Sunday, 29 January 2017

The City Walls of Jerez

With a name like Jerez de la Frontera, the city naturally needed imposing defensive walls. These defences were constructed from around 1133, but during Almohade rule during the late XII and early XIII centuries they were radically strengthened. They were approximately 4 kilometres long, 2.6 metres thick and 9 metres high and mostly with battlements, to entirely enclose and defend the 46 hectares of the city. By the mid XVI century the city was bursting and began to expand beyond the wall, which now forms the perimeter of the historic city centre, and begins and ends at the XII century Alcázar fortress, and along their length there were 79 watch towers and four well defended gates. Many burials took place just outside the walls and the works in 2004 to build the underground car park in Plaza Arenal uncovered a "maqbara" or Arab necropolis.

An early sketch of the city showing the Alcazar, four gates, various churches and the Cabildo (council building)

Alfonso X “El Sabio” entered the city through the Puerta de Sevilla in 1261 after his re-conquest of it from the Moors. Sadly it was demolished in 1864. The Puerta Real, demolished in 1821, was situated on the edge of what is now the Plaza Arenal on the corner of Calle Consistorio. In 1477 the Reyes Católicos (Fernando and Isabel) visited the city entering by the Puerta de Santiago which was also heavily fortified. The Puerta de Rota was also heavily fortified with three watch towers, but was mostly demolished in 1787 after a fifth gate, the Puerta del Arroyo, the only old gate surviving, was constructed  later in the XVI century, and with far more traffic rendered the old gate virtually obsolete. The remains of one of its towers, the Torre Riquelme, are incorporated into the walls of the old Domecq bodegas, now Fundador.

The wall is clearly visible in this print from 1565 looking eastwards from the Ermita de Guia

The construction method of the walls is interesting. A technique called "tapia" (from the arabic "tabiyya) or "rammed earth" was employed. This is an ancient method which is simple and economical and uses easily obtained materials. It consists of a wooden framework into which is poured a mixture of lime, earth and mixed aggregates such as bone, stones, gravel, bits of ceramic and organic material such as straw. The mixture is then rammed down to compress it, and once hard enough, the framework can be removed and used again for the next layer. It is not so different from pouring concrete into shuttering, and in both cases the impression of the woodgrain can often be seen. In the picture below you can see all sorts of regular marks on the walls. These are holes where the wooden framework was anchored, and once it was moved they were filled in. The passage of time and insufficient maintenance have exposed them.

The octagonal tower at the Alcazar showing construction method (foto:Pascual/diariodejerez)

As the city grew, especially during the XVIII and XIX centuries, the old walls were no longer needed for defence, and they suffered at the hands of new enemies; urban planning and lack of space. More of the walls remain than it would appear in fact, as many buildings, especially bodegas, have been constructed against them over the centuries, thus obscuring them, yet at the same time protecting them. Just recently building work on a new bar restaurant El Chicharron in Plaza Arenal has revealed one of the long disappeared towers and barbican of the old Puerta Real, and it is hoped to feature it in the completed design. La Rosa ice cream and cake shop right opposite also contains interesting remains, while Bar La Moderna at the foot of Calle Larga has parts of the wall exposed at its rear. Examples can also be seen in Calle Muro (Wall Street) near bodegas Urium and Tradición. As the Sherry trade rapidly expanded during the XIX century, more and more bodegas were constructed leaving ever fewer sites available for housing so the city council encouraged their construction outside the walls. Ironically the sites of many of these old bodegas within the city are now being converted into housing after the long decline of the Sherry trade.

A mid XIX century view looking eastwards. The outline of the wall is still clearly visible

If you are visiting Jerez, a walk round the city walls is a fascinating and easy excursion which allows one to see many sights and get a real understanding of the city’s history and topography. The walls have disappeared in some places, but the following suggested route covers most of what remains.

Calle Ancha with houses built against the wall and the old railway track in the 1950s

Starting from the Alcázar, head NE along Calle Armas, across the Plaza del Arenal, along Calle Lancería, Calle Larga, Calle Porvera, left along Calle Ancha, left along Calle Muro past bodegas Urium, left along Ronda del Caracol, left along Calle San Blás through the Fundador bodegas, right down Calle San Ildefonso, along Calle Espiritu Santo. When you arrive at the Plaza del Arroyo at the bottom, look right to see the Puerta del Arroyo and the huge Tio Pepe bodega. Then cross the square and it is back uphill via Cuesta Encarnación and Calle de la Rosa up the side of the cathedral and at the top you will see the Alcázar again where the wall once rejoined it. If you head along the Alameda Vieja through the Jacaranda trees you will see on the other side of the road Taberna La Sureña where you will find a very well-deserved glass of Sherry.

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