Wednesday, 9 January 2019

An Interview with José Manuel Aladro on the Bodega Heritage of Jerez

For architect and researcher Dr José Manuel Aladro Prieto the urban transformation Jerez experienced in the XIX century was so great and so intense as to be unprecedented. To study this phenomenon, which he researched in his doctoral thesis “the Construction of the Bodega City: the Architecture of Wine and Urban Transformation of Jerez de la Frontera in the XIX Century”, it is necessary to understand the complex process which took place in the city which encompassed all sorts of factors. José Manuel, who is a professor at the University of Sevilla, defines Jerez as a “bodega city”: an urban, economic and social entity where there took place “an extraordinary process of in the context of Spain itself”. Extraordinary for being atypical and unique. 

A series of transformations brought about by the wine industry radically changed traditional urban models obscuring or even substituting them.Two centuries after this urban transformation the city finds itself wondering what to do with these old buildings, many with big structural problems. With pressure from tourism and so much abandonment and neglect of the patrimony in the city centre, Jerez is at a key moment in deciding its future. A future which like the past and the present is directly related to urban planning and its bodega heritage.

Jose Manuel at a huge old Garvey bodega now a Mercadona supermarket in Jerez (foto:manugarcia)

 According to Manuel Romero Bejarano, who has made a detailed study of the city´s religious patrimony, Jerez used to be called the “convent city”. In your thesis and research you refer to it as a “bodega city”. What should Jerez be in the XXI century?
Fundamentallywhat Jerez needs to do is define precisely what it wants to be. It is still in the process of dismantling the bodega city so there are still parts of it where it is not known what to do but like other historic cities it will probably end up focused on tourism and leisure. 

In Jerez there are bodegas dating back to Moorish times…
One thing which has become clear in recent times is that there still exist bodegas dating practically from the foundation of Jerez. There are bodegas from Moorish times, from the middle ages and from modern times since the XVI century, and some are big. In the XVIII century what had hitherto been an artisan trade became an industry and artisan models were transformed into industrial ones as happened in other sectors in other places at that time but architecturally they are fundamentally similar.

As you mention in one of your works the hispanist Richard Ford compared them to the huge sheds in the English naval shipyards while others compared them to cathedrals…
On one occasion Ford said that they resemble the huge shipbuilding sheds and at another that they resemble great temples so it is possible that this is the origin of their comparison to cathedrals. You understand this perfectly when you are in a bodega and contemplate the height, the light, the solidity, the silence… all reminding you of a religious space.

Is this type of bodega construction unique to the Marco de Jerez?
It is unique to the Marco but at the same time it forms a part of the tradition of rural architecture in Andalucía. In the Andalusian countryside you can see many granaries or cowsheds which resemble bodegas and thus form a part of this great architectural family of Andalucía. As a bodega this design is virtually exclusive to us but has spread elsewhere.

There are numerous cases in the city where bodegas have been conserved, but for other uses. Neverthess, recently an annexe to the Consejo Regulador was demolished despite the opposition of various conservation organisations with the Junta saying it was powerless to intervene and a block of flats was built in Calle Paul.
Yes. In that case the bodega was not protected under the PGOU (General Urban Plan). The owner had the right to do as he pleased whether we liked it or not, that is how the plan was drawn up and approved. Why was this bodega demolished and others not? Because it was located outwith the historic city centre so it could be demolished and I think it was a terrible shame.

Not all the bodegas have been able to be protected…
One has to be aware that Jerez had a real problem squaring bodegas with urban development. From the industrial point of view many were obsolete and abandoned. They couldn´t be maintained and there had to be a process of selection and we may or may not agree on how this was done. Could they all have been protected? I don´t know. The city had to do something about an unsustainable situation, though personally I wouldn´t have demolished any.

The ruinous state of some old bodegas worries neighbours (foto:pascual,diariojerez)

It is always posible to convert them to other uses…
Transforming the bodega heritage is a great opportunity not only for the regeneration of the historic centre but also for the regeneration of the city´s identity. Jerez should be backing the bodega heritage as an element of its singularity. We have destroyed a great deal, above all some unique things, but that time has gone now and we should be able to exploit it - in the best sense of the word. All cities have churches, palaces and squares, and while Jerez too has these features, it also has bodegas. We need to take on this potential and use it without fear of using them for other purposes. After all if the convents hadn´t been re-used we wouldn´t have them now.

An example of conversion into a home (foto:pxqarquitectos)

In the 1960s during the administration of the mayor Miguel Primo de Rivera, who died recently, a series of very relevant urban transformations was undertaken in the city. At a conference he outlined the creation of a space for a concentration of all the bodegas in a zone to the west of Jerez.
The General Plan which was approved at the end of the 1960s was drawn up at a time of tremendous growth in the bodegas, both with Sherry and with Brandy, which we sometimes forget. It was a time when firms were undergoing profound transformations in both technology and scale and changing from small family bodegas to big businesses. The general Plan took into account the spectacular growth of the bodegas and that as a result there would be a serious lack of space for them.

Things were very different in those days…
That was when it was decided that the entire western side of the old ring road (N-IV) from Hipercor down to the road to El Puerto de Santa María would be reserved as an industrial park for bodegas. Interestingly the plan contemplated that the area should have sufficient aesthetic appeal to become a tourist attraction. This General Plan of 1969 was already talking about wine tourism which is so fashionable today.

Yet they still talk about promoting it half a century later…
That Plan even mentions horsedrawn coaches and things like that. It is very interesting.

But what they didn´t consider then was that the bodegas in the city centre would be abandoned just a few years later.
That was certainly one of the consequences. If the business were to collapse there would be too much space as companies closed down. So they had to choose. Some bodegas were very big and more effective but driving lorries in the city centre was not easy.

The city has suffered terrible consequences since the wine crisis and the reconversion of vineyards in the 1980s, and tourism is seen as the only salvation. Is Jerez reinventing itself? Does the bodega heritage add extra value?
I believe it is. It needs to stop being a problem so we can use it as an opportunity. We have bodega architecture all over the city which is useful for all sorts of things; it has sufficient flexibility for use as museums, car parks like in the Plaza San Andrés, nurseries and homes. Isn´t it much more interesting to have a supermarket in an old bodega? It is much nicer. We are even talking about converting them into tourist apartments with the appeal of staying in a bodega. New York style loft apartments are very trendy.

There are already some in the city.
Yes, Air B´n´B is offering lofts in bodegas and there are homes in bodegas for sale and some are surprisingly cool. We should consider this as an opportunity for the city, not as a problem. Can you imagine a flamenco club not being in a bodega? They are concepts and images which are closely associated. And a zambomba in a bodega is more of a zambomba.

Not even 5,000 people live within the walled precinct of the city. The Residents Association of the Historic City Centre has organised demonstrations to Save the Historic Centre and other initiatives because they believe the only way to revitalise the area is by repopulation. However it is tourist apartments which are gaining importance. How do you see the situation?
I live in the centre and the walled precinct is in a worrying situation, however in recent years there have been signs of hope. The decision to put part of the Christmas festivities in the Plaza Belén was a success, but it was amusing to see Jerezanos using Google Maps to find it!

Or the Plaza de la Bola…
But that was a success too. That the Jerezanos are coming back to the centre and getting to know it again is linked to incentivising in some way the public and private promotion of homes within the city, and in this the tourist apartments, demonised in other areas, are actually helping. Jerez is at the point of seeing how to ensure that tourist apartments remain an asset and don´t become a problem. My street already has three and if they weren´t used by tourists they would be empty.

This interview was conducted by Sebastián Chilla and published in

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