Building a choza

For the past few years, when summer comes around, we have travelled west along the coast to enjoy holidays on the unspoilt beaches of the Costa de la Luz, often staying in Caños de Meca where Casas Karen offer cottages for rent nestled in a peaceful finca near the sea. The highlight of these trips has been staying in the ‘choza’, a traditional house built of thatch. The warmth of the straw as a building material creates a wonderful ambience inside the house and the kids love it. I have been interested in learning more about these simple but sturdy structures, and while Casas Karen’s owner Karen Abrahams was giving them an overhaul this year, we took the chance for an extra holiday in our favourite place and found out more about these unique buildings.
 
According to a paper published by the University of Seville, chozas are one of Andalucia’s oldest habitations and, as with many traditional buildings, the people who first built chozas looked around them at what was available in their local environment. Local wood is used for the basic structure, and then a lattice work of cane tied on to this frame provides the ‘walls’ on to which the straw is thatched to form the outer covering. The whole thing held in place by wooden straps tied onto the outside to hold the thatch in place. This relatively simple process still requires skill in thatching the outer layer into a tight, waterproof finish. Oliva, who grew up in a choza explained that all of the materials came from practically on the doorstep: “Even the cord that is used to tie the thatch on to the frame is a local grass that is woven in to a strong cord.” More wooden straps are tied round the whole of the structure to hold it all in place. Other chozas that are not built in this method may have a stone wall as the base with a thatched roof and many examples of both can be found in the towns and villages around Cadiz.
 
A massive reforestation project by a local duke in 1737 created large pine forests which in turn allowed more people to make a living from the cultivation of these trees for carbon or building and it is at this time that chozas started to appear in significant numbers. Many people from the area have memories of living in one or at least of family members owning one. Pepe Cascabel, who has been building and maintaining chozas for many years, commented that “the choza was originally what we built out of necessity, but today they are becoming more of a ‘hobby’ as modern materials are cheaper and easier to work with. The choza needs more maintenance, the thatch will need repairing every 3 to 4 years, but they are really solid, watertight structures.” Karen bought her first piece of land in Caños de Meca in 1987 and later an adjoining piece with two small chozas came available and Casas Karen was born.
 
Since then Casas Karen has added more accommodation as well as building a new choza from scratch and they remain the centrepiece of the place. From the comments in the guest book they attract people from all over Europe to enjoy their simple, rustic charms.

INFO:
Casas Karen
Tel: 956 437 067
649 780 0834
www.casaskaren.com

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