Jaén, Spain – Spending a little time in olive heaven

To the north of the province of Granada in Andalucia in Spain lies the province of Jaén. In the southwest of this province lies the city of the same name, the capital of the province.


The city of Jaén has a long history: the Neolithic period saw humans arrive here celebrated by the well-known statue of the Iberian warrior overlooking the city. Jaén has also been ruled by the Romans and the Moors; each has had a lasting and distinctive influence on the city. The Romans called the city Villa Gaiena, which became Jayyān under the Moors and then Jaén.

Situated in the foothills of the Santa Catalina mountains, it is also a very fertile area. This has helped established Jaén as the world capital of olive oil due to the fact that it produces the most olive oil in the world. The economy of Jaén has depended on this in the past; the inhabitants refer to olive oil as liquid gold.

The city is one of the upcoming tourist destinations for those looking to visit Spain. It certainly has an impressive history and natural beauty to draw in a wide variety of tourists.

What are the first stops on any visit to Jaén should be the Castle that sits above the city known as the castle of Jaén? Since the time of the Iberians, this location has been home to some sort of defensive structures. Doing the Muslim Age of the city, a castle was built and expanded upon between the 8th and 13th centuries. This castle would become known as the Castle of Santa Catalina, also known as the Alcazar Viejo (old castle [of Moorish style]), and is part of the larger Castle of Jaén today.

After the Reconquista

In 1246, the Christian Kingdom of Castille reconquered the city and the new border between the Kingdoms of Castille and Al-Andalus put the city firmly in Christian hands. Now a border fortification, the castle was again expanded; a second castle was built next to it, called the Alcazar Nuevo (new castle), in 1252.

These castles remained separate until the end of the Reconquista and the fall of the kingdom of Al-Andalus. Afterwards, the castles were combined through the construction of a section known as the Abrehuí (the original name of the original Moorish fortification).

The history of the castle remained relatively quiet until the nineteenth century when Napoleon invaded Spain and reached Jaén with his troops, who occupied and made further modifications to the Castle to store gunpowder as well as serve as a hospital for the French troops. They also destroyed parts of the castle to instal artillery. When the French retreated from the city they damaged the castle. Therefore it could not be used by other troops.

The Cathedral of Jaén as seen from the Castle of Jaén on the hills above the city.

Jaén now

Today, part of the castle serves as a hotel while the rest continues to serve as a historical monument and museum about the castle and its history. The castle offers amazing views of the entire city and is worth a visit. Several hiking trails start/end at the Castle and a direct footpath exists between the Castle and the City below. You can also reach the castle by car.

Another attraction is the Arabic baths, which also serve as the city’s museum. The baths are the largest concert baths in Europe and are an excellent state of conservation. A Renaissance-era Palace was built on top. This houses the majority of the museum. The baths are below ground as was normal for Arabic baths. The museum features historical artwork and instruments used in the province of Jaén throughout the ages.

The cathedral

The Jaén’s cathedral is also worth a visit even if only from the outside. Even in the modern age, the cathedral dwarves the surrounding buildings and most buildings within the city.

Next to the cathedral is also an unassuming plaque dedicated to Ferdinand and Isabella, the monarchs of Castille and Aragon, who conquered the kingdom of Al-Andalus, along with Christopher Columbus. Why, you ask? Jaén is the city where Christopher Columbus met with Isabella and received funding for his exploratory voyage to what would later become the new world.

In addition to these sites, I highly recommend wandering around the city and taking in the general architecture. Like many cities in southern Spain, it has many more aspects in its design, especially in the old districts that existed before Christian conquest. Jaén is also a great place to stop in one of the numerous cafés for tapas. The city as a whole is one of the best places to have tapas in all of Spain. While they offer a full range of tapas, Pipirrana is a Jaén specialty. Pipirrana is a cold salad of tomatoes spring onions tuna and green peppers combined with a creamy dressing made from egg yolks, bread, vinegar and cumin. Olives/olive oil, also a speciality of Jaén, is also worth adding. Eaten with bread, it is a great way to stay cool in the oppressive heat at the height of the summer.

Here are some more photos from around Jaén:

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