The strangely towering stratified volcano in the midst of gentle grassy hills within sight of the Mediterranean Sea Cabezo de MarIa is easily recognizable from a distance. It stands out with its dark lava rock from the wide sandy areas of the valley basin.
The small mountain looks like a pyramid placed in the pampa by aliens. This tiny volcano (225 m) hosts on its cone a romantic peasant church with virgin altar.
The hill-shaped volcanic cone in the province of AlmerIa is located close to the city Antas. It is located in the north of the Sierra Cabrera, which is also of volcanic origin. Geological origin of the volcano Cabezo de MarIa from the Pliocene, a relatively stable and warm climatic period that began 5.3 million years ago.
A volcano of national interest
The site is considered a "Site of Geological Interest of Spain of International Importance" classified and therefore has nature park character. Similar to the volcanic landscapes Caldera de Taburiente (La Palma) or the Volcano Park Timanfaya on Lanzarote is the Cabezo de MarIa included in the list of Spanish Geosites. As a natural monument worthy of geological protection, it is listed here under the abbreviation VU004 classified.
Layered volcano with view into the interior
Behind the main cone, on another elevation, there are the ejections of another volcanic vent, which stretches into the sky like a solidified pewter figure in front of the wall of the Sierra Filabres mountains that begin here.
The actual crater is no longer visible due to thousands of years of erosion. Nevertheless it is worth to visit the small volcanic hill. Here you can gain interesting insights into the geological features of this ancient cultivated land, enjoy a fantastic view over the municipality of Antas enjoy the view to the sea and at the same time visit a sanctuary that is locally venerated until today.
The volcano has poured several lava flows over the valley of Vera. However, this was several million years ago. Exact details of the last eruption could not be determined. The fact is that the zone belongs to the tectonically active regions of southern Spain, where smaller earthquakes occur from time to time, but are harmless. The last earthquake in Lorca (Murcia) in May 2011 had with 4.5 only relatively low value on the Richter scale, but still caused considerable damage to buildings.
The Cabezo de MarIa belongs to the underwater volcanoes, which had once formed from the sea floor. The Mediterranean Sea had spread out much further about 8 million years ago and then gradually receded, releasing the land that was once covered by the sea. The coastline of today is the result of the retreat of the Mediterranean Sea, which had spread to the feet of the Sierra Filabres. From Mojacar and the mountain peaks of the Sierra Cabrera was not visible about 6 million years ago.
Hiking to the top of the volcano
Below the Cerro (hill) a spiral hiking trail begins, which is signposted and leads directly up to the chapel. A free parking lot is also located here, where the mountain path begins. Since the hill is only 225 m high, it takes no more than 20 minutes to climb the volcano.
You walk over loose volcanic debris and cinders and finally approach the base of the volcano, which suddenly splits here, allowing the path to pass directly through the layers of the cone. You can see very clearly in this average (like a pie) through the volcano how it is constructed. Then the path winds further once around the mountain until you reach the eastern side and the sea side. Here is an information board and a beautiful viewpoint.
You can see how far the volcano must have thrown its cinders during its eruptions millions of years ago. The ejecta reach the municipal boundaries of Cuevas del Almanzora and Puerto Rey. Farmers find new "volcanic bombs" in the surrounding fields every day in different sizes – which can be from 0.5 to 25 cm in diameter. They were ejected during the eruption and scattered in the landscape.
Scientists have studied the components of the ejecta and lava rocks and have found the following magmatic rock types. Vulcanite and so-called Verite (derived from the nearby town of Vera) are composed of unique rich mineralogical and chemical compounds that have also formed crystals. They are made of materials like Biotite and Field spade (Labrador) and many rocks with a high content of SiO2 together.
How the chapel came to be on the volcano?
As is so often the case with special natural monuments and ancient buildings, legends and stories surround their biography. The Cabezo de Maria is a mystical place, about which many old anecdotes circulate, told by the peasants of the area around Antas and the next town Vera.
It is said that in 1427 a virgin appeared to a shepherd named Manuel on the volcanic cone. So, in 1507, a small chapel was built up here from the remains of a Moorish temple and given the name of the Virgin Santa MarIa de la Cabeza. However, there are also reports that on the hill already in the 4. A Byzantine church of the early Christians is said to have stood here in the thirteenth century. Religions may have changed, but the importance of the sacred volcanic peak has remained the same for the people.
Since the 15. Since the XIX century, the faithful come here to thank the Virgin Mary or to ask for protection from the eruption of the volcano. In Andalusia this is quite normal. To appease the forces of nature, one hopes for assistance from above. Earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis that once struck the seismically active but now calm region thousands of years ago are still considered God’s will in this devout country. So you build churches on volcanoes. For protection!
But the volcanic mountain is not revered as a holy place only since Christianity, but probably since early history. In the Bronze Age, the first tribes of the so-called El Argar culture here at sunrise and sunset rituals from. Because the volcano points to the sea and at the same time to the place where the sun rises in the east, while behind it, in the mountains of the Sierra Filabres the sun sinks in the west.
In 2012, the pretty little church was restored and now gleams a perfect, almost otherworldly white amidst the dark lava oil. Otherwise, the landscape is characterized by sandy limestone soils, which are very fertile and where vast orange plantations and olive groves flourish. So not only for geologists or archaeologists a worthwhile excursion, but also for people with a sense for nature.
Other volcanoes in the region
The Cabezo de MarIa is the latest in a series of legendary volcanic hills that may have played a ritual role in the region as astrological observation points for the starry sky.
Three volcanoes are within sight of each other and are about 3 to 4 km apart. The pyramid-shaped hilltops are called Mojacar de Viejo (where the old Mojacar was located), Espiritu Santo (today with statue of Jesus) in Vera and just the volcano hill Cabezo de MarIa .
Other small volcanoes in the Vera region include:
- Cabezo Montoro
- Canada Honda
- Cerro Coscojar
- Loma de los Pelados (Pelaos) between Vera and Vera-Playa
- Loma Jordana (Sierra de Almagro).
Also the one lying in front of Mojacar Sierra Cabrera is of volcanic origin. Not far away is the larger Cobdar volcanic area and the nature park Cabo de Gata with numerous volcanoes.
Directions and map on Googlemaps:
The volcanic mountain Cabezo de Maria located not far from the city of Antas between the Ramblas (river valleys) Salaosa and Nuno. A t the A-7 in Los Gallardos on country road AL-820 turn and drive in the direction of Antas. After ca. 3 km turn left towards Los Raimundos. The last piece of tarred road to the volcano Cabezo de Maria is signposted. Parking lot below the volcano.