The Phoenicians arrived in the surrounding area some 3,000 years ago to establish a colony called Xera, which became known as Ceret under the rule of the Romans, and Sheres or Xeres when it became an Arabic fortress. Under the reign of the Catholic Monarchs, the prosperous trading of its famous wines with the English began. The Muslims left a deep mark on the town, including the layout of the quarters situated at the heart of the old Arabic city town centre: San Lucas and San Mateo, where the church of the same name is to be found, the Market Square (housing the Archaeological Museum) and the Riquelme Palace.
But without a doubt, the most important Al-Andalus feature is the Alcázar de Jerez, which is situated within the walled enclosure of the Mosque, the Arab Baths and the Olive Garden, with its cisterns and fountains which are in perfect
harmony with the Baroque palace of Villavicencio, built upon the ruins of the original Islamic palace, with a tower where the visitor can find the original Camera Obscura.
The town has many interesting examples of Gothic architecture. In the Santiago quarter, home of bulería music, there is the Church of Santiago, dating from the 15th century, which holds the image of Our Father Jesús del Prendimiento, attributed to La Roldana. The Convent-Church of Santo Domingo and San Marcos’ Church are also good examples of this style. They each house some of the images which are carried through the streets during Easter Week (Jerez’s main festival, along with the Horse Fair).
Very nearby is the Cathedral, a beautiful, highly monumental work of Baroque architecture. Inside, the choir stalls, the Virgen Niña de Zurbarán, an Inmaculada by Vaccaro, a crucifix by Juan de Arce and the Cristo de la Viga, (Gothic, 14th century) are all worth a visit. The adjacent tower is built on the site of the Arab minaret.
But if we really want to get to know Jerez and its people, there is nothing better than a long walk along the Calle Larga, the nerve – and shopping – centre of the town. This is where the town’s heart beats strongest, -where the best shops are to be found alongside the pavement cafés where you can enjoy a drink and some of the delicious Jerez tapas. Then we can head for the Plaza del Arenal, Jerez’s most emblematic square, the Mamelón, and the little Placita del Banco, which are all buzzing with activity, then to either Plateros or Rafael Rivero Square, which are friendly places with plenty of pavement cafés offering the town’s tasty cuisine.