The Alcazar of Jerez is one of the top attractions in Jerez de la Frontera, Andalucia. Here’s our guide to it.
Alcazar of Jerez: Jerez’s oldest site
In Jerez, the biggest symbol of the city’s moorish past is the Alcazar of Jerez. Originally built in the 12th century, the Alcazar of Jerez is the oldest monument in the city. It’s smaller and not as grand as the moorish fortresses in Granada (the Alhambra) and Seville (Real Alcazar). But if you’re in the city, it’s definitely worth a visit.
As you wander around the fortress, you’ll find plaques with information in English and Spanish. These give you a good insight to the history of the fortress and are worthwhile taking the time to read them.
Inside the Alcazar of Jerez
Whilst the fortress has seen a number of changes over the centuries, there are still parts of it that have been preserved from its origins. They include a small mosque, arab baths and the two towers. Later additions to the fortress include Villavicencio Palace (pictured above) and oil mill, which were built in the 18th century. This helps to make a visit feel rather eclectic. Here are our highlights…
Octagonal Tower and defensive walls
Part of the original fortress, the defensive walls are connected by two towers. The highest and most notable of the two is the Octagonal Tower. And you can walk along the walls as well as climb to the top of both towers. So, as well as appreciating just how well preserved they are, you also get spectacular views of the city.
Mosque and Arab baths
The mosque and Arab baths are both located in the southwest corner of the Alcazar. As with the walls and towers, they were part of the original fortress. It’s in the mosque and baths where you’ll find the most notable examples of Islamic design such as arched doorways. I particularly loved the star shaped holes in the ceiling of the baths that let light in.
Also in keeping with Islamic design, the gardens feature water fountains, ponds and geometric shaped flower beds. With just the sound of the water fountains and birdsong, the gardens are a peaceful place to linger and soak up the sun.
Villavicencio Palace: pharmacy and Camera Obscura
The Villavicencio Palace was built over one of the original palaces here. To some extent, the palace from the outside sits fairly well within the Alcazar. Inside, however, it’s easy to forget you’re in a site with Moorish origins. The most curious feature of the palace is the pharmacy on the second floor. Built in the 19th century, the dark wooden furniture that characterises the pharmacy is beautiful. And it provides another aspect of the fortress’ history.
And then there’s the Camera Obscura (or Camara Oscura in Spanish) at the top of the palace tower…
Moving pictures via the Camera Obscura
I’ve seen a camera obscura in action before and it’s fascinating. Pre-dating the camera, I’m still impressed at how it works. Using a mirror and a small hole, real life images of all that’s around can be captured and reflected onto a blank canvas in a dark room. All of us in the small group taking the tour couldn’t help but smile in wonder seeing actual birds (and there are many) flying around the fortress. The guide also talked about the history of the city, which was an added bonus.
It’s a marvel to see the city change as the guide turned the mirror around to give us a 360 degree panorama and then move the blank canvas up and down to focus on things further away and then close up. We also couldn’t help but giggle seeing people walking and playing football especially when the guide used a blank piece of paper to almost pick various characters up. One visitor at the fortress (they must have already been on the camera obscura tour) even waved over to our direction! The experience made me think of the moving pictures in Harry Potter where the people move around.
Camera Obscura tours
Visiting the camera obscura is with a separate ticket to the Alcazar and there are tours throughout the day. Just ask at the reception about tour times (including the language you want it in) so you can plan your visit accordingly. Also, make sure you buy the extra ticket for it otherwise you’ll have to go back to the reception to do that. I had about half an hour after I finished doing the fortress circuit before the start of the tour but happily sat under the shade of a tree with my book in the calm of the gardens.
Finding the Alcazar of Jerez
If you’re staying in Jerez de la Frontera, the Alcazar can easily be reached on foot and is located just south-west of Plaza del Arenal and is also close to Bodega Tio Pepe.
For a list of public car parks if you need somewhere to park your Spain car hire, visit: turismojerez.com.
Opening hours vary depending on the season with longer opening hours during the summer months. However, it’s open daily but it’s closed on certain public holidays including 1 and 6 January as well as 25 December.
- July to September: Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 5.30pm; Saturday to Sunday from 9.30am to 2.30pm.
- October to June: Monday to Sunday from 9.30am to 2.30pm.
Standard admission: €5, Camera Obscura is an additional €2.
Other stories from Jerez
- Tabancos in Jerez: Where to drink sherry
- Jerez Horse Fair in May
- Sherry tours in Jerez
- Art and sherry at Bodegas Tradicion
- Tabanco la Pandilla
- A must from Jerez: Tocino de Cielo