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Renaissance in Southern Spain
The cobbled streets of Baeza are deserted during the festive season at the end of the year. The locals are probably at home with their families celebrating, whilst mass tourism has yet to discover these historical gems. The sound of splashing fountains and the chiming of church bells are the only sounds to break the silence on this winter day.
Nothing reveals that we are in the 21st century. It feels like modern follies like cars, electricity and commercial displays still have to be invented. In this part of town you’ll only find historic mansions, churches, fountains, monasteries and university buildings.
A pattern that repeats itself in neighbouring Úbeda. Both cities are perfect examples of the grandeur of the Renaissance in Andalusia in the 16th and 17th centuries.
UNESCO declared the historic monuments of these two towns World Heritage Sites in 2003.
These two municipalities are situated in the province of Jaén, in Southern Spain. Baeza has sixteen thousand inhabitants, Úbeda thirty-six thousand. Whereas Jaén, the provincial capital has more than 115,000 souls.
As the capital it has of course the best view of the city and across the valley. From Santa Catalina castle you’ll have the world at your feet, as this is the high point of the city. This Arab fortress stands atop the Santa Catalina ridge.
Whereas in the valley the colossal Cathedral, Santa Iglesia Catedral de la Asuncion de la Virgen dominates the city.
Note: parking can be challenging in the city centre. Luckily there is a central car park at the Plaza de la Constitución, walking distance from the cathedral.
Úbeda may be much smaller than the capital, the historic heart of the city easily surpasses that of Jaén in its beauty.
The main feature is the Vazquez de Molina square. Here you will find the most important buildings, including the City Hall, or Palacio de las Cadenas, the Parador de Turismo, the Palace of the Marquis of Mancera, the Sacred Chapel of El Salvador, the Collegiate Church of Santa María de los Reales Alcázares and the old granary. In the square you can also find the monument to Andrés de Vandelvira and a Renaissance fountain.
Another important sight is the former Santiago Hospital, with its square bell towers and elegant courtyard. The building now functions as a cultural center. Entrance to the art exhibitions and chapel are free of charge.
Baeza is especially enchanting between the walls (entre murallas), in this area there are two main squares.
The first one is the Plaza del Pópulo, or Plaza de Leones named after the lion fountain in the square. Around the plaza you’ll find the courthouse, former butcher shops, the old city gates and an arc.
The other square is Plaza Santa Maria. Here stands the cathedral, built over a Roman temple, which later became a mosque and was subsequently converted to Christianity by Ferdinand III.
This is not a place where you go for fine cuisine (absent!), nor the vast cultural attractions as you find them or in other cities in southern Spain like the Alhambra in Granada, the Royal Palace in Seville or the Mezquita in Cordoba.
No, a visit to the province of Jaén is to enjoy culture with a slightly smaller C, but as they say “good things come in small packages”.
The three cities are fairly close together. The distance from Jaen to Baeza is 55 kilometers on the highway and from Baeza to Úbeda adds another 10 kilometers to the drive. You don´t need to move to another hotel, it is quite feasible to visit each of the cities as a day trip from the same location.
Jaen, Baeza and Úbeda all have great options to stay. The various options are listed below:
Feel like a king in the Parador Santa Catalina.This 18th-century castle is located on top of the Santa Catalina hill. Enjoy the fantastic views of the city. The hotel has a restaurant, bar, swimming pool and large rooms.
The charming Hotel Puerta de la Luna is housed in a beautiful 17th-century manor house between the old city walls (entre murallas) in Baeza. The hotel features an outdoor pool, gardens, a popular restaurant and a coz bar where you can choose a free tapa with each alcoholic drink.
The hotel is located 50 meters from the cathedral (picture).
Het hotel biedt gratis WiFi en er is betaalde parkeergelegenheid.
Overnight in Dean Ortega’s palace, now a Parador de Turismo situated on Plaza de Vázquez de Molina. This hotel has largely retained its classic architecture.
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