The farming town of Berja lies in a fertile valley of the Alpujarra, surrounded by vineyards, fields and orchards. The site has been occupied by man since prehistoric times and there is plentiful evidence of its Roman and Moorish past. In the suburbs of Villavieja, 3km. from the town centre, are the remains of a roman amphitheatre and also a Moorish fortification, which from the 8th to the 14th century, protected a thriving town. In the suburb of Alcuadique to the east, are the ruins of Moorish baths. Before the end of the Middle Ages, the population moved from Villavieja to the town’s present site in order to take advantage of a better water supply and more accessible roads. In 1987, the government of Andalucia declared Villavieja a Site of Cultural Interest.
Unfortunately, the earthquake of 1840 destroyed much of the post-medieval architecture of this ‘new’ town but imposing, 19th century buildings, funded by the wealth from local lead-mining, have taken its place. The Torre de los Encisos, probably 16th century, survived the earthquake and now houses the Tourist Information Office. Among the 19th century, neoclassical buildings are the Church of the Annunciation, the very grand Ayuntamiento (town hall) and the Plaza Porticada, an arcaded market place, built between 1858 and 1869 when Berja was expanding at a great rate. A bustling daily market is now held in even newer buildings constructed in 1926.
The abundance of water has always been crucial to Berja’s trade and prosperity. Springs and fountains abound, both in the town and in the surrounding countryside, where they irrigate the fields and orchards. The resulting grain, wine, oil, fruit and esparto grass, together with locally made paper, linen and cotton goods, are exported through the nearby port of Adra. During the last two centuries, more than thirty water-mills powered the town’s mills and of these one, the Molino del Perrillo, built in 1863 in the Calle del Agua, remains in use. The many fountains in the town are a reminder of the importance of water and visitors exploring Berja can follow a sign-posted route from one ornamental fountain to another.