Azotea is a term of Arabic origin which we use to describe the roof or flat covering of a building. An open, accessible area, where it is possible to walk.
In those places that enjoy a sunny climate for most of the year, as does Andalucía, a southern region of Spain, it is very common for the houses to be blessed with an azotea. In the past, that was where clean washing was hung out, and it is hung there still, on cables to dry in the sun.
Carpets were changed and beaten on the azoteas, those now extinct sheep’s wool or cotton mattresses were opened and unravelled. Airing them and fluffing them up was an arduous but necessary duty that was carried out from time to time to rid them of the lumpiness they suffered from as a result of bearing the weight of the bodies that rested on them.
But the utility and service of the azoteas goes much further than this.
Magnificent vantage point of the urban landscape, pedestal on which to feel the warm sun on cold winter mornings caressing your face. Cool and soothing space for the resting of the body and soul on those sweltering summer nights, where we surrender peacefully to dreams under an infinite star-studded sky.
I had the tremendous luck to be born and to grow up in the city of Seville, to live in a house that had an exceptional azotea, surrounded by the nearby bell towers of old convents and churches, that with their bells tolled the passing of the hours and called the faithful to religious celebrations.
From my azotea could be seen nearby, without impediment, the river Guadalquivir and its two banks. Over the nearest, the train tracks, along which freight and passenger trains travelled, whistling, from one side to the other. Next, the water and the other bank, the bank of the Cartuja, bordered with weeds enticing me to dream of thousand year old forests, ripe with swords and mysteries.
My first and most childlike memories of that azotea: the happy scampering with my siblings, the wide open arms waving, as sparrows beat their wings to embark upon their first flight, playing at tangling ourselves up and hiding among the towels and sheets hanging in the sun. We would close our eyes and let ourselves be wrapped up in the pleasurable sensation of being completely caressed, covered with the feel and the scent of clean linen.
On that azotea I was able to gaze at my first sunsets, dream endless stories and impossible tales, watch the clouds pass, discovering in each of them changing figures and faces. My fantasy, my desires, my first reflections...they happened on this azotea that let me be near to the sky, to the water of my river and to a route, of comings and goings, marked out by endless railway tracks that brought trains that, I fancied, went all the way around the world for those charged with adventures to always return to their native land.
This azotea no longer exists today except in my memory. It remains alive there; in a space oblivion does not reach.
The word azotea is not only used to describe this type of roof, but also to describe, in a figurative sense, the highest part of an individual, the head, place where the mind resides, source of the most precious goods, thoughts. It is because of this that to say that someone is not thinking clearly or is slightly mad we usually say “está mal de la azotea” (they are out of their mind.)
Now I invite you to visit my azotea where you will be able to remember, perceive and unveil sensations, produce and share different thoughts, in short, a space to be able to build, reside and remain.
María José Aguilar Gutiérrez.