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Jerez: Past and Present



Each of the different cultures that have settled in Jerez over the past few years have greatly influenced its physical appearance as numerous archaeological remains can testify over the surrounding countryside and within the city itself. Archaeological remains from when the city was known as Xera to the Phoenicians, Ceret to the Romans and most importantly, Sherish to the Moors, merge with the beauty of the later Christian buildings to offer a wide range of architectural styles and distinctive constructions that combine to give Jerez a truly exclusive urban appearance of great beauty.

Few places in Spain are known to enjoy such a vast international prestige. Because of its wine, Jerez or Sherry, the name of the city crossed international borders many years ago and has since become truly universal.

However, Jerez is not only characterised by its wine and unique architecture but offers much more: it is the home of the Carthusian horse and the Fighting Bull, the cradle of flamenco, a city of motor racing and other important events, and the site of a city centre declared as of historical and artistic significance.

Nowadays, Jerez is a big city where tradition coexists in perfect harmony with the latest modern features: big shopping centres and avenues come together in a cheerful and busy historical city centre, where shopping and tapas bars go hand in hand. All these special features, in addition to its extraordinary geographical location and climate, to unique and different tourist attractions and to its modern facilities, transform Jerez as the perfect city to live in and visit.




The true origins of Jerez de la Frontera still remain a mystery to this day. Some researchers tend to believe that the city used to belong to the ancient Tartessic Empire. Others share the view that the origins of the city are to be found in its relation with the primitive Phoenician settlement of Serit or Ceret, a name that was stamped upon coins and that later on became Seritium or Xeritium in Latin; and then Sheres, Xerez, Xerez Sadunia in Arabic and from there, Xerez Sidonis, Sidonia or Sedu√Īa, to the current name, Jerez de la Frontera.



There is no doubt that some form of settlement existed in Jerez prior to the arrival of the Romans. This is certified by the archaeological remains discovered in Asta Regia, nowadays known as Mesas de Asta, located just one kilometre from Jerez on the road leading to Trebujena.



From these slightly obscure origins, a city centre then began to emerge, which later became well-known during the Islamic domination.



It is during the Moorish occupation, however, that Jerez took on the characteristics of an important city. It seems unlikely that this occurred prior to the 9th century and its unique urban character was not acquired until the 11th and 12th century when the city wall and the fortress, both from the Almohadic period, were erected.



It is only from the early 12th century and the Almohad domination that both archaeologists and architects seem to agree with each other. It is therefore from this date onwards that we can start speaking of the city as standing in its current geographical location. Furthermore, it is during this period that a new urban structure emerged to later give way, along with societal changes and natural growth, to the layout of the historic city centre as we know it today.



When the Moors first arrived, Jerez was nothing more than a castle or fortress, surrounded by a network of streets, lacking even a city wall. The castle was located on the very spot where the Alc√°zar stands today and the streets were the same ones that now surround the Cathedral. The Moors must have walled the area up, but over time this proved to be insufficient due to the growth of the city and has resulted in the creation of a neighbouring settlement in the area known today as San Dionisio. This smaller settlement later became a suburb of the original urban centre.



This urban layout is the one discovered by Alfonso VII when he stormed the city in 1133 ‚Äď during the late Almoravid period, setting fire to its main buildings and knocking down its walls to the ground.



After the attack, the city’s necessary reconstruction gave rise to a new approach. An enclosure much larger than the previous one was built. It surrounded both the primitive walled nucleus around the castle and also the new neighbouring settlement which had sprung up around San Dionisio, whilst at the same time leaving an extensive open space for future population growth.



The reconstruction of the city wall began towards the end of the Almoravid period and completed during the Almohad dynasty, who took power in Jerez during 1146. The same characteristics are thought to apply to the construction of the fortress.



The walled enclosure is quadrangular in shape and has four vertexes: the first in the Alc√°zar; the second at the junction of the calle Larga and the calle Bizcocheros; the third on the corner where the calle Ancha meets the Porvera; and finally, the last one where the watchtower still stands at the end of the calle Muro.



The fronts of the city walls stretched from vertex to vertex crowned with battlements and interrupted at regular intervals by rectangular towers, with watchtowers standing on each corner. A gateway is located at the centre of each side, and in the southeastern corner of the fortified perimeter stood the Alcázar. This building was the residence of the Catholic monarchs and occupied the same spot where the ancient castle that existed at the time of the Moorish conquest once stood. The fortress was designed to be a combined and unified structure. It divided two main areas according to their different uses; one included the area of the Mosque, Parade Ground, baths, stables, etc., where public access would be more frequent and straightforward, and the other was assigned to house the main rooms of the walí and the residential quarters of the garrison.



The gateways,were fashioned out of adobe, as was the city wall, and took the shape of a double right angle. During the Almohad dynasty, there were four gateways. A few more were added during Christian times in order to facilitate connections between the inner enclosure and the suburbs that had started to spring up around the exterior. These were the Puerta Real (Royal Gate), or Marmolejo, Puerta Sevilla (Seville Gate), Puerta Santiago (Santiago Gate) and Puerta Rota (Rota Gate).



Within the walled enclosure, the layout of the streets was determined both by the structure of the wall and the connections from each gate to the next one. This way, the main thoroughfare of Jerez would be the one connecting the Royal and Santiago gateways. This would in turn cross the street linking the Santiago and Rota gateways.



The Islamic city was divided into different neighbourhoods, each of them having their own mosque and market. Its streets were narrow and winding with few houses and small windows looking out to the exterior. It was during the Almohadic period that the interior of the walled enclosure became fully urbanised.



In the 13th century, Jerez was incorporated into the kingdom of Castile. The 13th century was indeed a crucial century that witnessed the collapse of the Moorish political structure and the consequent process of conquest and repopulation of the region by the Christians coming from the North.



During the Reconquista and the repopulation of Andalusia by Fernando III and Alfonso X, from 1224 to 1300, the base was set for a new Andalusia, which had been radically transformed with regard to its basic demographic, institutional, economic, social and cultural structures as a result of its incorporation into Castile. This brought about an abrupt break with the previous age and entry into a different world and concept of society: the Christian Europe.



After the recapture of Seville by Fernando III in 1248, Jerez availed itself, as did other cities in the Cadiz area, of an agreement under the terms of which the Castilians agreed to respect both private property and way of life in return for a tribute. The area of the Guadalete River was annexed under these terms in 1249 as the king of Castile became aware of his incapacity to repopulate such an extensive region. He left the Mudejars (Muslims allowed to live under Christian rule) in possession of their lands, presenting Lebrija, Jerez, Arcos and Medina Sidonia to Prince Enrique. The repeal of this privilege by Alfonso X in the early years of his reign (1253) made it necessary to reconsider the situation of the region. Indeed, during the first months of 1253, Alfonso X, with the help of troops from the Military Order of Calatrava, carried out a military campaign in the region of the Guadalete, getting rid of the different local Moorish chiefs and aiming at establishing Castilian garrisons in certain towns. This was the case in Jerez. The Chronicles of Alfonso X refer to a certain Ab√©n Abit, lord of the town of Jerez, who offered to surrender the Alc√°zar on the condition that he ‚Äúbe allowed to flee safe and sound along with all his belongings‚ÄĚ. The Alc√°zar was then handed to the Castilian noble Ni√Īo de Lara, who in turn entrusted it to a knight named Garci G√≥mez Carillo.


This more precarious autonomous regime, in which previous Moorish authorities were substituted by others who were more co-operative to Castile; and where Christian military detachments were housed in their palaces and fortresses, lasted until 1262-1263.



































In 1262, a radical change took place in the policies of Alfonso X which may have been due to two main factors. Firstly, it is known that around this date the repopulation of Seville was well underway and, secondly, the monarch was apparently determined to bring an end to the small, almost autonomous Moorish outposts. It began with the kingdom of Niebla in 1262 and the repopulation of Cádiz where a bishop’s palace was erected in early 1263 effectively blocking off maritime access to the Mudejar population of Jerez, Arcos and other neighbouring towns.

In Andalusia, the uneasiness produced amongst the Mudejar population by these and other similar measures explains why the Moors in the region of the Guadalete revolted, helped by the Granadinos and Benmimerines of Northern Africa, in May-June 1264. This Mudejar uprising surprised the Castilians. Their garrisons were put to the sword, falling into the hands of the revolutionaries in Jerez, Medina Sidonia, Vejer and Lebrija.

The reaction of Alfonso X was immediate. After the autumn of 1264 and throughout 1265, campaigns were mounted in order to re-establish and recover the lost territories. Jerez, Medina Sidonia, Arcos, Lebrija and Vejer were conquered by force of arms. The Moorish population was systematically expelled from its old towns and cities, and the occupied territories were then immediately repopulated with Christians. This occurred in Jerez.

Once capitulation talks were under way, Alfonso X agreed to allow the Moors to leave Jerez and the town passed into Castilian hands on October 9th 1264, feast of San Dionisio (Saint Dionysius).

According to tradition, the city was incorporated into Christian domains in Frontera; from which derives its name.

According to the Book of Distribution, 1,711 Christian, 90 Jewish and 7 Mudejar settlers repopulated Jerez. Another characteristic of this society was the co-existence of religious and ethnic minorities of Jews and Moors alongside a dominant Christian majority.

The Jews lived in their own quarter, known as the Judería, where there were two synagogues. The Mudejars had their own mayor, at least initially, and they worshipped in one of the mosques which had been left standing at the time of the conquest. Even though they were tolerated and protected by law, they were nevertheless segregated.

The city was divided into different districts corresponding to the six parishes which had been created: one dedicated to El Salvador (The Saviour), another to the patron of the city, San Dionisio, and the remaining four dedicated to the Evangelists: San Mateo, San Lucas, San Marcos and San Juan (Matthew, Luke, Mark and John).

The Jewish quarter (Judería) was located within San Dionisio parish boundaries, albeit separated by a wall. Clearly marked in the Libro de Repartimiento (Book of Distribution) were another two urban sectors which, though not autonomous in character, possessed their own peculiarities. The Francos Quarter, characterised by the commercial nature of its inhabitants, was situated between the parishes of San Juan, San Marcos and San Dionisio; and the Algarbe Quarter in San Dionisio was home to 92 settlers from the Portuguese Algarve.

The city limits were extended after the Battle of Salado in 1340. The sense of security resulting from this act provided an initiative for local farmers and led to considerable urban growth outside the city walls, around the suburbs of San Miguel and Santiago. In these suburban areas, there are clear signs of the economic growth which, coupled with the arrival of the Genoese, French, English and Flemish traders who settled in the area, allowed the incorporation of the kingdom of Castile into the international commercial circuits of the Atlantic

The city walls ceased to be of use after the extension of the city boundaries and were therefore demolished. Gates were opened in order to facilitate communication between the inner streets and the external suburbs. As from the 15th century, and as a consequence of the economic prosperity of the time, important buildings were erected: the church of San Miguel, the church of Santiago, the convent of San Francisco, the church of La Merced, the convent of Espiritu Santo, the convent and cloisters of Santo Domingo, the Cabildo (local government council), the keep of the Alc√°zar, etc.

Jerez was without doubt one of the greatest cities of the modern age, and its rich, solemn buildings bear witness to this past splendour.

The most significant event that took place in western Andalusia in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries was the discovery of America. Furthermore, due to its geographical location between Seville and Cadiz, Jerez was by this time fully incorporated into the territory of Andalusia.

What was Jerez like on the eve of the Discovery of the New World? It was a rural town with an extensive municipal area, its fair share both of nobility (its mansion houses are a clear sign of this) and clergy, with extensive livestock and important wine production.

Being a medieval city during in the latter half of the 15th century, Jerez held agricultural fairs where the products from its extensive domains were displayed. The September fair is worthy of special mention as it attracted traders from far afield. The Flemish-Dutch colony was of particular importance during this period given the excellent relationship between the Kingdom of Castile and Northeastern Europe. All this meant that the exports of Jerez and its surrounding farmland found relatively easy access to the markets of Flanders, England and the Hanseatic League, especially its wines. The traders and businessmen from these countries in turn began to settle in Jerez.

The wine trade also brought about certain social changes in Jerez by promoting the development of skilled craft industries, especially the coopers.

With the discovery of America in 1492 and the following establishment of the monopoly, firstly in Seville and as from 1680 in Cadiz, several changes took place in western Andalusia. The demand from America ensured a market for its products in the West Indies. The cultivated land available now seemed insufficient for the needs and prospects which were being forecast. It was therefore deemed necessary to plough up previously uncultivated open spaces in order to plant wine and other products of interest, such as wheat and cereals.

What effects did the impact of the discovery have at a social level? The slave population grew considerably, partly due to its easy supply provided through the nearby ports of the bay, but also due to the wealth and social status achieved by individuals. It was without doubt, however, that the nobility was the most seriously affected sector of the population. Jerez had a reduced number of nobles in the 15th century, mainly dating back to the first families who arrived when the town was repopulated. The impact of America was to open up access to these levels of society to the common people, to men who had accumulated fortunes thanks to their skills in trade, finance or export of wines.

Jerez experienced a period of prosperity and economic growth after the end of the war against the Kingdom of Granada, and the 16th century brought the opening up of certain sectors of Jerez society to the new airs of the Renaissance and the humanistic thinking that followed up. Economic prosperity and peace allowed the construction of numerous buildings in the ‚Äúold style‚ÄĚ. The settling in the city of an important contingent of foreign traders ‚Äď from Genoa and Flanders ‚Äď made its contribution to the comprehension of humanistic ideas and the spread of new aesthetic trends.

A reaction emerged against the authoritarian spirit of the Church, which had been maintained throughout the Middle Age and which limited the initiative of individual, free and critical thought.

Artists started to emerge from the anonymity in which they had been immersed during the Middle Age and abandon the condition of artisan. Roman buildings became the object of admiration and inspiration which provided a wealth of subject matter and a diverse range of characters

During the early decades of the 16th century, religious architecture was still deeply rooted in tradition, represented by the Gothic style of the temples and convents of Jerez: the parish church of San Mateo in the old city centre, those of Santiago and San Miguel in the surrounding neighbourhoods which bear their names, the convent of Santo Domingo opposite the old Seville Gate and the Carthusian monastery of Nuestra Se√Īora de la Defensi√≥n on the banks of the river Guadalete, on the road to Medina.

From the mid part of the century onwards, Renaissance art is seen to be fully absorbed into civil architecture.

Jerez of the 1700s registered important artistic achievements in response to a series of events, such as the economic recovery which occurred throughout the century.

As with the rest of Andalusia, the city shows a fondness for the Baroque period, especially with regard to religious art. The popular masses identify perfectly with such expressions, the festivals and celebrations providing a way to elude many of the problems of everyday life.

In the face of all this, certain innovative airs were incorporated into the urban landscape. The urban fabric within the city walls caused few problems. From the beginning of the century the old city centre began to register a gradual decrease in population in favour of San Miguel and Santiago: the two neighbourhoods located outside the city walls. This exodus of the population paralysed inner urban activity to a certain extent, in favour of the outskirts.

The only transformation which had any effect upon the urban fabric resulted with the removal of certain buildings and the compulsory purchase of nearby homes in order to create the new Plaza de la Encarnación.

In addition, the wine industry was to have great consequences upon urban planning throughout the 18th century. The system of small wineries, each connected to a dwelling, led to the construction of independent warehouses. The establishment of Jerez as an important winegrowing area resulted in the emergence of a powerful bourgeoisie and a large mass of proletarians. An industrial belt thus grew up around the city during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, consisting of bodegas later absorbed by the city during the urban expansion of the 20th century.

Many planning schemes contemplated throughout the previous century were put into practice on a grand scale during the 19th century, above all with regard to infrastructures concerning drainage and public hygiene. The most characteristic events of the nineteenth century were, however, the alignment of public thoroughfares, the effects produced by the selling off of church lands and the new urban profile generated by the sherry industry.

The demolition of the Main Gate and Postern Gate along with stretches of the city wall was one of the most important urban accomplishments of the 19th century. Rota Gate had already been demolished during the 17th century. Santiago Gate and the Royal Gate were demolished during the latter half of the century, along with the New Gate, or Chancery Gate; Seville Gate ceased to exist in 1864 and the Corregidor Archway followed in 1890.

The sale of the possessions of the Church produced an increase in open spaces once a group of convents had been demolished, bringing about an alteration of part of the medieval urban fabric in order to create new squares.

The sherry industry of the time was behind the creation of a very characteristic urban profile and the proliferation of wineries throughout the 19th century was spectacular. The inner city lying behind the old walls continued to feed off the wineries, a situation which brought about the loss of many inhabited dwellings. During the 18th century, there had already been protests made by the parish priests of San Mateo and San Marcos when faced with the loss of parishioners due to this very same motive. In 1837 and 1842, a series of measures dictated by the Town Council aimed at regulating the construction process of the wineries forbade the building of wineries within the historic centre itself.

The railway station was inaugurated in 1854 and, in response to the growth of the wineries; an urban railway was later built in 1870 in order to facilitate transport of wine to the railway station.

The wine industry brought about the creation of a bourgeoisie in the city who in some cases chose to establish their homes on the outskirts of the city. These houses, large dwellings with extensive gardens, were built according to an urban planning scheme.

Gas powered lighting was introduced in 1860; the transport of water from Tempul spring to the city centre took place in 1869. The telephone was introduced in 1889 and the Jerez Electricity Company was founded in 1891.

The flourishing aristocracy and bourgeoisie, in many cases of foreign origin, should have meant a rapid adoption of the new European tendencies. This, however, was not the case.

In the early 20th century, the profile of the city was determined to a great extent by the growth of the wine industry.

The districts of Santiago and San Miguel continued to expand, but to the detriment of those neighbourhoods located within the city walls where the corresponding loss of inhabitants proved to be an aggravating factor for urban planning throughout the 20th century. It was not until the post-war years however that, mainly due to urban development projects, a series of newer districts were developed, mostly destined to house the working classes: La Plata (during the 1940s), Federico Mayo (the early 1950s), La Vid, La Constancia, Pío XII.

In 1982, a special plan to reform the interior of the Historic Centre (Plan Especial de Refoma Interior del Casco Antiguo or PERI) was prepared, as there was urgent need to restrain the construction work within the confines of the historic centre, given that cultural heritage values were not being taken into consideration. This was an attempt to recover the historic centre of the city as a collective heritage (Patrimonio Colectivo), to control removal and real estate speculation, to rehabilitate old buildings, to conserve popular architecture, to protect the facades and defensive towers of the city wall and respect the urban fabric.

A Urban Regulation Plan came into effect in 1984, the main objective of which referred to equipment and infrastructures (Jerez Racing Circuit, 1986).

The latest plan came into force in 1985 and is directed towards the future of the city. Not only focusing upon the city, but also upon its extensive municipal boundaries.