Thursday, 28 July 2016

Jerez Alcázar - glimpse into the Arab Andalusia

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Much like its other counterparts, Alcázar fortress in Jerez offers an interestng glimpse into the Arab conquerors' Andalusia

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My head aches. Ligh hurts my eyes, no matter ho deep I try to bury myself into my brand new Panama hat. Jerez in May is suffocatingly hot, but having been up most of the night before, not being able to keep anything inside I don't even dare to drink anything, which probably doesn't make my current state any better.

A guide I've been provided with smiles and nods knowingly. "You've been getting to know sherries aready, then ?" If only. I'm desperately trying to trace the source of all this. Surely it can't be my lunch the day before - I mean, the place was so nice? I suppose it could also be the starter at yesterday's dinner? One of the six I had ...?

I'm trying to focus on the guide's words as well as I can and obiediently attempt to take some photos, too. Though my efforts are pathetically half-hearted as the results reveal. Poor horse is missing half of his head and I resolve to pretending not to even notice.

I'm looking at a tour of Alcázar fortress in Jerez de la Frontera. Or something like that. 

"They all look the same, anyway", I find myself thinking cynically. At this point my crap mood is aggravating even myself.  Seville, Alhambra, Cordoba... makes absolutely no diference. 

I stare numbly at the wall surrounding the fortress and briefly toy with the idea of actually just using a photo from a wall somewhere in Jerusalem

Same old crap, everywhere. It's not like somebody can tell the difference? It's not like anyone's actually even going to read this?

Oh, yeah. Palm trees. How bloody exotic. No-one has ever seen those anywhere, right? Well, let's take another pointless photo, just in case. 

I pull my hat even deeper and map out the public toilets in case I need to emergency evacuate myself. Not that I can, though. That's the thing with travelling alone: there's no-one else to take the photos and tour the sights.

Just like there's no-one to hold your hair as you need to throw up for the 16th time that night. And no-one to fetch you water. Or head out in the search for the closest pharmacy. Seriously - what the hell is the point of this travelling alone business? It sucks!

I hate myself, my life, my stomach that by now is making noise that rivals any death metal band, history, sunshine and Andalusia. 

Even my lense proves to be too dense for this place. And there's far too much light. I try to replace my camera with my phone, but fail at that (too).

So, I also hate my camera. And my phone. And the tourists, moving around with the leisurely pace of a comatose cow, continuousy walking into my photos, with no rush anywhere.

(How the hell can they not be in any rush? What do they think they're on - a holiday? I, for one, still have like three places to go see after this one!)

Soon I start hating my guide, too. Dignity and pride of their origins are qualities I've so far looked up to in Andalusians but now they're reaching a point of irritation beyond belief. Our talks about my life in my little corner of Andalusia just make him sneer.

"Benalmádena? What planet's that one on?" He thinks his remarks are awfully funny - seeing how we're no longer in my province of Málaga. Instead we're in his province of Cádiz, which according to the guide is clearly the best world's got to offer.

The longer he keeps pouring out pompous superlatives about Jerez and the Alcázar, the more I just want to rip his tongue out and shove it in my ears.

This is nothing more than a poor man's Seville!

As we reach the fortress' garden, the temptation to resort to violence is becoming increasingly impossible to resist. Hasn't this moron ever heard of Alhambra?!

Under the cooling shade of Alcázar's arches I finally start to feel a little better. My vision is no longer a blur of Zig Zag patterns that look like a Missoni collection cirka 1973. 

I take a deep breath, manage to drink something and decice to give the tour another chance.

The name Jerez has its roots in the Phoenician era and the name it was known as back then: Xera. The region has been inhabited at least since the Neolithic era, though who they were exactly is still unknown. First larger settlement can, in any case, be traced back to the 3rd millenia BC. After the fall of the Rome, the area was ruled by the Vandals and Visigoths until 711 and the beginning of the Arab conquerors' era.

Back in 11th century Jerez was  independent until it was joined with Arcos. Both of them were annexed to Seville in 1053.  Between 1145 and 1147 Jerez and Arcos were briefly under the Granadan rule until the Almohad dynasty conquered the cities.

This is when the fortress was built, too. 

Reconquista, the Christian reclaim of the Iberian peninsula was not something that happened overnight in 1492 - it was a centuries-long tug of war. Jerez for instance was reconquered already in 1264 and as a result the Alcázar became the seat of the city's first Christian mayors. 

Jerez used to house 18 mosques. Today Alcázar is the home to the last of them. During Alfonso X's reign it was converted into a chapel, but the old minaret still stands, next to the cross-bearing church tower.

Many well preserved details shed light into the kind of life that was led here over the centuries. Grain being ground to flour, bread being baked, olive oil being pressed in massive presses...

You know, the very life that we self-respecting food bloggers still live. Oh, and them Amishes. 

One of the most beautiful features are the arches, under which time stands still.

The most memorable part of the fortress is, without a doubt, its hammam, the Arab spa. Hammams were important not only as a tool for hygiene and ritual purity but also as the source of pleasure. 

Andalusia still has hammams that are open to public - one of them right here in Jerez (admission €25 pp/ 1,5 -hour visit). For more information please see here.

The octagonal tower is a typical feature for the Almohad architecture and that, too, stll stands. From there you can admire the views over the fortress...

...its gardens, modelled after Paradise...

... and the city of Jerez itself. 

Which still failed to win me over the way Cádiz did. 

Relieved the tour was over (and mildly surprised over my own resilience) I did for a moment ponder a visit to the San Salvador Cathedral next door. 

However, common sense (and senseless hunger) got the best of me and I decided to pass on it. "It can't be more than another poor man's version of the cathedral in Seville" I concluded somewhat cruelly and decided to brave lunch instead. Which, by the way, was Iberico pork belly confit (!) with grilled octopus (!!!) 

And that, as you all know, pretty much covers all the crucial elements of my diet. 

But lo and behold: my gusto went steadily down as the fever went up and I couldn't even finish my lunch ( now there's a first...!)

After a pit stop at the bathroom I dragged my sorry ass (drenched in cold sweat) back to Cádiz and finally gave in, not even attempting to climb out of the bed. 

Until the next day, anyway - I had El Puerto de Santa Maria and the trip's best restaurant to check out after all!

* The trip was organized in collaboration with Cadiz Tourism *





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