The Alcazar of Jerez: A Window into History

DSC00144Jerez is known to most people for its namesake wine—sherry—or as a center for Flamenco, but it has another less well-known attraction, its alcazar, originally a Moorish fort and military residence, then the seat of Christian mayors, followed by a prominent local family and finally, its current role as a public park and museum. Above, the main entrance, through a narrow gate with an L shape to prevent any sudden charge. Through the arch, and to the left, brings you to the Parade Ground inside.

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Southern Spain is littered with reminders of centuries of Islamic rule and Christian reconquest, and fortified castles are prominent among them. “Alcazar” itself is an Arabic term for a fortified residence, and may have come from Latin before that. So, it’s not surprising that many cities have one, some of them quite elaborate and famous.

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The one in Jerez is not large, but much of it is well-preserved and makes an interesting visit. Unlike some of the more famous ones, such as in Seville, Cordoba or Toledo, it retains much of the feel of a simple military camp. It also happens, for your convenience, to be next door to the Cathedral (also worth a visit) and the Tio Pepe (Gonzales Byass) wineries, whose tour and sherry tasting were the main reason we were in town.

 

DSC00150The mosque of the alcazar is the only survivor of Jerez' 18 mosques...but it's become a chapel of St. Mary

 

DSC00156Many buildings like this have layered histories. The invading Moors of the 8th century replaced the invading Visigoths and Vandals of previous centuries; these in turn replaced Roman rulers. As each wave arrived, important buildings, and especially religious ones, were put to use for the conquerors. In some cases, buildings have changed hands several times.

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It's a little less complicated at the Jerez Alcazar. Although Roman and pre-Roman artifacts have been found there was basically new construction, built in the 10th century, for a minor Moorish ruler. Two hundred years later, as the powerful Almohad dynasty took control of most of Islamic Spain, they rebuilt portions of it and enlarged it. After Christian rulers took control in the late 13th century. It became the base of the local government.

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Alfonso the Wise seized Jerez in 1284, ending Islamic rule there.
No, that's not a basketball he's holding 

By 1664, it no longer served that purpose, and became property of the Villavivencio family, who built a Renaissance “palace” in it, and operated an olive oil mill in part of it. The last of the family went bankrupt and left in 1896; by 30 years later when preservation began both the “palace” and much of the rest were near-ruins.

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Today, the alcazar and gardens are open to visitors. The restored Villavivencio residence houses a pharmacy museum and a “camera obscura,” a dark chamber where lenses and mirrors project images of sights around the town.

 

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 Villivivencio Palace along one side of the Parade Ground

 

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More scenes in the gardens and along the walls below. Jerez is an easy visit from Seville; it takes about one hour by train with a fair of 10.90€

 

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Moderniste bench sits at base of 10th century wall

 

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A guest house for important visitors, and below it the interior of the bathhouse. Baths played an important role in Moorish society, as they had for the Romans. The"Arab baths" were modeled on Rome's.

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The Renaissance residence of the Villavivencios stands along the gardens

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Some views along the walls, and at the top of the tower

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In the 15th-century tower that was added by Christian rulers, pigeons have made their homes in the openings intended for guns.

 

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