At Cortijo El Carligto we feel so very fortunate that our village of Canillas de Aceituno has not registered a single case of Covid-19 during the pandemic. The village itself is not on any major tourist route; it’s a quaint, rural “pueblo blanco” of little more than 2000 inhabitants in the hills near the coast, but it turns out there may be another reason why Canillas de Aceituno and numerous similar villages in La Axarquia have avoided the novel coronavirus.
These historic villages have gained a romantic reputation for their idyllic looking clusters of whitewashed buildings, often clinging to rugged hillsides seemingly stacked one upon another. Their whiteness alone appears striking in the blazing Andalusian sun, and to be sure, the white surfaces function to reflect the intense heat. But there is another important purpose behind the historical whitewashing of these villages.
Since Roman times, these same villages used pulverized limestone in public constructions, paint and home maintenance in part for its known antiseptic and disinfectant properties. They consistently used powdered lime in burials as well, to prevent viruses and germs from surfacing, especially in historical times of pandemic outbreaks.
It’s no accident that local residents have used lime whitewash throughout the centuries, passing the materials and technique through generations to the present day. Many buildings have accumulated several centimeters of lime paint over this time and the caustic properties are known to diminish the proliferation of bacteria, fungi and even insects.
Many believe that the repeated lime whitewashing spared these villages from the worst of the flu pandemics including the Spanish flu of the early 20th century. Today, analysts and statisticians have suggested that the “pueblos blancos” of La Axarquia and the Serrania de Ronda may have avoided a worse fate as compared to other similar rural areas that do not use the lime wash.
There is no precise study or science to date that can explain in such certain terms why roughly half of the white washed villages of La Axarquia have avoided infection from the Coronavirus, even as nearby areas of the Costa del Sol suffered more. Meanwhile, that simple fact is somewhat reassuring in this alarming time as many of us look forward to traveling anew. At a minimum we are grateful that our friends and neighbors are healthy and well, and we hope the same for our friends abroad.