Jerez de los Caballeros is one of Extremadura’s white villages, its whitewashed houses with red roof tiles spreading across an Arab fortress. It’s also an unmissable stop in the Route of the Iberian Ham; and ham is always a good reason to visit Extremadura, don’t you think?
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This small town is located in the southwest of Badajoz province, about 40 km east of the Portuguese border, and it can be reached by car from Seville in two hours. After visiting Fregenal and staying the night in Fuentes de León on our last road trip, we set off for Jerez to see why they say it’s one of the most beautiful historical ensembles in the region.
A bit of history
Jerez has similar pre-Roman origins to those of many other places in southern Extremadura. First arrived the Phoenicians, then the Romans and later on the Moors, who left their mark in the town by building its impressive fortress. When the Christian troops regained the land from the Moors in the 13th century, Jerez was handed over to the Knights Templar Order, which gave the town its name (caballeros means ‘knights’ in Spanish). Jerez was also the birthplace of several conquerors of the Americas, such as Vasco Núñez de Balboa (who discovered the Pacific Ocean) and the conquerors of Florida.
What to see in Jerez de los Caballeros
Jerez concentrates a number of civil and religious buildings of great architectural value. Religion is present in every corner of a town with almost 20 convents and chapels. A real overload of religiousness for any traveller!
As our time in Jerez was quite limited, we asked a local tourist board member about the main highlights to visit in a day, which I’m sharing below.
Tip: don’t try to access the town centre with the car. Streets are narrow and steep, and parking spaces are very limited. Leave your car in the outskirts. There’s plenty of free parking spaces in Carretera de Fregenal (EX-112).
Our itinerary started at Plaza de Vasco Núñez de Balboa, a little square dedicated one of the most famous Spanish conquerors of the Americas. If you want to know more about him you can visit his house, located in the same square. If you find it open, that is. It was closed when we were there and the website doesn’t display any opening times.
From there you can reach the historical centre via Calle Corredera Hernando de Soto and one of the city gates (Puerta de Burgos).
Puerta de Burgos
Where: calle Templarios
The Puerta de Burgos is one of the six gates giving access to the fortified city. Jerezanos take every chance to display the main role local explorers had in America, as you can see from the statue to Hernando de Soto in front of the gate. He led the first European expedition to Florida and is said to have been the first European to cross River Mississippi.
As soon as you enter the gate you’ll notice the cobblestone streets become narrower; so narrow the sidewalks, that you’ll need to stop walking and lean against the front of a house every time a car approaches. Walking up the steep side streets on the right looks tough, and parking seems like an impossible task. Leaving the car in the outskirts was, indeed, a very good idea.
San Miguel church and main square
Where: Plaza de España
The San Miguel church dominates the square. We visited Jerez just before Easter, and the main churches were open and busy getting ready for the celebrations. The members of the local parish work long hours cleaning the temple and decorating the statues with candles and flowers for the Easter processions. The highlights of San Miguel church are its Baroque tower and its sumptuous and all-gold altarpiece.
Santa Maria church
Where: Plaza de Santa María
This church is located in a charming little square with palm trees, close to the fortress. Balconies were already covered with red or purple velvet fabric, following the Easter tradition. The church was built at the end of the 15th century and was extended and redesigned just a century after that. Apart from two incredibly ornate Baroque stands, what caught my eye was the immaculate white vaulted ceilings with rich stone motifs.
The fortress (alcazaba)
Where: Plaza Alcazaba
Although originally built by the Moors, the current fortress actually dates from the 13th century. It was then when the Knights Templar improved the original construction and built five towers with nice-looking battlements. From the walls there are magnificent views of Santa Maria church and the surroundings.
The most significant tower is the torre del homenaje (tower keep), which has a ‘bloody story’ behind. In the 14th century the pope ordered the dissolution of the Knights Templar Order. The legend has it that about 60 members refused to leave and took refuge in the tower. Some of them died in battle, but others were decapitated, their bodies thrown from the fortress.
The fortress was built around a large patio area, where the current town hall is located. There’s also a small chapel, an underground pool, and beautiful gardens with great views to the city centre.
San Bartolomé church
Where: Plaza de San Bartolomé
I know, I know. Another church; but this one has quite a wow factor, so don’t miss it! From the three local churches we visited, this one has the most restrained interior, and the most impressive exterior. The entrance from the square is quite plain-a short flight of stone stairs and whitewashed walls. It’s the left side of the church what impresses the visitor. The church has some Gothic elements, but it’s the Baroque style that dominates the side of the temple and the tower. The façade displays a rich decoration made of plaster and glazed clay, as well as blue and white tiles depicting saints. The tower has two separate parts-the lower part made of granite stones and the upper part displaying the same rich and colourful decoration than the façade.
When to visit Jerez de los Caballeros
We visited Jerez in March. The weather wasn’t great, as it rained a bit and it was cloudy, but the temperatures were decent (around 15 degrees). Easter is a good time to go to Jerez if you’re interested in the religious celebrations. If you go in July you can enjoy its Templar Festival (it took part last weekend), which includes guided tours at night, workshops, knight fights and other cultural activities.