Walking with a colleague and good friend through the streets of Jerez de la Frontera, the walk took us through the neighborhood of “San Mateo”, one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city.
Crossing the adjacent square, known as market square, there are some very interesting streets with old stately houses and sherry bodegas, on the way to the Cathedral zone.
Passing the well-known bodega, begins the “Cuesta del Espíritu Santo” (Holy spirit slope), which receives its name from an ancient 15th century convent where the nuns are said to came up with the recipe of the famous Jerez dessert par excellence, the “tocino de cielo”. Unfortunately nothing else remained of this convent, currently closed under lock and key, being its rich cultural heritage scattered throughout the many temples of the city.
Already in the neighborhood of “El Salvador”, down the already pointed slope, on its left side, we stopped to contemplate this ancient and singular facade, being its extreme simplicity what caught my attention, compared to the ones of the rest of the stately houses of the area. The entrance door opens to the slope, but the house continues towards an alley, Madroño street.
Since then, I became curious and I began to investigate what would be a Mudejar house of the fifteenth century like, and it turns out that they are much more typical than I thought…
15th century Mudejar stately house typology
This kind of house were built in the transition from the middle ages to modern age…
between the final Gothic and the beginnings of the Renaissance, along with reminiscent Arab architecture and decorative elements.
During the last centuries of the Middle Ages, times of coexistence of Arab, Christian and Jewish culture, the Arabs sought to reside in their own neighborhoods to better protect themselves against possible aggressions. They were located outside the city walls, close enough to wall though, equipped with garden and yard. It is also true that successful Arab businnessmen, according to their social status, resided in Christian areas for the sake of their professional activities and businesses.
The house, of which I speak, would respond to the first type, located close to the walls built by the Almohads from the 12th century when they named the city Sherish.
These houses were designed with the intention of durability in time, for the enjoyment and use of the family, without any speculative intent.
We talk about modest houses, eqquiped with ground floor and hip roof whose access was by an external staircase.
Let’s see more details…
- The living rooms and kitchens are found on the ground floor.
- The hip roof is used as storage, as workshop, or for small animals breeding (like pigeons). In time, these rooms became polyfunctional spaces, including bedrooms.
- The ground floor is distributed around a central courtyard, which is kind of an impluvio, generated by the meeting of the roofs of the perimeter bays. Right in the center comes the well, although sometimes there is a small cabin that contains a it along with a sink, and other times, the well was set in the kitchen.
- The garden and yard face the street.
- Mud: paste made by mixing certain percentages of soil or sand, lime and solid elements (gravels, boulders or remains of crushed bricks and ceramics).
- This paste was distributed in molds that facilitate the construction of considerable thickness walls, which provide freshness in summer and insulate from the cold and humidity of winter.
- The lack of resistance of the wall is solved with brick chains, masonry baseboards or any other combination using stronger materials.
- Lime was also used as a coating.
- Originally austere, with access by a lintel arch, highlighted by the line of the facade or marked by molding.
- It is possible to observe some reused ashlar on the jambs. On the years to come, baroque style was responsible for refilling the decoration with split pediments, pilasters and large balconies.
- It does not have many windows, just one on each side of the entry door, decorated by iron work and lintels. In time, they were decorated with baroque elements, as in the case of the entry gateway access.
- Stone rigs are few in number, most of the time on some parts of the wall, to reinforce corners and weaker areas exposed to friction.
- Traditionally an inclined gabled roof.
- The facade bays are covered with gable roof, while the party walls may have a single skirt.
Forge and beams:
- The wood quality depended on the owner’s economy level.
- Pine was traditionally the most used wood. Some people used chestnut and oak trees from the saw.
- In some cases, they used for these structures eucalyptus wood, which was not also cheaper and abundant but effective against termite.
- Traditionally they used mud for patios, open areas and the most noble and representative rooms.
- Bricks may be combined with showy elements sometimes, such as “olambrillas”, or “alisares” at the steps angles.
- The boulder or the sardinel brick is found in the stands, patios and yards. Soils that are usually trod by animals and carriages. They form herringbone drawings to prevent slipping.
- They also used lime or cement grout.
- Later reforms included marble in great noble and bourgeois houses.
- The most common is the “cuadrillo”, typical in Andalusian and Spanish architecture.
- Later on, it acquired complex forms, rich in movement and very elaborated, baroque style kind.
- The most cared for are the entry gateway and the one that gives entrance from the hallway indoors to the patio, decreasing in quality according to the function of the room.
- Doors made by boards were the most common and possibly the oldest type. Boards were joined longitudinally by large head nails which served as decoration.
- The entry gateway door has usually two leaves. On the other hand, the door that gives access from the hallway indoors, to the patio, had just one. The latter sometimes presented a small window that served as a peephole.
- Made of brick in very simple shapes due to the limitation of the same material.
- The oldest one dates from the XVI, called “castañeta”, a simplification of the classical Corinthian capital. Already in the XVIII century appeared a stylized form of the Tuscan capital.
Not much more have I been able to find out about the house, because its owner may not be happy with me looking around.
As you can see in the photo, the facade is made by stone blocks.
The ceiling seems to be a gabled roof.
The entry door has double leaves with nails joining the boards, and the wooden lintel is clearly seen.
The jambs are reinforced and the gateway has two stone blocks steps.
The pavement of the street is resolved with bands of pebbles divided and framed by stone blocks.
The house is known as Sánchez-Madroño family Mudejar stately house.
I pressume that the family has a noble lineage, but as I have not yet been able to find any specific information about it, I will only highlight this note.
To sum up…
If you love the city and already know its main tourist attractions, do not miss to walk through this neighborhood and look for this interesting place for its singularity and history, which takes us back to “Xerez” city, named so right after the Christian conquest.
I am sure that if you take a picture and share it, few people will be able to place it in this city.
And you may already know that…
If you want to know many more curious and unknown places of this city, the province of Cadiz, Seville and beyond…
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