Seville Province - Estepa

Estepa

This small town 24km east of Osuna is famous for two very different reasons. Chiefly it is renowned for the biscuits known as polvorones and mantecados which its bakers make each Christmas and which are eaten across this region of Andalucía.

Its other claim to fame is a grisly mass suicide 2,200 years ago, when in 208 BCE Roman invaders found that the entire population of what was then a small but important outpost of Carthage had torched their homes and killed themselves rather than be overrun by the Romans.

The Romans re-populated the town from their settlements elsewhere in the region and called it Ostipo, although they themselves were ejected by Visigoths from the Baltic regions four centuries later. In the eighth century, the Moorish armies who had invaded the south-western tip of the region in 711 CE took the town and renamed it Istabba. The Arabs renovated an abandoned pre-Roman castle at the top of the San Cristobal hill on which the town sits, and began fortifying it against the incursions during the Reconquest. Shifts in power between various caliphates saw it fall under the control of various caliphs, including the kingdoms of both Granada and Sevilla. The renowned poet Al Zawwali lived here before returning to Marrakech in 1220 shortly before his death.

Estepa, as it would be rechristened, was taken quite early in the Reconquest, by King Fernando III, 'The Saint', in 1241, but was the subject of regular attacks from Granada, which would not fall to the Christians until 1492.
Life in the town stabilised following the Conquest, and like its larger neighbour Osuna, which it resembles in part, Estepa settled into comfortable wealth in this prime agricultural region of Andalucía, a wealth made apparent by the number of fine mansions in the town centre. As the town expanded, downhill from the castle, it effectively departed the protective bailey, leaving the San Cristobal hill and fortifications abandoned.

Like westerly Olvera, Estepa's fortunes took an unexpected turn in the early 19th century, when the consequences of successive wars and economic downturn transformed Estepa into a haven for the bandoleros, or bandits, who haunted the mountains and often made outrageous forays into the towns and villages. Most notorious was José Maria Hinojosa Cabacho, 'El Tempranillo', who once issued what was in effect a press statement saying that while the King may well rule Spain, he, Tempranillo, ruled the mountains. Infamous names such as Juan Caballero, El Vivillo and El Pernales were also regular visitors. The bandoleros were dealt with in brutal reprisals.

In 1886, queen Maria Cristina honoured the town with the title of City by Royal Disposition, a sign of its status in the region.

Palacio de los Marqueses de Cerverales

Estepa's architectural star is undoubtedly the 18th century Palacio de los Marqueses de Cerverales, officially declared a National Historic Artistic Monument in 1984.

Completed in 1756 by the first Marquis of Cerverales, Manuel Bejarano y Campañón, it boasts a handsome Baroque façade with spiral Solomon columns, and in the interior a typical open courtyard.

Also in the centre, at the corner of calles Amargura and Castillejos, there are the tumbledown ruins of another 18th century mansion, with an exquisitely-worked Baroque wrought iron balcony and echoes of earlier, Arabic and Visigothic, styles in its arches.

The Archaeological Museum

The archaeological museum, the Museo Padre Martín Recio (calle Ancha 14), has a collection of local finds dating back to the Paleolithic period, and religious artefacts from Roman, Visigothic, Arabic and later cultures, including an intriguing Roman 'hypnos', or statue of the god of sleep.

The building itself was built in 1636 as a school, was converted into a prison in 1702 and in the early 20th century reverted to a school run by a local religious order. We wonder what the pupils thought of its history?

The central Plaza El Carmen

The central Plaza El Carmen was as the name suggests built in honour of the Virgin Carmen. It was expanded in 1745 to accommodate a plaza de toros, bullring. Spain's shifting political fortunes have seen it baptised with various names over the centuries: Constitution Square, Royal Square, Republic Square, Generalísimo (General Franco) Square among them. It's more commonly known to townsfolk as 'el salón', 'the lounge', and the place where many of them congregate under the shade of its trees and in the cool from its central fountain.

The City Walls

The city walls that still surrounding the old town on the San Cristobal hill were first built in the 10th century by the Moors, renovated by Almohad invaders in the 12th, and again reconstructed when Estepa fell to the Christian Order of Santiago in the 13th. The keep inside the walls was built against attacks from Granada in the 14th century, and at 26 metres at its highest offers sweeping views of the town and surrounding countryside.

The old town also conceals a number of notable religious buildings. Franciscan monks built a convent in the north-east corner of the hill in 1603, and the convent, its church and house of novitiates still stand. The proto-Baroque façade of the church features a single body with a round arch and pediment split with pinnacles. The tower is 22m high and topped by an impressive belfry and spire.

Convent of Santa Clara

Behind the church of Santa Maria is the Baroque convent of Santa Clara, built by two of the local marqueses and the Franciscans. A central niche contains a sculpture of Santa Clara, and around it the coats of arms of the two families, the Centurión and Fernández de Córdoba families, as well as the coat of arms of the Franciscan Order. The opulent interior features a single nave with barrelled vault supported by arches, with an onion-shaped dome above scalloped details over the altar. The altar itself was built by Pedro Ruiz de Paniagua, funded by monies owed the marqueses by King Charles V.

Inbetween the squares of San Sebastian and Nuestro Padre Jesús is a small hermitage dedicated to Saint Sebastian, rebuilt in 1568 by Genoese architect Vicente Boyol. The present church has doors into both squares, Renaissance in style, but flanked by hefty Gothic buttresses.

Culture


Estepa smells like a cake factory in the run-up to Christmas, as local bakers and even home cooks work to meet the demand for its favourite icing-covered polvorone biscuits. Some bakeries allow visitors to observe the baking process, and there is a small museum to the history of Estepa's biscuit tradition in the La Estepeña biscuit factory.

The town has a number of unique festivals:

The Candelaria
On February 2 large bonfires are lit to celebrate the Candelaria and to warm people observing the night-long religious vigil.

Romeria de San José Obrero
On May 1 the town celebrates the local Romeria (procession) de San José Obrero, when townspeople in traditional garb walk to the nearby hermitage of Santa Ana.

Roya
On the third Sunday of every May, the neighbourhood known as the Octava (eighth) de los Remedios celebrates its own festival around calle Roya.

La Velá de Santa Ana
La Velá (candle) de Santa Ana religious festival has been celebrated around July 26 in the barrio, neighbourhood, of La Coracha since before the 18th century.

The fiesta of Our Lady of La Asunción
Estepa's main summer fair, is celebrated on August 15. Finally, around feria time, Our Lady of Carmel sees a procession of people carrying torches and flares along calle La Puente and environs.


Hover the cursor over Estepa to see bigger map and click to go to the maps page.