When people arrive at Villa del Arco the first thing they sense is a feeling of peace impregnated by fragrances of fennel, thyme and rockrose. They hear the sound of the wind that descends from the mountains into the tranquil waters of the Alcántara reservoir. Also, listen to the bleat of sheep and the sound of bells; voices that are traveling in the air and sounds of children playing that come from Cañaveral, only three kilometers away.
Only one family lives all year around, at Villa del Arco. The place is also known as El Arquillo. The town suffered the process of depopulation due to the emigration of people from the country to the city. The town has only five streets and only about eight houses that are good for dwelling. Through the narrow streets the once water furrows mark the place that brought water to homes and yards.
The church is set on the highest place in town. It has a white exterior and a colorful altar. The altar is in a combination of strong primary colors, not commonly used at this latitude. Cristina Cano, who is a member of the “Asociación de Amigos de Villa del Arco” (Association of Friends of Villa del Arco) tells us that the popular belief is that once there was a priest who lived in Mexico and learned this technique from Mexican churches. When he returned to Spain, he implemented this style at the Arco church. Next to the church two very small cemeteries, one houses three anonymous graves and the other, even smaller, is where the babies were buried, if they died before they were able to receive baptism. On top of the door of the church you can read the year of its construction: 1847.
Villa del Arco has a Celtic origin and its pre-Roman name was Arquius, says historian Julián de Francisco Martín. Hence the name Villa del Arco is considered a derivative of the original name. The place is also known as “Arquillo de los Limones”. History books state that during the 1800´s Villa del Arco had “40 neighbors and 219 souls”. The township grew lemons, oranges, grapefruit, wheat and barley. They also raised livestock such as goats and lambs. It was also know for abundant hunting of small prey. The communal oven gave the town a fragrance of fresh bread and they had a factory for roof tiles to supply the local demand.
At the town plaza there is still a witness of those days, an old Elm tree. At a sign nearby you can read: “Elm XVI Century. I am an Elm and was called Ulmus by the Romans. But at this land I am called ‘Álamo Negrillo’, thus this Plaza where I was planted more than 500 years ago is called Plaza Álamo. I have been here for all those years and have been a meeting place for the town council of Arco, a fresh shade for the travelers and for the launderettes, a hiding place for the hens and also for the wild birds. Some people think I am dead, but just look at all my offspring growing from my roots. They are now tall and strong. Also, the neighbors of Cañaveral and Arco keep me alive by remembering in their memory.
The Friends of Villa del Arco
Normally, solitude governs at El Arquillo. However, their old neighbors remember the town actively. They have organized an association called “Asociación de Amigos de Villa del Arco” and they work to “preserve and restore one of the most beautiful towns of Extremadura”. The association has 173 members and requires each to contribute with five Euros a year for dues. They organize every September a gathering in Honor of the Lady of Arco (the virgin Mary as Nuestra Señora del Arco), which is a religious encounter that ends with a festive picnic of sweets, punch, raffles of local agricultural products and a gift of watermelons. The gathering is also known as the “Watermelon Fiesta”.
Those who once lived at Villa del Arco will not only bequeath their lands to their descendants but also will leave hundreds of stories that are still being told. If during the week silence governs at the town, during weekends grandchildren still run the streets and during summer a number of houses fill with life. In the afternoons you might see people walking from Cañaveral. Some are taking a walk to where their homes once were in El Arquillo. While, at the same time, high above the mountains large birds of prey fly majestically, the wind blows into the reservoir, the sun fattens the grapes on the vines and life continues.
Villa de Arco is now a borough of Cañaveral, separated only by three kilometers of a well-maintained road. It is located in Extremadura, Spain. The location coordinates are: 39.800192,-6.400146
The “Asociación de Amigos de Villa de Arco” maintains constant activities and invites friends and visitors to become members. For more information call: +34649204522
Some neighbors of this area still repeat the old saying: “Cañaveral belongs to limes, Arquillo belongs to lemons, Casas belongs to rogues and Holguera to potbellies.
Original article by Marian Castillo
Translated by Susana Windt
Published in September, 2015