chapel is reached by following the Stations of the Cross, which also dates back to the early 18th century and was remodelled in the 1950s. Attached to the chapel is a cistern with a ceramic altarpiece dedicated to the Virgen de la Cueva Santa, which is widely worshipped in the neighbouring region of Alto Palancia.
During the recent restoration project of the chapel’s interior, the remains of ancient decorations were uncovered. These are now on display to the public.
El Molí d’Aire
This is an ancient wind-powered cereal mill which dates back to the mid-19th century. The mill was possibly built on top of one of Eslida Castle’s old auxiliary towers, which once served to monitor access through the Oret ravine. After falling into disuse, it was later converted into a windmill; a structure which is not commonly found in the Sierra de Espadán.
At the foot of this construction, a section of trenches and a Republican army shelter from 1938 have also been uncovered.
Els Corrals de la Rambla
This collection of pens, which are now in ruins, are located on both sides of a beautiful, cobblestoned livestock track. They are located on the left bank of the watercourse, on a spur of the Rossa.
Until 1609, part of these buildings were houses inhabited by the ‘moriscos’ from Almoxarca (or Almaxracà), who cultivated what is now known as the Bany Orchard. Once the Moors were expelled, these buildings were left uninhabited and were turned into livestock pens. Eslida thus became part of the transhumance network, which remained active in the area until the 1970s
Eslida was evacuated in 1938 due to the advance of Franco’s nationalist army. The front was stabilised in the following months due to the outbreak of the Battle of the Ebro, and Eslida remained in no man’s land. In other words, both armies – the Nationalists and the Republicans – were present in the area’s mountains. We can find remains of the Republicans’ XYZ Line, which was created to slow the nationalist advance towards Valencia and represented a centre of resistance of the rebel army in the Cocons area. In recent years, the Town Hall has made a notable effort to recover and showcase the heritage of the Spanish Civil War in the areas of Cocons, Fosques, l’Oret and Molí d’Aire.
Caves and cavities
There are various caves distributed around the town, with up to 50 caves officially catalogued by the Castelló Speleology Club. The most noteworthy caves are Oret cave, Ferrera cave, Fonillet cave and Matilde cave; the first of which contains Copper Age funerary remains, as we have mentioned before.
- Fiestas de Sant Antoni. The Fiestas de Sant Antoni are held on the closest weekend to 17 January. This popular and widespread celebration includes a parade of people and their animals who they want to be blessed; a bonfire in the main town square; and a gathering in the Calle de Sant Antoni, where the priest will bless the rollos (a type of brioche roll made without any sugar) before they are handed out to the attendees.
- Festes de la Joventut. Various festivities and popular events are organised by the Young People’s Commission during the last two weeks of July.
- Fiestas mayores. In honour of the Santísimo Cristo del Calvario, the fiestas mayores – or annual summer festivities – are usually organised between a group of clavarios, or members of a religious brotherhood, and the Town Hall. They are held in the last week of August.
- Eslida Product Tasting Day. The Eslida Product Tasting Day is held on the Sunday nearest to 15 August.
- Sant Lleó. Sant Lleó is the patron saint of Eslida. El día de Sant Lleó is celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter.
The town’s typical dishes include the olla de pueblo stew, whose ingredients vary depending on the time of year; arroz caldoso (brothy rice); and the mountain paella. It also boasts a wide range of typical pastries such as orelletes amb mel, dried fig fritters, coca escudellà, coca malfeta, cristines, rotllets, rosegons, pastissos, etc.
Due to its orography, Eslida has been a popular cycling destination for many years, and passing cyclists have been a good source of income for the hotel and catering industry in Eslida and the entire Sierra de Espadán mountain range.
In the heart of the Sierra de Espadán Nature Park, of which Eslida is part and houses its interpretation centre, you can find more than a hundred species of birds belonging to thirty different families. The cork oaks and pinaster pines forests, the understory areas with their rich Mediterranean shrublands, the humid and wild ravines and the abundant fountains (such as Fosques, Matilde or Castro ones), the orchards, the drylands and the rocky areas, make up a mosaic ideal for birds, among which the forest species stand out and, especially, the diurnal and nocturnal birds of prey.