Vega de San Mateo
The municipality of Vega de San Mateo is on the windward side of the middle mountain region of the island of Gran Canaria. Access is via the GC-15 road that runs from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria to Tejeda passing through Villa de Santa Brígida. The road runs through a landscape of great beauty. In the past, travelling from Las Palmas to San Mateo was rather tiresome, although the village was worth the effort, as Olivia Stone wrote:"A few kilometres on, about 20 kilometres away from Las Palmas, we arrive at San Mateo, a small pleasant village located in a valley amidst mountains, of about five hundred and sixty four inhabitants, although the municipality as a whole has some 3,800 inhabitants (1887). On arriving we discovered they had been told of our visit, and we found the school teacher waiting for us, the only person who could offer us a bed and something to eat.", "…it is a lovely place. Threads of water run down the mountains along the different valleys that surround the village, forming streams and waterfalls and gorges of exquisite beauty".(1)
The village of San Mateo is 22 kilometres away from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, at a height of 850 metres above sea level. It borders the municipalities of Valleseco to the north; Tejeda to the west; San Bartolomé de Tirajana to the south; Villa de Santa Brígida to the north east and Valsequillo to the east. Together with the municipalities of Tejeda, Valsequillo and Villa de Santa Brígida, it makes up the Association of Municipalities of the Middle Mountain Region of Gran Canaria.
The main settlements within the municipality are: the village of San Mateo itself, La Bodeguilla, Risco Prieto, Aríñez(2), Utiaca, La Lechucilla, La Lechuza, Cueva Grande, Las Lagunetas y Camaretas. Otros pagos del municipio son: Acequia Marrero, Casa de la Cal, Casa Quemada, Los Corraletes, Cruz de Tejeda, Cruz del Herrero, Cruz del Saucillo, Cuatro Caminos, El Arenal, El Calero, El Chorrillo, El Estanco, El Gallego, El Hornillo, El Lomito, El Mesón, El Piquillo, El Portillo, El Solís, El Vinco, Galaz, Hoya de los Ajos, Hoya del Gamonal, Hoya Navarra, Hoya Viciosa, La Asomada, La Corte, La Higuera, La Sequera, La Solana, La Veguetilla, La Yedra, Las Cuevas, Las Longueras, Las Pitas, Las Vegas, Lomo Aljorradero, Lomo Caballo, Lomo Los Ingleses, Los Chorros, Pajaritos and San Francisco.
The population has increased notably over the last few decades, and by 2006 there were 7,661 inhabitants. Demographic growth has been particularly noticeable in the village of San Mateo itself and in Utiaca.
The municipality has a surface area of 37.89 square kilometres, i.e. about 2.5% of the island's surface area. Almost half its territory is protected to a greater or lesser extent by Canarian legislation on the protection of natural spaces (3) including the two highest peaks on the island, Pico de Las Nieves, at 1,961 metres above sea level, and Pico de Los Pechos, at 1,945 metres above sea level.
The weather is typical of the windward side of the middle mountain region of the island, with high temperatures in the summer months and relatively low temperatures in winter -with the occasional snowfall in the higher areas of the municipality. Thermal oscillation is large. Rainfalls are abundant -over 600mm(4) a year- and the sea of clouds caused by the trade winds produces notable fog precipitation in gullies, hillocks and mountains of great geomorphological, botanical and faunal interest.
Some of the most remarkable natural features of the municipality are Barranco de La Mina, Montaña Cabreja, Roque Saucillo, Hoya del Gamonal, el Pico de Las Nieves, Monte Constantino and Hoya de Camaretas, among others.
The predominant potential flora is mostly laurel forest and myrica-erica shrub forest. There are also pine forests and shrublands made up of brooms, false brooms and flatpods.
This area of the island was known as Tinamar in prehispanic times. After the Spanish conquest it formed a single administrative unit together with Santa Brígida. This administrative unit, called La Vega, was in turn divided into three areas: Vega de Arriba (Upper Vega), currently the municipality of Vega de San Mateo; la Vega de Enmedio (Middle Vega), which corresponded to the area surrounding El Madroñal, and Vega de Abajo (Lower Vega), currently the municipality of Villa de Santa Brígida.
According to Suárez Grimón(5) ), there is hardly any reference to the municipality before the 18th century. The first reference dates from 1736, and it records the existence in this area of a chapel dedicated to Saint Mathew (San Mateo in Spanish). The said chapel became a parish church on 25th October 1800, during Bishop Verdugo's tenure. After this initial success, proceedings were undertaken to have the municipality constituted. Shortly afterwards, in 1801, San Mateo became an administrative unit independent from Santa Brígida, and this was ratified by the Cortes de Cádiz (Spain's first Constituent Assembly) in 1812. So San Mateo's history as an independent municipal entity started at the beginning of the 19th century.
At present, the municipality's economy is based on the service sector and, to a lesser extent, on the building industry. In the past, primary sector activities such as agriculture and livestock farming were central to the municipality's economic life, but they currently play a much more modest role.
There are several small livestock farms in Vega de San Mateo that produce exquisite fresh and semicured cheeses, some made from cow milk but most from goat and sheep milk. There is also a livestock fair -definitely worth visiting- that is held every 21st September, where the best specimens of the region are exhibited.
Farming production basically meets local demand, it includes mainly fruit -peaches, plums, citruses, pears, apples and grapes-, vegetables -onions, leeks, lettuces, peppers, cabbages and courgettes- and an important production of potatoes. Agriculture flourishes in San Mateo thanks to the abundance of water and the quality of the soil, and farming fields and terraces can be seen all over the municipality, in the fertile lowlands of Las Lagunetas and Utiaca, in the basins of Camaretas and Gamonal or in the ravine beds of La Mina, Guiniguada and La Higuera.
"Water is abundant and vegetation is, consequently, exuberant. We went for a pleasant walk up a small grassy gully; there were only a few fig trees, but plenty of greenery. The water that runs down the gully does not come from the mountains to be seen in the distance, as one would expect, but from a gallery to be found to the left, that has been dug to bring the water from Charco del Naranjo. Further up the gully there is a splendid forest known as El Calero. In the summertime the inhabitants of Las Palmas come to these charming forests, waterfalls and streams on excursions and picnics , although of course there isn't as much water then as there is now."(6). Although the aquifer has shrunk considerably, water is still abundant. There are ravines down which water runs all through the year, such as Barranco de La Mina, whose source is the water gallery of the same name that connects the ravine with the waterhead of Tejeda.
According to Díaz Rodríguez, the building of the canal that connects Tejeda and Vega de San Mateo was awarded "to Vasco López and Tomás Rodríguez, who executed it bringing the water from Tejeda to the side of San Mateo via Hoya Becerra (La Cumbre - La Mina), finishing its construction approximately in 1526"(7).
There are also some water springs within the municipality itself. The water from these springs, which runs down the gully, made it possible for mills to be set up for the production of gofio. Some of these mills were the Molino de Arriba or de la Boca del Túnel (Upper Mill, a.k.a. the Tunnel Entrance Mill); Molino de Abajo or del Túnel (Lower Mill, a.k.a. Mill by the Gallery); Molino del Puente or de Arriba de Las Lagunetas (Bridge Mill, a.k.a. The Mill past Las Lagunetas); Molino de Cho Gutiérrez or de En-medio de Las Lagunetas (Cho Gutiérrez' Mill, a.k.a. The Mill in the middle of Las Lagunetas); Molino Quintito or de Abajo de Las Lagunetas (Quintito Mill, a.k.a. The Mill below Las Lagunetas); Molino de La Yedra and Molino de la Hacienda (The Ivy Mill and The Estate's Mill), all of them located on the gullies of Barranco de La Mina or Guiniguada Alto. There were also some mills on the Barranco de La Lechuza gully. At present gofio is produced at mills located in the village of San Mateo itself and in Las Lagunetas.
The vernacular architecture to be found throughout the municipality is only part of the significant ethnographic, historical and natural heritage San Mateo has. It is worth visiting the rural hotel-museum of La Cantonera, in the centre of the village, as well as the parish church of San Mateo and the Lourdes Chapel, which together with Santa Ana Square, the Music Kiosk and the Town Hall form an interesting complex of neocanarian architecture. The church is dedicated to Saint Mathew, and its belfry and set of bells were designed by Luján Pérez, who was also the author of several of the religious images to be seen inside the church. The church has two naves that were built almost a hundred years apart(1800 and 1895).
The municipality's main festivities are on 13th May, the day of the Our Lady Fatima, when colourful “carpets” made with flowers are laid out along the streets of the village, and on 21st September, Saint Mathew's day. Saint Mathew is the patron saint of the village, and all sorts of festive ceremonies and events take place on this day, such as the bajada del vino, the exciting cart race, the traditional taifas dance and the important livestock fair. On the first Sunday in July the farmers' festivity is held, and traditional farming activities are staged or performed, such as milking cows or grinding cereals with horses. In Las Lagunetas the famous Los Indianos festivity is held, in memory of those Canarians who emigrated to Cuba. Other events worth mentioning are the festivities of La Cruz, during the first week in April; the Santa Mónica festivity in Utiaca during the first week in May and the “Los Finados” (the deceased!) festivity in October.
San Mateo's traditional handiwork enjoys an excellent reputation, especially its wickerwork, fretwork, woollens, pottery, leatherwork, knives and woodwork and cabinet making. Its Sunday market is extremely popular, and visitors come from all over the island to buy local cheese and fresh fruit and vegetables.
As far as its cuisine is concerned, San Mateo's different cheeses -cured, semicured and, especially, fresh cheeses- are outstanding. They are made from goat, sheep and cow milk, and sometimes from a mixture of milk of different origins. Wine has recently acquired a certain reputation as well, and there has been a notable increase in the number of vineyards, particularly in the area formerly known Vega de Arriba. There is a local district winery, and local wines are marketed under the Gran Canaria Protected Designation of Origin. Restaurants and bars serve tasty and nutritious potages made with watercress, jaramagos and other vegetables. Meat is of excellent quality and is a local product in high demand. Finally, the local almond-based confectionary -including the renowned bienmesabe- enjoys a well-deserved reputation.
(1) Stone, O.M. (1995): Tenerife y sus seis satélites. Ed. Cabildo Insular de Gran Canaria. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria; pág. 122.
(2) This settlement was first recorded in 1737, in the synodal statutes of bishop Dávila Cárdenas.
(3)· The protected natural spaces in the municipality are the following:
· Special Nature Reserve of Los Marteles (75 ha)
· El Nublo Rural Park (153,7 ha)
· Riscos de Tirajana Natural Monument (34,8 ha)
· Protected Landscape of Pino Santo (148,7 ha)
· Protected Landscape of Las Cumbres (1.628,5 ha)
(4) mm = precipitation in millimeters
(5) SUÁREZ GRIMÓN, V. (1992): "Los orígenes de los municipios en Gran Canaria". Revista Vegueta, nº1. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.