Jerez de la Frontera or Jerez is known for its flamenco, horses and sherry but this wonderful town of Spain has much more to offer. There are castles and magnificent churches and where we were introduced to the “Secret language of the Spanish fan”.
In the beautiful old quarter you will find the Alcázar, a lovely Moorish palace built in the 11th century. Built on the highest point in the city a walk along its walls offers a unique view of Jerez. Inside is a mezquita (or mosque), arab baths and a tower called Torre de Ponce de León. There is also a system of cisterns and wells and the lovely geometric shaped gardens. As part of the Alcázar there is also a palace were we discovered a rare old beautifully restored pharmacy museum. We are continually amazed at the variety of museums and collections we find.
Catedral de Jerez de la Frontera
The Cathedral of Jerez is a gigantic Catholic church, built in the 17th century, with the always architecturally interesting flying buttresses. Today, it is the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Asidonia-Jerez. It was elevated to the rank of cathedral in 1980. We have walked past it a number of times and we can’t help but stop and gaze at it each time.
Flamenco originated in the Andalusian region of southern Spain somewhere between the 8th and 15th century. Although many cities in Andalusía claim to be the birthplace of flamenco, Jerez is regularly referred to as the cradle of Spanish flamenco. As we learned, Jerez is an excellent place to witness this extraordinary form of dance. The word Flamenco relates to the song, the dance and the guitar, but this art form was not given the name ‘flamenco’ until the 18th century. Early Flamenco is believed to have been purely vocal, accompanied only by the rhythmical clapping of hands with the guitar being introduced in the mid 1800’s.
The Flamenco is a gritty and passionate art form. There doesn’t seem to be any patterns of steps or choreographed movements. The performer feels the music and expresses emotion via movement and dance. While we may struggle to understand and fully appreciate the art of Flamenco, the Andalusian people absolutely adore it.
The Secret Language of the Spanish Abanico (fan)
Our lovely friend Lola, who grew up here in Jerez, introduced us to the old tradition of how a woman might communicate with her hand fan. During the 19th and early 20th century the fan was the ideal instrument to communicate with at a time when freedom of speech for women was severely restricted; especially in matters of the heart.
These are a few of the main gestures and their meanings:
To hold the fan with the right hand in front of the face = Follow me.
To hold it to the left ear = Leave me alone.
To let slide it on the forehead = You have changed.
To move it with the left hand = They are watching us.
To move it with the right hand = I love another.
To let slide it on the cheek = I want you.
To hold it closed = Do you love me?
To let slide it on the eyes = Go away, please.
To touch the edge of the hand fan with the fingers = I want to talk to you.
To hold it on the right cheek = Yes.
To hold it on the left cheek = No.
To fan slowly = I am married.
To fan quickly = I am engaged.
To hold the fan in the lips = Kiss me.
To open it slowly = Wait for me.
To open the hand fan with the left hand = Come and talk to me.
To strike it, closed, on the left hand = Write me.
To hold it opened, covering the mouth = I am single.
Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art
Jerez is also famous for its love of equestrian sport, and for the famous Andalusian dancing stallions of the Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre.
One morning we were able to visit the school and watch a magnificent performance called “How the Andalusian Horses Dance”. The pamphlet from the tourist office aptly describes the show as “an authentic equestrian ballet”. It is choreographed to Spanish music and both horse and rider are attired in full 18th century costumes. These horses were amazing!
The palace on the grounds, built in 1864, is spectacular as well. It was designed by the french architect who designed the Paris Opera House and the Casino Monte Carlo.
The 46 foot high (~15m) black bull signboard that you may occasionally see on the roadsides was originally created in 1965 as the logo for the Osborne sherry company. Today however the logo has became so famous in Spain that it has more of a cultural identity rather than a logo for a sherry company. The massive bulls are quite amazing to see out on the roads. Today you can also find any number of small souvenirs using the same design.
The population of Jerez de la Frontera is slightly more that 200,000 and therefore one of the smaller and quieter cities we have stayed in. However it is full of character and charm. We loved the variety of buildings and architecture and the many interesting statutes found in traffic circles, plazas and street corners. Each weekend the main square, Plaza de Arenal, seemed to host a different event. There was often free entertainment and dancing Saturday nights in a nearby plaza, with the locals arriving all dressed up in their evening clothes. With the friends we made, the sherry we discovered and the experiences we enjoyed, Jerez de la Frontera turned out to be a true gem.
Salud from the Jerezanos,
Ted and Julia
(click on any picture to go to slideshow view)