The borough lies on the green slopes of a valley fraught with palm trees and dragos, the population of which concentrates in the so-called medianías -midlands some 400 metres above sea level. Villages such as San Pedro, Botazo, Breña, Buenavista, La Cuesta, Las Ledas, El Llanito and Miranda are scattered throughout its nearly 31 square kilometers. It borders on Santa Cruz de La Palma to the North -where it extends to Barranco de Juan Mayor-; on Breña Baja to the South; and on El Paso to the West, over the ridge of Cumbre Vieja.
This land, natural meadow in pre-Hispanic times, was cultivated after the Conquista -the Conquest-, once it had been pareceled up by a number of rich Castilian families. The noble and bourgeois inhabitants of the Capital owned big properties wherein they had large ostentatious houses built to spend the summer surrounded by a contryside blessed by a mild climate; they cropped vines, cereals, fruits, tobacco…and elaborated much praised wines that were considered, together with tobacco, the best on the Island by far.
The narrow highroads which communicated the nearby Capital with the other side of the Island ran through Breña Alta’s humid hillocks and ravines, perfectly covered by the luxuriant laurislva woods (redoubt of the tertiary era) and powerful chestnut trees. The dampness that feeds this thick vegetation filters down the earth thus adding water to the -once numerous- aquifers which spring up from the stony beds of the ravines. Aguasencio or Fuente Grande is one which still enjoys a well-deserved fame.
An important part of the history of Breña Alta’s people is closely related to migration, specially to Cuba -with which strong affective and cultural links still exist-, in search of new prospects.
Today, the number of productive farming fields has significantly decreased compared to that existing in the past; yet, Breña Alta’s agriculture enjoys an important share in the market made up by tobacco, fruit and vegetables. The Borough also has an industrial estate whose rate of economic growth is relevantly dynamic.
TOBACCO scented tradition
In olden times the aborigines’ herds grazed in the communal pasturelands which used to be known under the name of Tedote; afterwards, agriculture became the main economic activity. Vines, cereals, vegetables, potatoes…have been cropped since then. Nonetheless, thinking of La Breña equates to speaking about mountains, tobacco, cigars and pureros (those who roll them). This, so to speak, novel crop reached La Palma around the 1850’s, and was brought by those immigrants who returned from Cuba at a time when it was widely spread in the New World. La Breña, due to its climate and fertile soil, produced high quality tobacco leaves, wherefore plantations increased in number.
Many a hectare quickly speckled the landscape. Men and women worked side by side, taking care of the leaves which were then tied in bundles that were hung from long cujes (long horizontal sticks) till they dried out. After being meticulously selected, they were heaped according to their size, their colour and their texture. The crafty purero then used his razor to shape the leaves that would blend into a cigar.
There still exist many pureros who roll cigars in Breña Alta; the promising future of this sector sustains this deeply rooted tradition through which one strongly feels the actual close relation between Cuba and La Palma.
FESTIVITIES - crosses covered with branches and garlands made of fruits
In late springtime, when fruit ripens and peasants start to look forward to collecting the product of their labour, the young and the old prepare their festivities.
Among the many feasts that take place there is one which stands out in its own right, that is, fiesta de las cruces -or the crosses’ festivity. On the eve of May 3rd, needlework, laces, flowers, colourful pieces of paper and jewellery shape a meticulous design secretly carried out by women whose rivalry with others from nearby villages encourages them to embellish their crosses far beyond the adornments deployed the previous year. Meanwhile, males climb the mountain in search of faya and brezo -heather- branches whose perfume will pervade the air from the more than twenty crosses that are decorated in the Borough.
In the middle of May, San Isidro Labrador’s feast day, so very linked to the farming tradition -not in vain the Saint is the farmers’ patron- fills the people of Breña Alta with joy. Men and women, dressed in the typical costume, sing and dance. A popular livestock fair adds a country flavour to this lively event.
Finally, on San Pedro’s feast day -June 29th-, the visitor will be able to admire the traditional deeply rooted custom of building an arch made out of branches, from which fruit garlands, the symbol of abundance with which the land is honoured, hang.