A unique Moorish monument and the finest horses in Spain are an added attraction for Jerez, the home of Sherry. Jerez, the home of Sherry wine, has recovered an important piece of its history with the restoration of its 12th-century Alcazar, the Moorish fortified palace standing at the highest point in the town.
The building is the only major trace of the Moors who gave the city its name - Xeris - and who dwelt here until Jerezs capture by the Christian king Alfonso X in 1264 following a five-month siege. After the palaces acquisition by the town restoration began in earnest and in 1998 the public were able to see the first results, including outstanding examples of a miniature mosque (destined for the private use of the emir) and exquisite Moorish baths, the only survivor of the 18 that existed in Moorish Jerez. In the centre of the complex stands the 17th-century Palacio de Villavicencio, built on the site of the old palace, and in its highest tower is a camera obscura, a device which uses mirrors and lenses to project the scene outside onto a screen in a darkened room within, the perfect introduction to the citys sights.
Soon the Sherry town will recover another of its signal monuments, the 15th-century Carthusian monastery located a few miles from Jerez. It is the only Carthusian monastery in Andalusia which continues to function as such, the monks having returned in 1948 after an absence of more than one hundred years. An ambitious restoration programme is nearing completion, with a view to opening some sections of this unique monument to visitors.
The monastery is famous as the birthplace of the Carthusian horse, the Cartujano, the purest strain of Spanish horse which was developed by the monks through careful selective breeding 500 years ago. The descendants of those first Cartujanos make up the oldest dynasty of pure bred horses in Europe. In spite of numerous changes of ownership in the intervening centuries (the herd, numbering more than 200 horses at any given time, is today part of the Spanish national patrimony), they are still bred using the same original method of selective breeding. Their home is the sprawling Fuente del Suero ranch within sight of the monastery and in 1998 the estate was opened to visitors, who can see these outstanding animals in their element every Saturday. The ranch serves as a stud farm to guarantee the continuity of the breed, and its illustrious residents include such legendary stallions as Poseido VII, who at age 18 has fathered more than a hundred offspring.
The Cartujano, which is born a dark colour but gradually changes to a milky white as an adult, is prized for its stamina and versatility. To see this and other Spanish breeds at their finest, Jerezs renowned Royal School of Equestrian Art features an equestrian demonstration which has become one of the towns major attractions, with horses executing elaborate movements to the sound of music. There is no doubt that Jerez is a city which takes its horses seriously. Not for nothing has it been chosen to host the World Equestrian Games in 2002.
Nearest airport: Jerez (4 miles, 6 kms)
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Copyright © 2001 An Andalusian Experience. Text by Mark Little. Photography by J. D. Dallet - A Freelance Spain production
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Copyright © 2000-2006 Mark and David Little & J.D. Dallet