Aerial view of the Alcázar complex of monuments. :: JAVIER FERNÁNDEZ
This weekend, Jerez de la Frontera will enjoy the highlight of its summer. Tomorrow, Saturday 23rd, the streets of this city in Cadiz province will be filled with cycling enthusiasts and curious onlookers for the official start of the Vuelta Ciclista a España, the Spanish version of the Tour de France.
The first stage against the clock will begin at the Plaza de Mamelón. Among the 22 teams competing are the Spanish Movistar team, with Alejandro Valverde, and the Russian team Tinkoff Saxo (Danish until last year). To the delight of his fans Alberto Contador, who has now recovered from his fall in the Tour de France, will also be there. The Spanish cyclist said ‘Adios’ to the Vuelta after the accident but last Thursday he announced that he would take part after all, with a “See you in Jerez” tweet on his Twitter account. Seeing him on his bike once again will add even more excitement at the starting line.
Jerez is determined not to miss this opportunity of selling itself to the world, because the Vuelta is televised in 178 countries, so the city plans to fill its streets with its best-known attractions: its wine and its horses. Among the features in the Plaza de Mamelón will be the ‘venencias’ which are used to scoop up the sherry from the vats, and barrels of wine. After the event, Jerez, which has been designated the European Wine City of 2014, plans to leave some of these items in place, to show them off for the rest of the year.
Before the starting pistol is fired, equestrian art will also play a part at this event. The Yeguada de La Cartuja will be performing a classical dressage show, the ‘Doma de Alta Escuela y de Cobras de Yeguas’, in which the Carthusian horses, which are bred in Jerez, will be the principal attraction. The exhibition will take place half an hour before the official start of the Vuelta Ciclista, which is scheduled for 19:00h.
The cyclists participating in this event will arrive at the starting point in the Plaza de Mamelón in horse-drawn carriages; four of these carriages will be pulled by Carthusian horses, which were the original Spanish thoroughbreds. The horses and the carriages have been loaned for the occasion by the Yeguada de La Cartuja, Yeguada de Ana María Bohórquez and Ganadería Fermín Bohórquez .
But there is no need to wait until tomorrow to enjoy the fun. The first event takes place this evening, Friday 22nd August, in the Plaza del Arenal where former cyclist Pedro Delgado and journalist Carlos de Andrés will host a presentation gala which begins at 20:00h and will be televised by TVE.
Jerez is already noting the impact of hosting the start of the 69th Vuelta Ciclista a España. The councillor for Tourism, Culture and Festivals, Antonio Real, said last week that hotels were almost fully booked for tonight and tomorrow, with an occupancy level of over 98 per cent.
A charming city
It is no surprise that the hotels are full because this city has many other charms as well as being the venue for important sports events (including the Spanish Motorcycling Grand Prix). Its streets speak of a history which has enriched Jerez over the years. Tartessians, Phoenicians, Romans, Moors, Jews and Christians have all left their mark in one way or another.
In Roman times Asta Regia, a city which stood on this land, reached its moment of greatest splendour, although the first settlers in this area (which is now the Mesas de Asta district) are believed to have been the Tartessians. The Municipal Archaeological Museum contains some of the items that have been found there, together with many others that belonged to different cultures in Jerez and other parts of Andalucía.
It was probably the Moorish era that has given the city its unforgettable essence. One of the main attractions from this period is the Alcázar fortress, which has been declared a Building of Cultural Interest. It was built in the 12th century in Almohad style and is one of the few remaining examples of this form of architecture in Spain. It was used as a fortress and palace, and inside are a mosque, Moorish baths and large gardens, among other features.
Also built by the Moors and declared a Building of Cultural Interest is the Castillo de Melgarejo, of which only one tower has resisted the passage of time. It stands within an archaeological site, because settlements dating back to the Copper Age have been discovered in the area around it.
But without a doubt, the Christian monuments are the most numerous. However, they are noteworthy not only for their quantity but also for their quality. Jerez boasts a long list of buildings which have been declared of Cultural Interest, among them the Ancient Monastery of La Cartuja, the cathedral and the church of San Miguel.
The Monastery dates back to the 15th century and was built in Gothic and Renaissance style. Its structure was seriously damaged during the French invasion, but it was almost completely restored later. The cathedral, which is officially called the Antigua Colegiata de Nuestro Señor San Salvador, began to be built in the 17th century over the remains of a destroyed mosque. It was originally a church, but it was designated as a cathedral in 1980 by Pope John Paul II. Jerez also has palaces, gardens, the river and a zoo, and very much more. In fact, it has something to suit everybody, no matter what their interests or age.