El Caminito del Rey - Historic Photo - Photo Credit Diputacion de Malaga.
El Caminito del Rey – Historic Photo – Photo Credit Diputacion de Malaga.

HISTORY OF EL CAMINTO DEL REY

The original path was built between 1901 and 1905 by the Sociedad Hydroelectrica del Chorro (Chorro Hydroelectric Society). A pioneering project to take advantage of the 100m drop in the river Guadalhorce required the construction of a small dam, a canal, an arch-supported aqueduct across the gorge, and 1,400m of aquaduct- tunnels. Additionally a path way to provide access for workmen and materials between two hydroelectric sites, namely Salto del Chorro (Chorro waterfall) and Salto de Gaitenejo (Gaitenejo waterfall) was constructed. Work was challenging and sailors from Malaga were called in to hang from ropes fixed at the top of the gorge. Popular (unconfirmed) stories claim that convicts, including those condemned to death, undertook the riskiest parts.

As demand for electricity increased, work on a new and much larger, nearby dam to form the Embalse del Conde de Guadalhorce (Count of Guadalhorce reservoir) began in 1914. The chief engineer, Rafael Benjumea Burín, decided to upgrade the nearby path and include the aqueduct that spanned the gorge. He did this even though it was not a necessary part of the nearby dam construction work. The view of this bridge, named Balconcillo de los Gaitanes, spanning the gorge, become one of the most emblematic images of Malaga province in its day. One legend says that a pretty English girl with flowing blonde hair riding a white stallion committed suicide from this bridge.

When the dam was officially opened on a misty 21 May 1921 by King Alfonso XIII of Spain, sat in the Sillon del Rey (Kings seat) on the dam to sign off the works. He was also invited to walked along the nearby path, (reports of how far are contradictory) which thereafter was known as El Caminito del Rey.

These reservoirs were hugely important as sources of electricity to the development of Malaga. The project was also emblematic at a national level and the King bestowed on engineer Rafael Benjumea Burín the title of the Conde de Guadalhorce (Count of Guadalhorce). The Count had a house on the edge of the Guadalhorce reservoir, and was also a politician who went on to be Minister for Development and President of the national train company, RENFE.

The path was open to the public and was a popular attraction, especially for those living in the city of Malaga. The reservoir at the lower end of the path, Embalse de Tajo de la Encantada, was built in 1978 as a pump storage hydroelectric scheme. Its upper reservoir can be visited near the ancient village of Bobastro. The Caminito de Rey path gradually fell into disrepair and after a number of accidents it was officially closed in the 1980s.

The Camino del Rey, as it had become known, remained a popular (unofficial) attraction. As the path was closed off by little more than some wire and a sign, it could be easily reached by crossing the “Von Ryan’s express” iron girder railway bridge, while keeping a sharp lookout for trains coming out of the tunnels at either end. Aparently this included groups of summer school children supervised by monitors, sadly on 27th July 1993 Rosa Polo from La Rinconada, Sevilla fell through a hole in the platform. (PDF). Question were even asked in Congress in Madrid.

El Caminito del Rey - Old Path - Photo Credit Diputacion de Malaga.
El Caminito del Rey, pre-restoration. Photo: Diputacion de Malaga.

Following a fatal accident in 1999 and another three in 2000 (see memorial plaque on near the Ignacio Mena bridge), the authorities completely removed the first 30m of the path next to the railway bridge and at the lake end, making it impossible to ‘walk’ along the path. Such was the determination of local mountaineers to carry on using the path, that they set up a safety cable and acted as unofficial guides to take visitors along it. Missing sections had to be traversed either by scaling the cliff face above the path or tightrope-walking along a supporting rail. As you will gather from the video below, climbing and trekking on this old path was only for experienced climbers with proper equipment. Using the path was a finable offence although never enforsed. Websites advertised guides for the experience. Another plaque remembers a fatalaty on 14 Feb 2010 whilst others on 6th March 2013 fell 80m had to be rescued by helicopter and lived to tell the tale. Some unconfirmed reports state 27 deaths and 74 serious injuries on the path.

The authorities had talked for years about restoring and reopening the path. When, in 2006, the Junta de Andalucia proudly announced that funds were available in the budget that year, local people could not be blamed for reacting with scepticism. Finally in 2012 the Diputación de Malaga took the initiative. A new aproach was to build a new lightweight path just above the old one, this signifantly reduced the cost and, and by splitting the cost with the Junta de Andalucia the project became viable again. A contractor called Sando was appointed in 2013 and the actual works were completed in 12 months. In late summer 2014, a Spring 2015 re-opening was anounced and actually kept to. Just before Christmas 2014 Malaga actor Antonio Banderas and new girlfriend Nicole Kimpel visited the works with President of the Diputacion of Malaga and Mayor of Malaga City.

It is worth noting that the original ‘Caminito de Rey’ name of the path changed over time in popular usage and in the printed press to ‘Camino de Rey’. When the path reopened the original name with logo was trademarked and heavily publicised, and is returning into use.