The History behind it A Spanish multi-million euro project, a genius work of engineering and a resounding success right from the start. Half the world flocks to take the fantastic walk on the Caminito del Rey – ‘The King’s little path’.
But why was a break-neck path built far up in the rocks at the beginning of the 20th century? What is the origin – and what was the path actually used for? The name is ‘Desfiladero de los Gaitanes’. It is the pass that connects the two steep mountain ridges – which disappear 100 meters into the Guadalhorce river. It is up here in the mountains that it all took place, approx. 60 km west of Málaga.
The story starts around 1855 when a railway line between Córdoba and Málaga is being built. A small town in the mountains – El Chorro – became the center of the work of the railroad. It was here that materials were transported to and the place where they built
simple houses for the workers, a small hospital, a grocery store, and even a ‘cantina’.
When the railway was completed in 1865 – a small community had been created in El Chorro. Then a visionary engineer comes on the scene, Rafael Benjumea, who sees the opportunity in building a hydroelectric power plant because of the location’s geographical design, and then also ends up with the concession to extract electricity from a hydroelectric plant. We
are at the end of the 19th century.
In order to start the construction work, it is necessary to get up into hills and be able to mobilize around the high and steep cliffs. Iron girders must be hammered into the cliff side and they must be covered with planks so that the workers can climb up. Not a job for just anyone. Benjumea gets the brilliant idea of using sailors and fishermen for the task. They are used to working in the high masts of ships and had the ability to work at height, lashed down with ropes and hoists. And so work begins on both the power station and the path – we are in the period between 1901 and 1905.
El Chorro grows in size during the work on the hydroelectric plant, more workers arrive from the area behind the gorge – Ardales – but they have to go the long way around to get to town. Therefore, Benjumea decided to build on the path so that the workers could get
there more easily. And in a spirited collaboration between sailors and local workers, the path was completed.
The power plant was completed in 1921. Something of an achievement at the time and King Alfonso XIII of Spain himself also came to the opening to inaugurate this new masterpiece of engineering. The king set his royal feet on the narrow and dangerous path –
and it was immediately dubbed ‘the small path of the King’ – El Caminito del Rey.
Years pass, the war comes and history takes its course. And even if you initially maintain the path (and even improve parts of the construction with cement), it eventually falls into disrepair. New roads are being built in the area of El Chorro and the need for the path is no longer the same. In recent times, the path is really starting to fall into disrepair, crumbling apart and becoming too dangerous to use. Therefore it is closed.
But El Caminito gets a strong revival in the mid-1960s and up through the 70s when Hollywood takes an interest in the place’s fantastic ‘location’. Several scenes for famous movies are filmed at Desfiladero de los Gaitanes and at El Caminito. Among others, the film ‘Von Ryan’s Express’ with Frank Sinatra in the leading role – but several other films have also been shot in the area, with actors such as Rachel Welch, Omar Sharif, and Brigitte Bardot.
But even if the worn-out path is getting worse and worse, the place attracts more climbers, mountaineers, and adventurous daredevils. It is becoming popular to walk on what is now called: ‘The world’s most dangerous path’. But in 1993 things go wrong. A young schoolgirl falls and loses her life on a school outing. Later in the 1990s, there were a few more fatal accidents – and the path was definitively closed in 2001, with threats of fines of 6,000 euros for using the path. This keeps people away.
And then the story reaches 2006 when the regional council of Andalusia begins to work on the idea of a renovation of the old path. In 2009, the project goes out to tender, and on 28 March 2015 the impressive work is finished – and the new ‘Caminito del Rey’ is declared
open. Just a year later, El Caminito’s reservation system had reported virtually everything sold out since opening. Today, it’s said that more than 2,5 million visitors have already –
and enthusiastically so-hiked the 7.7 km trek up the impressive cliffside. A new era in history has begun.For recent information on how, when, and what to visit, and also for ticket sales – please check the official website of El Caminito del Rey
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