Friday, 31 January 2014

The Rastro - Vejer's street market.

The Rastro takes place every first Sunday morning of the month during the winter (in the summer, it's on Saturday evening). If the weather is bad, the Rastro will be cancelled, but this Sunday looks OK, so it will go ahead.

The Rastro begins on the Plazuela and runs along Juan Relinque to the junction with Santisimo. The official start is 11 a.m., but you'll see stalls appearing any time after 10 a.m. Similarly, though the official closing time is 3.00 p.m., many stallholders start packing up at around 2 p.m.

The Rastro is billed as a 'flea market', and there are plenty of stalls selling used clothing or bric-a-brac. You'll also find jewellery, art and as with all flea markets, a range of indefinable objects. There are no new clothing stalls.

But the Rastro is more than just a row of stalls. It's a chance to meet friends, share a leisurely coffee and have a look at the shops, many of which will be open for the morning. Cafes and restaurants will also be open, so it's a good way to work up an appetite for lunch.

If you'd like to get involved with the Rastro by running a stall, you'll find all the information you need via the link below.

Maybe I'll see you there!

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Winter shopping in the old town

José Ortiz at the Kiosko Ortiz on San Franciso. The kiosk is sometimes called La manquita (the sleeve) after his grandfather who first ran it. José's son, also José, is the present mayor of Vejer.

Although many of the intriguing little shops we find in the summer months are closed during the winter, there's still scope for retail therapy during the winter. The shops in the area of Juan Relinque and the Plazuela, with a few around the Plaza de España offer plenty of opportunities for browsing and treating yourself as well as supplying your everyday needs.
Up in the new part of town, nothing is seasonal and life goes on as normal through the winter. Look out for the Chinese and Moroccan bazaars where you can often find low-priced local
 ceramics and everything you need at a bargain price. Meat, fish, fruit and vegetables are available from numerous small shops which offer helpful personal service.

Most shops close at 2 pm and reopen again around 5 until 8, though there may be some slight variations. The main exception to this rule is the supermarkets, Supersol (on the corner of Avenida Buenavista and Avenida de Andalucía) Superarcos (Avenida Buenavista 30a) and Dia (Conil 5), which are open from 9 a.m. to 9.30 p.m. Monday to Saturday. The following shops are open at the usual times unless otherwise stated.
Along Juan Relinque:

Equus (Juan Relinque 44) sells a wide range of equestrian products and also arranges riding lessons and excursions.

Paco Melero's butcher shop
Interior, Paco Melero's

Paco Melero's famous butcher's shop on the corner with Calle San Ambrosio, supplies hotels and restaurants and is known far and wide for the quality of their products.

Musaranas (Juan Relinque 49) sells men's women's and children's clothes and shoes.

The Zious Collection sells second hand and vintage clothes.

The English Bookshop (Juan Relinque 45) sells secondhand books in English and German. (Open 8th February.)

Electro-Firma (Juan Relinque 37) sells everything! (Especially good for plants. And hats.)

Tejidos Oliva (Juan Relinque 28) sells fabrics, fascinators, bags and shoes.

Merceria Sandra (Juan Relinque 29) sells everything you need for sewing or knitting.

Adara (Juan Relinque 26) sells clever and stylish clothes and jewellery.

The pharmacy (16 Juan Relinque)
sells medicines and beauty products.



Carmen at Lula sells clothes and all kinds of nice things!

Clothes for all occasions from Duende (Juan Relinque 19)

Cosmetics, groceries and cleaning materials from Calle Alta (Corner of Altozano)

María Ángeles in the Panaderia (bakery) (Juan Relinque 6 next to Escudero.)

Groceries: Alimentación Paco Mera (Juan Relinque 6)

  In and around La Plazuela

In this unnamed but vital shop you can use the Internet, make phone calls, buy snacks and get bus tickets.

Susana sells gifts, local products and electrical ítems at the Bazaar Plazuela

 Buy newspapers, magazines and stationery at La Plazuela

Buy cakes at the Pasteleria Galvan (Plazuela Juan Bueno 1). There's also so an excellent cafe here with great views.

Buy stamps, gifts and smoking requirements here (Juan Bueno 3)

Get lovely things forthe house at Frambuesa
 (Altozano 5)

Wines and Sprits at Vino y Mar

Speciality bread and other food at Ajonjoli (Nuestra señora de la Oliva 29).

Buy jewellery from Joyeria María Oliva (Nuestra Señora de la Oliva 19).

Perfume, knitting wool at the corner of Juan Bueno and the Plazuela

Campo y Hogar sells everything! (Los Remedios 51-59, end of the park)

Near the Plaza de España

The magical 'Taller de Badillo' (Badillo 4) sells paper sculpture at it's most inventive, as well as pictures, notebooks and paper jewellery. It's almost impossible to leave empty-handed, and it's also possible to take courses in paper sculpture.

Monday, 27 January 2014

A historical walk round Vejer

 The cool days of winter are perfect for exploring Vejer’s many historical buildings. Only one problem – it’s easy to get lost. I hope this guided walk will help you find your way around. 

 Although you’ll see the phrase ‘old Moorish town’ used to describe this pueblo, it’s far from the truth. What is true is that Vejer probably acquired its current shape and identity during the Muslim era from 712 to 1264. Unfortunately there are very few remains from this period – all that is left is the beautiful horseshoe gateway at the castle. The inner half has somehow survived the modernising enthusiasm of  later generations.

The horseshoe arch at the castle. Photo: Kiko Reyes
Several eras are important in the history of Vejer. About 3000 years ago, the Tartessians, Celtic-speaking traders, built houses on the sides of the barranco, near to where we now find the Convento of the Conceptionistas.

The Turdetanians followed and the Romans arrived in 209 BC. They stayed until the 5th century, and were briefly replaced by the Visigoths before the arrival of the Moors. In 1264, the area became Christian again.
Vejer has been a walled town for most of its history. In the seventeenth century, as the risk of invasion by pirates diminished, the walls gradually fell into disrepair, but although some parts were demolished, much of the walled enclosure has remained intact. It was restored between 1975 and 2000 by innovative councils led by the crusading Mayor, Antonio Morillo,   the town’s first historian.
For many centuries, Vejer was part of the estate of the Dukes of Medina Sidonia, but in the 19th century, the desamortisación laws stripped the Church and aristocracy of their property, which was sold to private buyers.
Vejer was radically reformed after an earthquake hit the town in 1773.  Squalid areas and poky lanes were eliminated and it became easier to walk through the streets.

This walk begins on the Plazuela, though you could also pick it up on the Plaza de España. One of the problems you may encounter is that online maps of Vejer are not very accurate. I recommend the free map from the tourist office, which shows all the street names.

 La Plazuela has gradually emerged as the true heart of Vejer. The Convento San Francisco was built in the 18th century, replacing an earlier, sixteenth-century building. It was once the centre of a large and thriving community which stretched back up the hill behind it.  In the nineteenth century it was converted to a prison, set on fire by anarchists and later became a shopping centre. It is now a hotel.

The House of the Marqués Tamarón
from La Señora de La Oliva
  Follow La Señora de la Oliva uphill, keeping left on Marqués de Tamarón to the Arco de la Segur.

 On the left, you’ll see the Casa de la Cultura, the former House of the Marqués de Tamarón. It was built in the eighteenth century to an unusual trapezoidal design which accommodated the old walls of the town. It’s open from 10-2 and 5-8 and houses the library, a permanent exhibition about Vejer and regular art exhibitions. When Vejer's new library is completed, this will become the municipal museum.

On the other side of the road, La Bodequita and La Bien Pagá bars were once the stables for the town council.

The Arco de la Segur was one of the four gates which led out of the walled enclosure, and communicated with the coastal road towards Conil. It was built in the tenth century and regularly updated and improved, The coat of arms on the east side belonged to the Mendoza family.
The walls to the left were once obscured by houses, but in the 1980s these were purchased and demolished. Not everyone was pleased about this. The spaces on each side of the road are now used for summer performances.
Turn right onto El Postigo and walk around the Church, the Parroquia del Divino Salvador. There has probably been a place of worship on this site from the earliest times, and the current building incorporates materials from a former mosque.

The building is a marriage of two styles; a Mudéjar building from the 13th century and a later Gothic addition from the 17th century. If the tower looks a bit stubby, it’s because the original, higher one toppled in the earthquake and was replaced by a shorter version.

The Church El Divino Salvador
 The interior of the church is a beautiful and fascinating space and well worth a visit. In 1936, it was trashed by Republicans as a protest against the Nationalist rebellion. Open 10-2 and 5-7 Monday to Saturday in the summer.

Outside the church, turn left onto Plaza del Padre Ángel, where you might want to stop for a coffee at the Cafe-bar Bejine.(closed Mondays).

Follow the sign along Castillo towards the Castle, noting on the your right the stained glass of the Palacio Castrillón, an early 20th century building which housed one of Vejer’s wealthiest families. Its garden is now a restaurant.

The Convent of the Conceptionistas

Before you reach the Castle, you’ll see on your right the Convent of the Conceptionistas. It was built in the sixteenth century as a burial vault for the Amaya family, who unfortunately died before it was completed. Initially, it was occupied by nuns and Franciscan monks, but this experiment in unisex co-habitation was not a success and the men soon moved out to the first Convento San Francisco. 

On the South side, you will see the famous convent arches. These elegant supports were put in place after the earthquake in 1773, and have been photographed endless times. The Convento is now used as a museum of everyday life and culture, open April-October.

Turn right under the arches, then left onto Judería. As the name suggests, this was the Jewish area in the early modern period, and it is now the oldest part of town.

You’ll pass an open archway, which was made when the walls were restored, marking the spot of a former short cut. Beyond it a statue of La Cobijada looks out over the the new town. Her outfit originated in 18th century Madrid and not with the Moors as is sometimes claimed.
At the other end of Judieria, find La Puerta Cerrada. This gate, which was intended to give prívate access to the castle, was kept locked for many years to exclude pirates who might otherwise have crept up the barranco, the gully down which rainwater flows to the river.
Turn left and ascend Guzman el Bueno to the The Castle (a little to the left). It occupies the highest point of the old part of town and there has probably been a fortification there since the earliest times. The present building, once the Vejer home of the Dukes of Medina Sidonia, is a mixture of historical elements and is now in the hands of three different owners. The Town Council owns two thirds of the castle, which is open to the public during the summer months.

The Castle patio with the Moorish horseshoe arch
A local legend claims that there was once a secret passage leading from the Castle down to the river at La Barca de Vejer.  In the old stable, there is now a museum of local life in the mid-twentieth century. The ramparts are also open and give an excellent view of the town.

The Castle Kitchen
Back down Guzman el Bueno, turn left onto Meson de Animas and follow its twisting path to the Aquilar de Vejer, the flamenco club, in the former Rosario church, a Baroque building which was deconsecrated in the 1960s. During the summer, flamenco shows are held here every weekend.

The Baroque interior of the Peña Flamenca
Turn right along Rosario and then right again down Eduardo Shelly. Turn right along José Castrillón and follow the road to the Arco de la Villa. This arch gave access to the Cuesta de la Barca, for centuries the main road out of Vejer. It was rebuilt in the nineteenth century and lost its medieval identity.
  Beneath the arch is the Plaza de España, the town’s gathering place and the site of many events and celebrations. In the Muslim era, this was the town’s burial place, and it gradually morphed into a place of recreation. It was dominated by the army in the 17th century, and provided a site for la corrida, bullfights, until the early twentieth century. In the 1950s, it was remodelled and the present fountain was built.

A republic was declared on the Plaza de España in 1932
The Plaza de España is the home of the famous Casa del Califa hotel, one of Europe’s top 100 hotels. Its history is explained on their website:

The Plaza de España (Plaza de los Pescaitos) with the Hotel La Casa del Califa behind.
Turn left up the Mayorazgo steps beside the tower and walk alongside the walls. This is where the bull-run used to begin. Turn left again, negotiate the paved area and take another left under the Arco de Sancho. This gate once led to the Medina Sidonia road. In front of you is the Casa del Mayorazgo.
This eighteenth century house was never the town hall as is sometimes claimed – rather it was the official residence of the estate administrator, who represented the Dukes of Medina Sidonia. It is open to the public from 10-2 and 5-dusk, though there is no notice outside to tell you so. Go through the large doors and you will be given a friendly welcome by the inhabitants.
Cupola of the Mayorazgo tower
Like most grand houses in Andalucia, the Casa del Mayorazgo has two patios; the one in front for the use of the occupants and the one at the rear for servants and utilities. Go through the passage into the rear patio and there you will find the Mayorazgo Tower, a watchtower which dates from the 10th century. As you climb, you’ll see a small room which was used for shelter by the watchmen.
The Mayorazgo tower tells you everything about the history of Vejer. No pirate could approach without being seen from here. When pirates were sighted, the bell was rung, echoed by all the church bells in town, the population would hurry inside the walls and the gates would be closed. As a result of these defences, the Barbary corsairs who plagued the area never invaded Vejer and unlike the nearby coastal towns it was able to develop as a thriving local centre.
When you leave the tower, return through the Arco de Sancho to the Corredera. This was once used by the army to exercise their horses, but more recently, houses were built on both sides.

The Corredera tower, the last to be built, was used as a beacon tower, part of a chain extending across country. The Corredera has accommodated many public buildings, including a theatre, a cinema and the offices of the electricity company. In the twentieth century, the houses on the north side were removed and the present esplanade was built, giving spectacular views to the north.

 Turn left along the Corredera to return to La Plazuela.

If you would like to know more about the history of Vejer, my book, Vejer de la Frontera: a History, is available in various outlets around town.