Caminito del Rey
Caminito del Rey
On the right bank of Los Gaitanes Gorge, where the Jurasic limestone meets with sandstone and conglomerate, a vertical wall of about 250 m. rises on the riverbed and the river flows at the base of this abyss. The difference in height from this point in Gaitanejo with respect to the outlet in el Chorro is more than one hundred metres. At the beginning of the 20th century, an idea was conceived to use the difference between the inlet and th outlet heights of the canyons for hydroelectric purposes. In 1901, the works to build the canal started as well as the works to build the service bridge for the floodgatte workers and guards. These spectacular works were completed in 1905 and the El Chorro Water Power Station started to produce electric power from its first station. However, besides its industrial and technological importance (as the works were completely avance garde for their time), it was the bridge hanging over the impressive gorge that attracted the most attention.
Los Balconcillos was the original name given to this bridge hanging at one hundred metres above the ground. It was designed by Rafael Benjumea an his specialised team of workers. Many of these workers were sailors who were accustomed to climbing ropes and working with only and abyss below them. Metallic wall brackets were used to supprot a brick and cement facing arch. A series of iron cross members and a simple rail were sufficient protection fo rthe three-kilometre long vertigo. The name changed to Caminito del Rey when Alfonso XIII walked across this bridge on his way back from el Pantano del Chorro. A plaque at the entrance commemorates the monarch´s excitement and the recognition to Benjumea. This spectacular construction attracted many people and became a tourist destination, but unfortunately, had also started to deteriorate due the neglect by the hydroelectric companies. Today, this construction is one of the most important restoration projects.
Los Gaitanes Gorge
The walls of El Chorro Gorge are the mythical symbol of the mountainous Malaga. They rise as two large rock giants guarding the entrance from mankind.
From Neolithic times through to the nineteenth century its canyons were used by hunters, shepherds, woodcutters and fishermen who took advantage of the extraordinary presence of the fauna. Nowadays, more than 120 different species have been protected. Standing out are the various species of birds of prey and mammals such as the Spanish Ibex, the wild cat, etc. However, during the first half of the twentieth century, animals such as the wolf, the lammergeier, the otter and the electric eel disappeared. Also, even earlier in history, towards the end of the Middle Ages, the bear, the deer and the salmon also disappeared.
The name of El Chorro (The Spurt) originates from the fact that the three rivers flowing through Malaga (Guadalhorce, Guadalteba and Turón) also flow toghether along the Los Gaitanes Gorge. Before the dams were built the combination caused terrific floods as if there had been a storm.
“When there was a torrential rain downpour in the inland province, the floods reached the gorge, causing due to its narrowness and extraordinary accumulation of water before the first canyon and therefore an unavoidable rise in the water level. As a result of the ressure of the water passing through the gorge a huge spurt was formed beyond. This phenomenon that used to occur in the region that we can see from this viewpoint was very scary for the inhabitants of the Drainage Basin of Malaga. They thought that when the water burst through the gorge their crops, houses and even lives were going to be lost”.
During the second half of the nineteenth century, the railway network between Malaga and Cordoba was built. This finally allowed the city to be linked with the rest of Spain. The railway literally crossed the walls of the Los Gaitanes Gorge with a network of tunnels tha twere cut through the hard limestone and which are still being used by the trains today.
In 1901 the building of the canal commernced. This canal crosses the wall opposite to the railway, at about one hundred metres avove the river bed. Not only was the canal built but also the service road. This was supported to the wall using metal brackets and was constructed using cemented blocks. A metal handrail ran along the exposed edge. The work at “Los Balconcillos” lasted from 1901 to 1905 and many specialised workers were hired. These workers were even hired from the local marina that was being rebuilt. Therefore, no prisioners were used and no deaths were caused during the construction. The workers used to hang in swings that were anchored from the formwork of sections that were going to be used as support for the next sections. They worked in this manner until they reached a point where the two walls crossed. At this point the canal needed a large structure of wood or scaffolding and the use of reinforced concrete.
Atter King Alfonso XIII of Spain visited the area in the spring of 1921 in order to place the last stone for the dam, the monarch travelled across Los Balconcillos. He then honoured the engineer acting as the works manager for the El Chorro project, namely Rafael Benjumea Burín, the title of Earl of Guadalhorce. From that time onwards, the canal surveillance footbridge was know as the “Caminito del Rey” (The King´s pathway).
We are, therefore, staring at an impressive natural site, apparently hostile to man. However, from prehistory to present, we have al been attracted to this site where grandeur has reached the boundaries of supreme beauty.