Located at the foot of the mountains that bear its name and with the ruins of the ancient Peñascales or 'Peñas de Oxox' castle overlooking it, is the village of Ulea, whose name stems from Ulliya = "the Heights" and which does not appear in historical documents until the second half of the fourteenth century. With all certainty, it would have been a small outlying settlement of neighbouring Ojós following the reconquest until a later increase in population allowed for its segregation and independence, when the fortress was named Peñas de Olea (Ulea). Like all of the other villages in the Ricote valley, from 1285 it formed part of the appointment of the same name until the second half of the nineteenth century.

Thanks to the irrigation channel that left the waterwheel in Ojós and passed through costly mines excavated out of the mountain, fertile fields allowed the population to grow, slowly, until a municipal council was established in the summer of 1501, following the conversion of its inhabitants to Christianity. The small mosque, converted into a Catholic temple, was soon demolished and in its place a Church erected which, following successive extensions, is without doubt the oldest of those that exist in the valley.

The expulsion of the Moriscos in 1613 had important repercussions in local life and its demographics, especially in its economic aspects, as the majority of properties were taken over by powerful characters like Sebastián de Rueda y Benavides, who acquired a large quantity of land, the Venta de la Rambla and two council offices. These were properties that were later joined through his marriage to Luisa Muñetones to those of another landlord. In 1656, Luisa possessed 66 acres of white, tree-lined land in Ulea's fields and an oil wheel in her village. Having established the family estate, they acquired the patronage of the chancel, placing their coat of arms on either side. The family estate was later handed down to Mariano Aguado y Flores who in 1797 acquired the title of Conde de Campo Hermoso.

A visit to Ulea is a change to see a wide variety of views and contrasts, from the high, narrow Moorish streets to the new avenues built on what used to be fertile fields. Of special interest is the ambiance in the main square where, next to a picturesque building from the start of the century, today a parish house, you can find the San Bartolomé church, the Patron Saint of the village and the recently refurbished Town Hall. It is worth taking time to look at the temple's sixteenth century Mudéjar coffered ceilings and other architectural jewels, and don't forget its Lignum Crucis, conserved in a splendid custodial cross which every May 3 is ritually bathed in a small octagonal temple raised over the irrigation channel. On the outskirts of the village, there is a wonderful Arab designed building called the Gurugú from where you have lovely views over the village and the Segura river all the way down to Villanueva del Segura and the Parque de la Marquesa.

We can also walk up to the top of the mountains where you can see a monument to the Corazón de Jesús and a viewpoint; the remains of the medieval castle can just be seen not too far away and the cavity of an ancient water deposit that the villagers have called the 'Pila de Reina Mora' and from where you can observe a fantastic view of most of the valley, including Ojós, Santo de la Novia and the remains of the late Roman period accommodation complex.

Luis Lisón
Academic Member of the Real Academia Alfonso X el Sabio

Ulea - Casa del Cura Ulea - Río Segura Ulea - El Gurugú