Let’s start our tour of Jerez de la Frontera where the Christians did in 1264 when they took the town back after 5 centuries of rule by the Moors. King Alfonso (nicknamed “the learned or the wise”) successfully stormed the Arab defensive fort (alcázar) and made Jerez part of his kingdom of Castile – one of the states that led to the eventual unification of Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella 2 centuries later. After Alfonso, Jerez stayed on the border (de la Frontera) like several other towns in this area. Nearly 8 centuries later, these places are still surnamed “de la Frontera.”
The Alcázar was once protected by a moat which the city filled in and converted to a strip park in the late 18th century. Called “Alameda Vieja,” today it hosts a multitude of cultural events and a lot of hanging out. It provides views of the agricultural countryside below.
The soil in those fields is white and chalky -- excellent for growing the grapes that will become the fortified liqueur called Sherry. Cereal grains also thrive here. While the land is fertile, the people have historically been poor since an ever smaller minority controlled that land. Laborers in those fields even had to live in Jerez. Often a day’s work in the fertile field yielded wages barely enough to buy a loaf of bread. To the landowners such inequality spun off wealth to create beautiful palaces in town. To the workers, such inequality eventually made these area hotbeds of an organized anarchist movement in the 2nd half of the 19th century. Regional government attempted to quell such insurgency with frequent executions, not quite the most effective stimulus plan in the long run.
Above we see a Mudejar arch leading to the Octagonal tower where Alfonso’s troops first raised the flag of Castile in 1264. The Arab city walls once extended about 2.5 miles.
Jerez’s 11th century Alcazar has been restored several times, often without much desire to preserve the Arab history. After the Reconquista, the Christian governors resided here. Above is a neo-classic doorway clumsily placed below Moorish castellation.
Most of the area inside the alcázar has been turned into a pleasant garden. Here we have the 1471 Torre Del Homenaje currently being restored. In its day, it hovered over the moat and served the function of a castle keep -- the last place that could be captured during an attack. As such, it stored food and provided housing. These typically rise above the walls unlike the 1950's air raid shelters American buried in the ground.
But a few buildings remain showing the glorious Moorish and Reconquista past. This arch leads from the Arab quarters (including baths and mosque) to the Patio of the Arms – where Moors from the Almohad dynasty and Christian governors alike would watch their armies drill.
Here we enter what remains of the Almohad’s palace complex. Today Jerez is Andalusia's 5th largest city but even when the Almohads were at their peak, this was one of the most important towns in Andalusia even though the Almohads kept their capital in nearby Seville.
Several extensive gardens now separate the fortifications, palaces, and Arab baths including the traditional Arab water gardens.
The Alcázar sometimes served as residence for the Seville-based Almohad dynasty. The Moors lost Jerez twice to the Reconquista after they themselves took it from a Visigoth army ten times the size of their invading army in the 8th century. The Moors first lost it to Fernando III but recaptured it in 1251. Thirteen years later they lost it for good after a 5-month siege led by Barcia Gómez Carillo – a man whose life the Moors had spared shortly before.
Please join us in the following slide show to give Jerez de la Frontera the viewing it deserves by clicking here.
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Created on April 3, 2009