Highlights of Villages & Small Towns of Jaen province
Source of the Guadalquivir River
Andalucia´s great waterway, the Guadalquivir River - used by the Phoenicians and Romans to sail up into the heartland of Seville and Cordoba - is born as a mountain creek in the lovely wildlife preserve known as the Sierra de Cazorla. Just beyond the fashionable town of Cazorla and on the way to the Nature Park and the sierra, is the fairy-tale crusaders´castle of La Iruela, perched on its stony crag. Villages and castles are scattered throughout the region, such as Belerda, Villacarrillo, Quesada, Peal de Becerro, Iznatoraf, Sorihuela de Guadalimar and Chiclana de Segura. In the northeast lie the villages of Hornos, Orcera, Benatae and Siles, as well as the castle-town of Segura, at 4,000 ft. above sea level, which is distinguished by its bullring carved out of the mountainside.
Northern confines of Jaen Province
The thriving olive-farming town of Andújar, in the north of the province, lies on the banks of the Guadalquiver River and boasts several fine monuments, such as the Church of Santa María de la Mayor, with its Plateresque (Spanish Renaissance) façade and mudéjar (Moorish-style) bell tower, as well as, inside, a painting by El Greco, Christ in the Garden of Olives. The town has a Roman bridge with 15 arches spanning the muddy waters, and like so many towns of the region, is overlooked by the ruins of a mighty Moorish fortress. The market stalls specialise in the local pottery and honey and herbs from the nearby Sierra Morena. The region is the site of one of the most decisive battles fought during the Reconquest - in the year 1212, at a place called Navas de Tolosa - which marked the ¨beginning of the end¨ of the Moorish domination of Andalucia.
Andújar natural park is the starting point for excursions to the rugged, impenetrable forests of Sierra Morena, part of the vast natural barrier between Andalucia and Castile, through which runs the dramatic mountain pass called el Desfiladero de Despeñaperros, site of the current motorway between Madrid and the south. In the midst of this region of oak forests and bull-breeding ranches stands, atop a towering crag, the Sanctuary of La Virgen de la Cabeza, a 13th century shrine built to house a statue of the madonna which, according to legend, was sent to Spain by Saint Peter. However, the shrine was almost completely destroyed during a bloody siege in the Spanish Civil War, and replaced with the current, massive grey stone monument during the Franco regime.
Olive Groves of Jaén
Olivares de Jaén is the title of an often-recited 20th century poem, a sort of meditation on the seemingly endless hills planted with the precious tree first brought to Spain by the Romans, and which is now the mainstay of the Andalucian agricultural economy. The traveller who drives across this unique landscape will not fail to be awed by the sight, and all of the region´s villages are, obviously, devoted to the olive oil industry, such as Torredonjimeno, Higuera and Santiago de Calatrava, Martos, Alcaudete (with an impressive, as yet unrestored Moorish fort), Frailes,Valdepeñas de Jaén, Otiñar, Campillo de Arenas, Cambil, Huelma, Pegalajar and Mancha Real. In the south of the province is the mighty fortress of Alcalá la Real, taken by the Christians in the mid-14th century and used as the launching point for attacks on the Moorish kingdom until the conquest of Granada 150 years later.
Jaén Province boasts two of Andalucia´s most impressive and ancient monumental towns, standing only a few mile apart from one another, each on its fortified hill, and always mentioned in the same breath: Ubeda and Baeza. To the north, in the region of El Condado and the Guadalimar, Guadalén and Guarrizas rivers, the wanderer will discover sleepy, ancient villages such as Ibros, Canena, Vilches, Arquillos, Navas de San Juan, Sabiot and Torreperogil.