Jerez de la Frontera is an ancient city. The area around it was first populated in the days of early man, when Homo Sapiens and Homo Neanderthalensis crosseed the land bridge from the continent of Africa to the south. Some of the earliest cave paintings and other signs of settlement in Europe have been found in this region. There are many artefacts on display in the Jerez Museum of Archeology.
Greeks traded with Jerez and Cadiz, the nearby settlement on the coast, but when the Romans arrived it was at Cadiz that they concentrated their forces. Cadiz, or Gades, as it was known in Roman times, became pre-eminent and was one of the largest cities in Europe. But, when the Roman Empire finally dwindled, so did Gades.
Then the Visigoths ruled the Iberian peninsular, called Hispania, after the Roman province, they were a Christian people who came, originally, from the north. They were eventually overthrown by invaders from Africa in 711 CE, led by Tariq ibn Ziyad. After the Battle of the Guadelete, just outside Jerez, King Roderic of the Visigoths was roundly beaten and Hispania became Al Andalus.
The Moors largely abandoned Gades and took Jerez, which they called Xeres, as their preferred city in the south west. Xeres, pronounced Sheresh, gives us the modern word for sherry. After a period of strife between the Arabs and Berbers Al Andalus settled down to be ruled over from Cordova, as an independant Caliphate by an Ummayad Prince, who had been exiled from Damascus. At this time about 760 CE Islam ruled an empire which circled the Mediterranean, from Syria, the Middle east, what is now Egypt and all the north African seaboard up to as far as Tours in France. Until the first years of the 11th century this was the Golden Age of Al Andalus, when Cordova was a great centre of learning and science and there was much interaction between Muslims, Christians and Jews. Arabic translations of Aristotle and other ancient philosophers were, in turn, translated into Latin and helped to start the Renaissance in Europe.
The Caliphate finally fell in 1031 after a long-running civil war and Al Andalus was divided into Taifas or city states. Threatened by the Christian re-conquests to the north, the Princes ruling these states eventually called for help from Morocco and the Almoravids, a war-like Berber dynasty, came to their aid, defeating the Christians but also taking over the rule of Al Andalus. The city states were often at war with the Christian kingdoms to the north or each other. Xeres was occupied by successive invaders from North Africa, first the Almoravids, then the Almohads and the different fortifications built by successive ruling dynasties can be seen in the excavations in Jerez’s Alcazar.
War was almost constant in Al Andalus through the 12th and 13th centuries, though the fighting moved about and there were periods of peace in Xeres. Eventually Al Andalus fragmented into Taifas again, which, with the exception of the Nasrid Emirate of Granada, were too weak to repel the Christian invaders from the north. This is when ‘Reconquista‘ begins.
To find out more see Christian Jerez Life in Al Andalus