Villa de Mazo
The town lies between Breña Baja and the lava of the Volcán de Martín. This borough, together with Fuencaliente until 1837, was the pre-Hispanic canton of Tigalate.
The town was declared a “Villa” on the 18th of March, 1878, during the reign of King Alfonso XII, to distinguish it from other towns in Spain. It has always played a leading role in island history, as one can see from the long list of illustrious locals whose names are inscribed in the annals of history, its historic and artistic legacy and a fine archaeological heritage.
A varied vegetation grows in the volcanic landscape, climbing up to the arid heights of the Cumbre Vieja Nature Park.
Creative craftsmen abound in the area, living mainly off the dry land, growing potatoes, fruit, sweet potatoes, pulses and, above all, grape vines. The local economy also relies on livestock and a growing rural tourism sector.
THE LEGEND of Princess Arecida
An aboriginal legend relates that the tribal chiefs of the canton of Tigalate lived in the Cueva de Belmaco with their sister Arecida. They say she was charming and beautiful. The young princess fell in love with Tinamarcín, a handsome young man who was greatly admired for his noble heart. The young couple swore eternal love for one another and their union received the blessings of the tribal rulers Juguiro and Garehagua. Preparations for the wedding were started in an atmosphere of joy and happiness and many of the island princes were to come. But the happy prospects were soon to vanish; strange ships arrived off the island and the natives took up arms to defend their freedom. The Spanish invaders were led by the inexpert Guillén Peraza, who was slain early on in the battle by Tinamarcín himself, and the rest of the invading troops were forced to flee to the island of La Gomera. The natives sang their praise of the young man’s bravery and Princess Arecida was proud of her betrothed. But Christian vengeance was swift; a few short months later, the Spaniards returned, together with natives from La Gomera and El Hierro, who acted as their interpreters and fought alongside them.
Jacomar was the one to put a cruel and early end to Arecida’s happiness, trying to take by force what he could never have won by love. When he failed, he took her life with his knife. Tinamarcín swore to avenge the death of his loved one, but it was her brothers, the rulers of Tigalate, who put an end to the life of the miserable traitor from El Hierro. His body was fed to the guirres -Egyptian vultures- and the impossible love that was never to bear fruit lived on in the memory of the natives.
Many of the common crafts of times past, which grew out of the close bond between man and nature, now only survive in the memory of those who used to practise them.
The use of the typical local clay ovens, known as hornos bicheros, is part of such folklore. You can still see these small, domed ovens next to houses in the countryside. Figs, harvested in late summer, were put into the ovens to accelerate the drying process. The oven walls were heated with a wood fire. When this burned down sufficiently, the remaining charcoal was removed, the figs were put inside on a bed of straw or ferns and the mouth of the oven was covered. This was a necessary task when the cold of winter was approaching and the sun did not have the strength to dehydrate the fruit.
The sea also provided a harvest which contributed to the subsistence economy of the local people. They scraped the rocks of the coast for salt; and collected any remains of whales which the currents washed up at the mouth of the Las Cuevas ravine, boiling them up in enormous cauldrons to make oil from the blubber. Shallow salt-water pools -maretas- can still be found along the coast, in places like Porís de Tigalate, Punta Ganado and La Bajita, where mareteros used to soak lupines and linen shoots in seawater.
These and others, were every-day crafts, as was the tradition of planting the fields of Villa de Mazo with aromatic tobacco and with vines that produced fine wines; in fact, the wine-producing tradition continues still in the stony, dry scenery, where the grapevines flourish to produce excellent vintages of aromatic and flavoursome wines.
FIESTAS of long-standing tradition and beauty
The fifteen districts that make up Villa de Mazo provide a full programme of fiestas, covering the whole year. In the parish church of Santo Domingo de Guzmán and all the other churches of the area, the feast of the Saint worshipped by each church is celebrated with joy and devotion.
After the fiesta of the Patron Saint, San Blas, in February, Día del Municipio -Borough Day- is celebrated on the 18th of March, with cultural events, festivals and the typical Canary-Island wrestling, breaking the routine of the local inhabitants. In May, all the crosses to be found along the old tracks and trails are decorated, creating a very picturesque scene for “Día de la Cruz” (3rd of May). This festival is rich with tradition and beauty and the air is perfumed with the scent of newly cut wax-myrtle.
Meanwhile, the whole district has been long immersed in the preparations for the most colourful of the fiestas; hills, countryside and the coastline are scoured for natural products, which are dried and used by ingenious craftsmen to decorate the famous Corpus Christi arches. In June, these delightful works of art adorn the streets of the town of Villa de Mazo. Petals, ears of corn, seeds, moss, etc., give body and form to arches, carpets and tapestries that are made in honour of Jesús Sacramentado. Beautiful and spectacular designs can be enjoyed in an explosion of colour that has been declared of National Tourist Interest.
During the Los Dolores fiesta in September, a festival is held in the main square of El Hoyo de Mazo, with a big street party, known as the Verbena del Borrachito, or Drunkard’s festival. The “Drunkard” is a kind of dancing jester. From his body shoot fireworks, which add a touch of colour to a night devoted to the wine-producing tradition of the district.
The old Bailes de Pastor -Shepherd’s Dances- and the Auto de Los Reyes Magos -The Play of the Three Kings- are recited and staged on the 5th of January, accompanied by typically sweet Christmas Desserts.
Visit the cobbled streets of the town, its architectural heritage, the wealth of craft work and the popular municipal market; dig into the pre-historic past; enjoy the enchanted rural landscape and lose yourselves among the myriad of trails that are everywhere, from the coast to the mountains. All this and more in Villa de Mazo.
Walking is an excellent way to get to know better this beautiful area. There are many interesting routes that criss-cross the extensive lands of Villa de Mazo. One of them starts in Montes de Luna, goes down to the impressive Barranco Hondo, takes in the abandoned, typical hamlet of Tigalate Hondo and climbs back up to La Caldereta in Tiguerorte.
Another route, for hiking or for mountain bikes, is the trail that sets out from San Simón, following a track as far as Montaña del Azufre. Most of the famous Volcano Trail also wanders through the mountain peaks of Villa de Mazo, finishing in Fuencaliente.
San Blas parish church
The church is in the centre of the town of Villa de Mazo, and access from the town is via a steep paved road. The original building was a small church built in 1512. Centuries later, two more naves were added, giving it its present, cathedral-like layout. There is a Baroque mahogany central reredos within the Mudejar walls. There is also a lovely collection of XVI century Flemish figures, including one of the Patron Saint, San Blas.
Next to the church, the recently restored parish house (home of the parish priest) is a building of great value because of its style and age.
From the Morro Mojino viewpoint on the outskirts of the town, you get a magnificent view over the sea and in particular over the settlements spread out over the entire hillside on which the village is set. There are many stately houses intermingled with simple ones, and old rubs shoulders with the new, creating an architectural site that clearly reflects the prosperity of its past inhabitants.
Apart from walking its streets, it’s worth noting the Pedro Pérez Díaz square, the main meeting point for the local population. This is where you will find the Town Hall, dating from 1925, and the beautiful mansion of Alonso Pérez Díaz. This neo-classical building houses the Municipal Library.
Another site of great importance is the Craft School -Escuela de Artesanía-, a local pioneer in recovering and promoting traditional crafts in the 60’s. The School contains a wide selection of loom-woven fabrics, embroidery, basketwork, pottery, etc.
In Montaña de Las Toscas, the upper part of the town, there is a recreational site in the pine forest, with tables and barbecues, an ideal place to stop en route.
The Municipal Market
At the weekend, the quiet streets of Villa de Mazo witness the hustle and bustle of people visiting the Municipal Market.
Farmers sell fresh fruit and vegetables, along with meat, fish, sweets, spirits, wine, honey and a wide variety of tasty produce, which can be bought on Saturdays and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Table cloths, handkerchiefs, sheets, etc., finely embroidered by the local women can also be found, showing how popular and deep-rooted these traditions are in the area.
El Molino (Mill)
On the Hoyo road, in Monte de Pueblo, this wind-driven relic stands proud. It used to be driven by the north-east winds that blow on this side of the island. This old mill of the Ortega family, with its beautiful cross-hatched facings, has now been carefully restored to allow us to wander around amongst the gears that moved the millstones and turned with its long sails.
In other times, this area housed small businesses, such as cobblers and blacksmiths, but, mainly, people used to come here to grind their corn and take home sacks of highly nutritious gofio.
XVIII century churches
In Villa de Mazo in the XVIII century, three modest churches were founded, basically on the initiative of wealthy families who wanted to have a place of worship on their own private estates.
La Virgen de Nuestra Señora de Los Dolores is worshipped in the Lodero Sanctuary (Hoyo de Mazo). This is an XVIII century Mexican carving, representing Christ in his mother’s arms.
Santa Rosalía de Palermo and San Juan de Belmaco are two more fine examples of XVIII century religious architecture. They also hold valuable sculptures and paintings.
Belmaco Archaeological Park
The first stone engravings to be found in the Canary Islands were those discovered in the cave here, in the XVIII century. This was the starting point for investigations into the archaeology of the islands. The ancient settlers of Benahoare (the old aboriginal name of the island) used to live at this site and an interesting centre has been created around it, where visitors can discover the most important aspects of the pre-Hispanic native world.
As well as the spectacular rock engravings in the hollow, the park also has a two-storey building with an exhibition that conveys the history with illustrations, photographs, models and reproductions of archaeological material. Guided tours finish with a pleasant walk around the cave to see the varied endemic flora.
The Coast and Montaña del Azufre
A headland projecting into the sea, shaped like a linen mallet, inspired a XVI century chronicler to give the borough its name (“Mazo” means mallet in Spanish). The rugged and rocky coast is relatively young, being the result of recent volcanic activity. There is a series of small, black-sand coves like La Bajita, El Pocito, El Hoyo, La Cangrejera, La Salemera, along the 15 km. of coastline.
The Montaña del Azufre volcano and surrounding area stand out as a landscape of special interest rich in geological variety. Between Punta de Tigalate and the volcano, there are some spectacular cliffs. The archaeological wealth of the area highlights how important these natural resources have always been for the local population, and how these resources were harnessed.
The higher-altitude areas of the borough fall within the Cumbre Vieja Nature Park. Here, Mother Nature is the true star of the arid volcanic landscapes, with many different volcanic cones scattered over the landscape, e.g. Las Deseadas, El Cabrito and Montaña de Los Charcos. Volcán de Martín is undoubtedly the best known to the people of Mazo; in 1646, it sent four rivers of molten lava down the mountainside to the sea and the fields were covered in tons of sand and cinders for several months.
Further north, you can make out the profiles of the stone towers of Nambroque and Niquiomo. Their compact forms have been revealed by erosion. The air feels damp and the pine forests and undergrowth flourish, making these areas of great natural interest because of their peculiar ecosystems.
The family mansion of Leopoldo Pérez Díaz is a very significant building in the area’s domestic architecture. It houses a hundred-year-old Corpus Christi centre that is visited by thousands of people every year, who come to admire the spectacular floral arches. It also devotes space to embroidery, a deep-rooted tradition among the women of La Palma. We are taken into the world of embroidery in an exhibition showing its history through photographs and a wide range of embroidery work and patterns.
The generous proportions of the mansion reflect the social status of its turn-of-the-century owners. It passed through several different heirs and owners until the 70’s, when alterations were carried out to turn it into a hotel. It was at this time that it started to become known locally as the Casa Roja because of the red colour chosen for it. This elegant building neo-classical mansion is surrounded by gardens.
The local authorities bought the building and they have restored it to its original form. It is now a point of reference on the cultural scene of Mazo.
Copyright. Asociación para el Desarrollo Rural de la Isla de La Palma (ADER-La Palma).