Jaen appeals to the modern traveller with its unique mix of history and Spanish atmosphere.
The name Jaen is thought to be derived from the Arabic "Geen" or "Giyen", meaning a stop on the caravan route. This Andalusian city was indeed an important hub on the main routes connecting the various cities in Moorish times. The impressive hilltop Santa Catalina castle towering above the city bears witness to Jaens importance in history.
Today the city of Jaen is once again appealing to the traveler. In addition to its famous Parador, spectacularly located in the castle grounds, most of its hotels have recently been renovated and new ones opened, including the four-star Hotel Infanta Cristina.
Aside from an unadulterated Spanish atmosphere and a strategic location which puts the traveler within easy reach of Jaen provinces wealth of monumental towns and nature parks, the city itself tempts the visitor with such sights as its cathedral, known among other things for its most revered relic, the Santo Rostro ("Holy Face"), which tradition claims is the very cloth with which St. Veronica cleansed Christs face on the road to Calvary, leaving his image imprinted on the fabric.
Vying with the castle as the citys most visited site are the best-preserved Moorish baths in Europe.
The baths date from the 11th or 12th century, but in the 16th century were buried when the Conde de Villadompardo constructed a palace on top of them. It wasnt until 1917 that the authorities decided to recover the baths, a project which progressed in fits and starts until the baths were completely restored in 1984. A year later the prestigious Europa Nostra association nominated this as one of the continents most thorough and thoughtful restoration projects, allowing visitors to recapture the full beauty of this extraordinary Moorish monument.
The Villadompardo palace itself houses two museums, one devoted to local traditions and crafts, the other displaying an enormous collection of naïf paintings from Spain and abroad.
For its part, Jaens Museo Provincial traces the provinces roots to its beginnings. The museum is home to the worlds largest collection of Iberian artefacts, including the spectacular sculptures of Cerrillo Blanco.
It was a chance discovery in 1975 that lead to the richest Iberian treasure trove ever found. Some thirty sculptures, depicting warriors as well as horses and other animals and dated around 500 BC, were unearthed at Cerrillo Blanco, near the town of Porcuna.
A score of the life-sized sculptures, painstakingly restored to their original splendor, now occupy pride of place in a special wing of Jaens provincial museum, opened in 1999. The collection will eventually be housed in a new museum, devoted specifically to the art and culture of the ancient Iberian race.
To top it all, Jaens taverns are well known for the variety and tastiness of their tapas. Regional cuisine, much of it based on the olive oil which the province produces in such abundance and quality, has undergone a revival, with interesting local dishes served up in the citys various restaurants.
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Copyright © 2000 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