Tuesday, 25 February 2014

El Parque de los Remedios; our out-of-doors living room.

We've had a beautiful few days here, and plenty of opportunities to enjoy the out-of-doors. The weather has been perfect and though we're hoping for another month or so of rain to guarantee the new crops for the spring, it's magical to see the brilliant green of the new grass in the countryside around Vejer.
 Here in town, we have our own green places, and the largest and most important is the Parque Los Remedios. The park runs from the bus stop and tourist office up to the Corredera - for many of us, it's just a pleasant walk into town from the car park, but it has more to offer.

The hillsides beneath the town weren't always covered in trees and plants as they are now. For many centuries they were left barren to guarantee the visibility of approaching pirates. The postcard below dates from 1905 - the road was a narrow track and vegetation was sparse along the way.

At the end of the 1970s, plans were made to create a new roadway into town, one that would accommodate the rising numbers of cars which needed to enter Vejer. The Parque de los Remedios was part of theplan.

The area was named after an old chapel which stood at the point where the Avenida de Andalucía now turns to the right up to the new part of town. The main arch of this chapel, which was fatally damaged in the earthquake of 1773, is now preserved at the roundabout. It wasn't always like that - for centuries the arch was hidden amid the walls of two houses. When the houses were demolished to make way for the road, the arch was revealed.

By the 1950s, as the picture shows, tree and bushes were beginning to grow alongside the road. You can see the present footpath down to the fair field on the left and a solitary palm tree sprouts where the park now is.

The park emerged during a period of  growth and building after the end of the Franco dictatorship, a time of optimism and a new embracing of the future. The work can be seen in this picture, which shows La Posada under construction. For a while it was the only place in town to stay overnight. But the park is still a distant prospect.

Los Remedios park was completed during the 1980s and is now a leafy, sunny place which offers many opportunities for rest, relaxation and sociability, a kind of outdoor living room for Vejer, it residents and visitors.

For example, since 2013, the entire park is a free wifi zone. But that's not all. In the park you can get fit;

 Play chess:

play with the kids:

take a walk (you don't have to be a dog).

meet a mate (thanks for posing, guys);

get sussed;

have a think;

have a drink;

Study history; (the giant storage jar was probably once used for olive oil: the millstones were part of olive-presses which once abounded in the area).

enjoy the view! 

And it's all free...

In summer, the park has a different atmosphere, with a café, music and a lively atmosphere, so why not make the most of these days of peace? 

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The kitchen, in and out.


 I'm interested in interior design, especially with old houses and so I was thrilled when Oscar Olivier sent me this photograph of a Vejer kitchen. I love the way the owners have preserved the original features while including a modern hob, oven and refrigerator. use of beautifully preserved local limestone.

Naturally, it is nothing like the real kitchen used by most people in the past, which is better represented by this picture of women cooking in the Patio of the House of Widows. Some may say that it's a familiar picture. A woman stirs the pot while two gentlemen take a rest, deep in conversation. A pair of loaded mules stand in the background, one of them bearing the burden of a third man's elbow.

 However, gender roles were strictly observed in 19th century Vejer. It was rare for women to work outside the home and those men and mules may just have completed an exhausting ascent of the Cuesta de la Barca, loaded with drinking water from the well there.

 What catches my attention is how much of the cooking seems to have been done out of doors. I shouldn't be too surprised, because in my own patio there's an old outdoor kitchen, now turned over to plants. 

This kitchen was probably shared by the four families who originally lived on the patio, and as the ground floor was mainly stables, we can imagine that a few interested equine faces showed up when a hot bran mash seemed likely to be on the menu.

 If you glance into the patios you pass as you walk through Vejer, you'll sometimes see what looks like a well, often nicely decorated with potted plants.
 But it isn't a well, it's an aljibe. There is no permanent source of fresh water in Vejer, something which has caused a lot of heartache over the years.
 One of the things we take for granted in our kitchens now is a supply of running water, but in the 19th century, all but drinking water came from aljibes, underwater cisterns which stored rainwater. You can see the aljibe on the left, filled with plants.
 Most aljibes were accessed from out of doors, but in larger and more modern houses, there was sometimes an access point indoors too.

 In this house, water was raised by using a rope and bucket. The current owners preserved this feature by covering it with glass.

Bread oven, Casa de la Cultura

 An important culinary feature was the bread oven. In grand houses, the bread oven was housed indoors, as with this one in the Casa  Tamarón, the present Casa de la Cultura.This oven can be seen whenever the casa is open.

Outdoor oven on Calle Arrieros

However, in general, bread ovens were built outside the house, like this one on Arrieros. Bread was not baked every day, but about three times a week, depending on the needs of the family.

 This Vejeriego from the Christmas Belén demonstrates the traditional art of making bread, though I don't know how he made that enormous loaf in the tiny oven you see behind him. However, he assured me that it was real bread and even gave me a slice to prove it.

The houses of the better-off boasted indoor kitchens like this one in the Castle
Finally, I should mention the great earthenware vessels which were used for everything from washing clothes to serving food - the lebrillas. Records tell us that that these were made around Vejer from pre-Roman times. A nearly hamlet, Libreros, is named after the Roman pottery which once stood there.

 Lebrillas are now only used for decoration but you will see plenty of them in the patios of Vejer, and especially in the Casa del Mayorazgo, where they are accompanied by washboards, brushes and all the other paraphernalia of pre-electronic washday.

Monday, 17 February 2014

February - restaurants and cafes open in the old part of town.

The Marengo restaurant which has now reopened after a winter break

With the Sunshine tour beginning this week, several Vejer restaurants have opened after the winter break. Here's the updated list:

Asador Al-Andaluz (Juan Bueno 17). A traditional grill, open all day at the weekend.
Bar Conejita (Bellido 1, opposite the English Bookshop on Juan Relinque) A small, traditional bar which sells good local ham and fish, tapas and raciones. Closed on Mondays.
Bar Navarro (Juan Bueno) Very popular restaurant with a traditional Spanish cuisine. Open for lunch and dinner every day.

Bar Trafalgar (Trafalgar 18). A small and highly idiosyncratic bar with a maritime ambience, this bar also acts as an unofficial arts' centre. A very reasonably priced Sunday lunch is served from 1.30 p.m.
Cafe Bar El Parque (Los Remedios 41c) A walk through the Parque Los Remedios brings you to this small but versatile café which serves traditional Spanish meals and snacks. Open all day – closed on Tuesday.
Café-Bar Peneque on the Plaza de España, is open every day except Sunday for drinks, meals and tapas. (Plaza de España 27)
Café-Bar Yogurt (Manuel Torres 19) This side-street bar doesn't serve food, only crisps and snacks, but if you don't like the coffee, the proprietor, Antonio, won't insist on payment. (Actually, it's excellent). If you find your way there, as you watch football on the bar TV, you can reflect on the fact that the progressive mayor of Vejer, Manuel Torres, was brutally murdered in the patio of the house opposite in  1869. It doesn't get more Spanish than this.
Café Central
Cafeteria Da Pino (Los Molinos on the corner of Los Remedios and Avenida Andalucía) serves pizza and other Italian food. Open all day, every day except Wednesday. They also deliver pizza (956451244).
Cafetéria-Restaurante La Posada (Los Remedios 19) A spacious family restaurant, open for lunch and dinner every day.
El Aljibe (San Francisco, on the corner with Juan Relinque) Busy small restaurant which serves tapas and raciones. Closed on Monday and Tuesday.
El Caballo (Juan Bueno) Serves traditional Spanish food to a highly satisfied clientele. Closed on Wednesdays.
El Convento San Francisco (La Plazuela 6) In winter the beating heart of the town, the cafetería is open all day, seven days a week. Here you will see local groups holding informal meetings, teachers giving classes and people just meeting for a chat. Serves tapas and light meals. Closed for the third week of February.
El Jardin del Califa (Plaza de España) Famous and beautiful Moroccan-style restaurant with a garden which is open every day for lunch and dinner.
El Mercado San Francisco (San Francisco, opposite the theatre). This gorgeous converted marketplace now sells tapas and sushi. Open 11.oo – 16.30 and 19.00-01.00 every day.
El Ratito (Sagasta 6) Local dishes. Open for lunch and dinner  every day except Thursday.
La Bodeguita (Arco de la Segur) A popular bar which serves tapas. Open all day in winter.

La Morita (San Filmo 8, on the San Francisco square) is a pizza and pasta restaurant which is extremely popular winter and summer. There are only a few tables inside, so try to get there before 9 pm and avoid the one by the door. Open every evening from 8.

La Pastelería Galvan (Plazuela Juan Bueno, opposite the Tabac). One of Vejer’s well-kept secrets, this cake-shop has an upstairs seating area with stunning views. Open daily 10-2 and 5-10.
La Taverna del Conil (La Corredera 11) serves a traditional Spanish menú. Open every day for lunch.
Las Delicias (Corredera) Stylish Spanish restaurant in a former theatre, with inspiring décor by Gaspar Sobrino, who also designed the new Mercado. Las Delicias is now open for lunch and dinner every day except Wednesday.

Los Quatros Gatos (La Corredera) is a stylish bistro with an inventive menú. Open on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday from 1-7.
Marengo (Santisimo 1) An elegant restaurant whose tapas are praised by all.
Meson El Kundi café (Los Remedios 49)  opposite the tourist office. Open at 7 a.m. every day, this welcoming establishment is the first place in town to open its doors to the public, and a real life-saver if you arrive early in the morning.
Meson el Palenque (San Francisco, opposite the theatre) Predominantly a fish restaurant selling traditional dishes. Open for lunch and dinner: closed on Monday.
Meson Judería (Judería 1) Open for lunch and dinner - its terrace has extraordinary views out towards the coast.
Meson Pepe Julian (Juan Relinque 7) A hugely popular traditional restaurant open every day for lunch and dinner.
Peña Flamenca Aquilar de Vejer (Rosario 29). Flamenco shows are rare during the winter, but you can buy lunch here every day in the beautiful setting of an old baroque church.

Valvatida (Juan Relinque 3) A well-priced and popular small restaurant with some interesting food. Open Friday to Sunday for lunch and dinner.
Vina y Mar (Ntra. Sra de la Oliva 8) Popular high-quality restaurant in the centre of the old town. Open on Friday and Saturday evening and on Saturday for lunch.


Saturday, 15 February 2014

Vejer de la Frontera - Moorish town?

Chefchaouen in the Rif Mountains, Vejer's twin town and maybe an image of what it was in Moorish times?
  When I see a blog or a promotional film describing Vejer as an ‘old Moorish town’ I’m fascinated by the romantic appeal of this idea. In fact, though, it isn’t that simple. The site of Vejer has been occupied for more than three thousand years by Tartessians, Turdetanians, Romans, Visigoths, Moors and Christians. We might just as well call it a Roman or a Visigothic town as a Moorish one.

  Moroccan and Andalucián cultures were always closely  intermingled. Both were  occupied by the Romans, who left behind a rich shared heritage. At a time when land transport was difficult, the sea connected the two regions, rather than dividing them. 
Ruined Moorish towns help us to understand Islamic Vejer
Even before the occupation in 711, Moorish leaders had established alliances with Visigothic Andalucians, who helped them to overthrow Spain. Abd ar-Rahman (731-788), the emir of Cordoba and the greatest ruler of al-Andalus, was three parts Spanish, white-skinned and blue-eyed. And the great Spanish liberator, Guzmán el Bueno (1256-1309), was a Moorish merchant, sponsored by the King of Fez. The ‘Moors’ occupied and ruled Andalucía from 712 to 1492 in total, though in Vejer they were expelled in 1264.

  There’s a lot of confusion about what ‘Moorish’ really means. The term is used to describe the style of the Berber-Islamic residents of North Africa before and during the Middle Ages, people we now call ‘Moroccan' or ‘Algerian'.
  The Islamic occupation of Spain began in 711, with the Battle of La Janda, and as far as Vejer was concerned, ended with the recapture of the town in 1264, though the Islamic occupation did not finally end until the defeat of the Kingdom of Granada in 1492.

  Islamic society was more advanced than its European counterparts and Cordoba became the most sophisticated city in Europe. Its library contained 40,000 books compared with the 2000 or so to be found in most European libraries. 
The horseshoe archway in the Castle is Vejer's only Moorish relic
Traditional Islamic towns grew up around the medina (market) and the main mosque. Their design was irregular and reflected social structures and religious concerns. Moorish streets were narrow, giving shade and a communal life. Children playing outside always had adult supervision. 

   Moorish building reflected a concern for privacy and the separation of the sexes. Each house contained a public area near the main entrance, where the men could meet and entertain, and a private area, the ‘harem’, where the women worked on household tasks, remaining out of sight.

   Though none of the Moorish houses remain, it seems likely that the current shape of Vejer evolved during the Islamic era. The walls were probably established during this period, though the Romans had also created fortifications. The Castle and the main place of religious worship would have been located in the same places as they are today, and there would have been a thriving market somewhere between the two. However, today's streets are wider than they would have been in the Islamic era and the central market has disappeared, taking with it much of the atmosphere of the old Moorish town.

Pitched roofs, not flat ones, are traditional to this part of Spain
In 1264, Vejer was retaken by Christian forces and an era of conflict began. Finally, the Muslims were obliged to leave for Morocco or the kingdom of Granada. Some remained in the surrounding hills as guerrillas or attacked from the seaward side, later becoming known as the Barbary corsairs. A few changed their faith and integrated with the Christian population, but these were in the minority.

  After the defeat of the Islamic occupants, something akin to ethnic cleansing took place. Previously Moorish towns were scoured of all traces of their Islamic occupants, and there now remains very little evidence of their presence. Vejer was stripped of all Moorish influence, and we now have more physical evidence of the Tartessian period, two thousand years before the Moors, than we do of the Islamic period.

   Defending the new frontier was a tough job and the border towns acquired the suffix 'de la Frontera' in recognition of their function in keeping the Moors at bay. For a while after its recapture, Vejer was used as a military garrison. Fifty years or so later, the area was repopulated by incomers from northern Spain. 

Long Andalucian windows, quite different to the small ones found in North Africa
The displaced Moslems, who after all, had occupied Andalucia for longer than Europeans have occupied the American continent, were understandably disgruntled and some pursued jihad by sea, making life a misery for all the coastal towns of Spain and elsewhere in Southern Europe.

  Regarding the physical heritage of bricks and mortar, Moorish buildings were made of soft materials and nothing remains from the Moorish era except the inner horseshoe gate at the castle. That doesn't mean that the building materials disappeared, because the stone was reused for new buildings. Nowadays, Vejer is a typical Andalucían town which has little in common with its Moroccan counterpart except for those features which can be found in most little hillside towns traditional all over Europe. Narrow streets, steps, quaint passages and jumbled together cottages exist in many different villages which could not conceivably be described as 'Moorish'.   

  Another feature of the Mudéjar style is the use of unplastered brick. However, Vejer's houses are typically lime-washed, a feature which deflects the sun and allows the walls to 'breathe'. This feature was first noted by the Romans. The 'White Towns' have been white for more than two thousand years. 

  Traditional Moors, still with a nomad's tent somewhere at the back of their minds, built houses with few or no external windows onto the street. This insulated the house and stopped heat from entering. Cooling breezes were allowed in through low openings or small doors and rose upward through the patio, an effective technique for thermal control in a hot climate.

Tall Vejer townhouses
Andalucían houses, however, traditionally have long windows, almost down to floor level. As Gerald Brenan told us in 'South of Granada', this made courtship possible for many generations of protected Spanish youth. In the story 'Cardenio', originating with Cervantes' Don Quixote and retold by Shakespeare, the heroine, Luscinda, is deflowered through the iron 'reza' which defended her window.

  One of the most distinctive features of Arabic and north African building is the predominance of flat-roofed houses. The roofs were used for drying food for storage, and in the warm southern evenings, for meeting and even sleeping. Now in Vejer, we see many flat-roofed houses, often scrambling down the hill in true Moorish style. Actually, though, flat roofs are not a traditional style in this part of Spain. We get quite a lot of rain in the spring and autumn, and pitched roofs were traditionally used to allow run-off and additionally to collect water for storage in the underground cisterns, the aljibes. 

  Sometime in the twentieth century, people started demolishing their roofs to make more living space for drying washing and other utilities, and this practice has been widely imitated by modern builders, giving Vejer a more Moroccan look than it would ever have had in the past. It is now prohibited to destroy traditional pitched roofs in the old part of town.

  Despite these differences, however, Vejer does enjoy some resemblances with the buildings of the Islamic era.   One of the most distinctive aspects of Mudejár architecture, probably inspired by the Romans, is its use of decorative tiles. This tradition has continued in Andalucía, where most houses have tiles on the walls and/or floors. Indoor patios, also Roman in origin, were widely used in both cultures until the post-war building boom introduced apartment blocks, with their balconies and terraces.

  To sum up, the ‘Moorish’ character of Vejer is only indirectly related to the Islamic era. For centuries, most Andalucians violently disliked the ‘Moros’, and this attitude has not entirely disappeared today. In 1773, an earthquake destroyed half the town, seeping away the last remnants of the middle ages. Vejer is really an eighteenth-century village, and though some of its buildings are considerably older, none date back as far as the Islamic occupation.

   In northern Europe, however, as industrialisation turned everyone’s lives a bit greyer, the Romantic movement was born. We began to look towards Lord Byron's  ‘mysterious East’ for a more colourful view of life and one of the results was the Moorish revival in architecture, expressed in such disparate buildings as the Gran Teatro Falla in Cadiz and the now-defunct Alhambra cinema in London, as well as many others. As travellers like Amelia Edwads and Freya Stark began to write about their middle eastern adventures, and Washington Irving published his 'Tales of the Alhambra', Americans and Europeans began a love affair with the image of Moorish culture, a concept which has only a passing connection with the modern culture of Andalucía.

  Vejer is a perfect Andalucían town, with its roots in many different and often contradictory cultures. It doesn't need a borrowed 'moorish' identity to make it the beautiful and fascinating place it is today.

The Gran Teatro Falla in Cadiz, a fine example of Moorish revivalist architecture

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The writings on the walls.

'The veiled women, a flash of old Al-Andalus'. This quote from Chiclana-born writer Fernando Quiñones is poetic but inaccurate (the traditional local female coverings are Castilian in origin)
As we walk around Vejer, we can't help noticing the commemorative tiles which tell us about noteworthy people and events. Some of these are quirky, others poetic - together they add a new dimension to our enjoyment of the town. Here are some of them, translated into English.

This plaque celebrates a local photographer, Silverio, who worked on La Plazuela:

'"In this place, a photographer, everyone's friend, great-hearted and full of goodness, with his camera always at the ready and a smile for everybody, gave all the years of his life to Vejer." Always with you, Silverio; Vejer Town Council, June 1998'.

Also on the Plazuela:

'Vejer! if you had been a woman, I would have fallen in love with you. Veiled lady in the bright light; the mill playing its divine game of being the wind which is its being. The air asks for a destination and the wind cries 'Vejer!' 
José María Pemán y Pemartín, (8 May 1897,  - 19 July 1981, Cadiz) was a  journalist, poet, novelist, essayist, and right-wing intellectual. He was one of the few prominent intellectuals to support Francisco Franco and the Falangist movement.

The big tavern of the Plazuela.

Arco de la Segur: 'In memory of Juan Relinque, the courageous official of Vejer, who at the beginning of the 16th century endured innumerable persecutions, imprisonment and insults to defend before the courts of Granada the human rights of his neighbours and their communal land against the power of the feudal overlords.'
Juan Relinque was a lawyer who fought successfully on behalf of the people of Vejer when the Dukes of Medina Sidonia appropriated the Hazas de Suerte, communally held agricultural land.

Callejón Oscuro: 'To Lal-la Zuhra, a Vejer woman of the 15th century, the wife of Sidi Ali ben Rasid, the founder of Xauen. Vejer Town Council 1985'

Zuhra's name was originally Fernandez, changed to accommodate her husband's Muslim faith. The couple settled in Chefchaouen in the Rif mountains, now Vejer's twin town. They had two children, Mawlay Ibrahim and Sitta al-Horra. Both became prominent citizens, but Sitta was a most remarkable woman, skilled in the arts of politics and war.

Plaza de España: 'The town of Vejer de la Frontera, gained from the Moors by King Fernando III, the Saint, in the year 1250 and reconquered by Alphonso X, the Wise in 1262. Being Mayor of this town, Don Alonzo Pérez de Guzmán 'The Good' in the year 1292 rode out from here for Tarifa to defend that town.'

Vejer was only with difficulty taken back from the Moors, as were the other coastal towns of the area. Guzman, the first Duke of Medina Sidonia, is said to have sacrificed his eldest son to prevent a Moorish occupation of Tarifa.
Mayorazgo steps: 'Vejer Town Council. This street, from where the Bull Running formerly began, was restored and reopened, along with its walls and towers,by the workers of the community. July 1983.'
For twenty five years after about 1975, the Town Council, headed by Antonio Morillo, worked tirelessly to restore the town's patrimony, particularly its ancient walls and buildings.

Tower of Sancho: 'Homage from Venezuela to Colonel Joaquin Sabas Moreno de Mendoza the founder of Angostura, now Bolivar City in Venezuela. 1764-1974.'
Joaquin Sabas was connected to Vejer on his mother's side. He was responsible for putting in place the legalities in respect of the foundation of Caracas, whose bicentenary was celebrated in 1974. 

Calle Trafalgar: 'Bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar 1805 - 2005

Of the town of Vejer de la Frontera, the memory of the men and women of these coasts who gave succor to the victims of this battle.
 "...I must say that no neighbourhood ever attended with such solicitude to the help of the wounded, making no distinction between their own people and the enemy, taking all under the umbrella of their charity.' Benito Pérez Galdós, 'Trafalgar.'


 Plazuela Juan Bueno: This series of images outside the Pastelería Galvan depicts the production of bread and the wisdom of buying it from the above named establishment.


Congratulating the residents of this area for their enthusiastic participation in Carnival.


 One of the 14 stations of the Cross, representing Christ's journey to Calvary and an important part of Semana Santa observances.

'Here is the door of Don Puyazo. A woman from Vejer captured him and accompanied him on his passage through life. Vejer 22 August 1990.'
 The picture suggests that the deceased gentleman was involved in La Corrida - bullfighting. His house, alas, is now very run-down.


Juan Bueno, the 'Cobijada' square: 'A monument to the woman of Vejer.
'Veiled lady, your captive face is cloaked in freedom.
Local council of women, March 8th 2007.'

Santiago: 'The Corner of Manuel Romero '"Campanita''. (By general consent, 30.03 2001) Vejer 11 March 2001.

In Vejer, back in 1884, a group was formed by two brothers, distinguished carnival performers, Manuel Romero 'Campanita' and Pablo Romero. The group was called Molineros, (Millers), a typically vejeriego act representing the men who worked in the town's many mills. (Thanks to Adrián Brenes Ureba for this information.)