I’ve recently returned from Jerez de la Frontera, the setting for ‘Reconquista‘ where I’ve been searching for remains of the Moorish period of the city.
As readers of the novel will know, the story starts on October 9th, 1264, when King Alfonso X of Castile and Leon is about to storm and take the city. We know that the siege and the fall of the city happened. We also know that Alfonso and the churchmen who followed in his wake, set about establishing Christian churches and institutions to replace those Muslim ones which already existed.
This included the church, now Cathedral, of San Salvador, the four ‘churches of the Evangelists’ and the church of San Dionysio, all within the city walls and the Monastery of San Domingo just outside them. But what is there to be seen, if anything, of the Muslim predecessors of these buildings? And what other evidence is there of the city’s Muslim past?
One of the largest, most obvious Moorish monuments is the Alcazar or castle, found at the south western corner of the old walled city. Its walls, which you can see now, are twelfth century, built by the Almohads, a Berber tribe who took over Al Andalus once the Caliphate of Cordova had fallen. Within the castle archaeological excavations have uncovered earlier walls and other structures, relating to the Ummayads and Almorovids, the first and second wave of invaders from the south.
It also contains the only surviving mosque within the old city walls, which became a chapel, the Cappella de Santa Maria, after the city was captured. Its minaret became a bell tower, but the octagonal prayer hall remains and the fountain courtyard where ablutions would be carried out before worship.
The other major relics which cannot be ignored are the twelfth century city walls. Although certain sections of these have disappeared completely, much of them remains – along the street known as Mura or Walls in the north and on the street called Porvera in the East. Here you can see the old battlements protruding from the backs of modern houses. The people who live in the houses use the walkways as private gardens ( though they are also responsible for their up-keep and a twelfth century wall can be quite expensive to maintain ).
There are architectural relics of Moorish times within some of the Christian buildings which Alfonso sponsored construction of. Like the monastery of San Domingo. This twelfth century foundation was built just outside the south-eastern walls on the site of a Muslim religious institution and, inside the cloisters which are open to the public, you can see the remains of a typically ‘Arab’ archway which belonged to the earlier building.
Sometimes the floor plans of the new churches give away their previous function; the cross-shape being superimposed on the underlying structure of the Muslim foundations.
What of relics within private dwellings? Many of the grand houses in Jeerz are much later than the twelfth century, though there are one or two. The Palace of the Viceroy Laserna, for example, which stands near the Alcazar, is recorded, under a different name, in King Alfonso’s Repartamiento, the book which lists who got given what after the defeat of the town. Now the ancestral home of the Duke of the Andes, its lower floor contains tile-work from the pre-Christian period.
So it is still possible today to find plenty of evidence of the Moorish city of Xeres.