Úbeda is a UNESCO World Heritage site in Jaen province, Andalucia, Spain, known for its Renaissance architecture
Renaissance architecture Ubeda
Úbeda is a UNESCO World Heritage site in Jaen province, Andalucia, Spain, known for its Renaissance architecture. The town was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites in 2003, along with its smaller neighbour Baeza. It gained entry to the list of World Heritage sites for its remarkable Renaissance architecture that dates to the 16th century. Along with Baeza, Úbeda, is known as ‘the cradle of Spanish Renaissance’. These Renaissance gems were nicknamed "la Dama (lady)" and "la Reina (queen)" by the brilliant poet Antonio Machado who taught at Baeza University in the early 20th century. According to legend, Úbeda was founded by a descendant of Noah, Tubal.
Puerto de Granada Ubeda
Notwithstanding the legend, the first people to settle the land in the Úbeda area were the Neolithic farmers, drawn to the fertile land surrounding the hill on which Úbeda sits. Traces of the Argar civilisation are covered by artefacts from the Iberian period. During the Iberian period, there is evidence of trading between the Iberians and the Greeks and Carthaginians. The Romans arrived and the small settlement that then existed was known as Bétula or Baetula.
Torre del Reloj Ubeda
We have to wait for the Muslim invasion and occupation of al-Andalus for the first proper town that the Muslims called Medinat-Ubbadat Al-Arab (Úbeda of the Arabs). Medinat-Ubbadat Al-Arab was founded by Abderramán II between 822 and 852 AD and was reckoned to be the most important village in al-Andalus with an area of 35,000 hectares.
Medinat-Ubbadat Al-Arab began to decline following the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212 AD but was not definitively occupied by Christians until 1234 when King Fernando III “the Saint”, taking advantage of internecine rivalry within the ruling Almohad kingdom, annexed the town. The distinction between the Muslim and Christian occupied territories at this time is illustrated when you see that the neighbouring town of Baeza, only 10 kilometres west, had been occupied by Christians since 1227. Occupied may be too strong a word under the circumstances, it was rather a change from administration under the Muslims to administration under the Christians. Following the ‘occupation’ the population was a mix of Muslims, Jews and Christians. In fact it was the Mudéjars, Muslims that choose to remain in Spain after the reconquest, that were the mainstay of the economy working in agriculture; mainly vineyards, cereals and livestock, and the pottery and esparto industries.
Plaza de Andalucia
The town also found itself on the border with the remaining Muslim dominated al-Andalus and throughout the 14th and most of the 15th centuries, suffered from Muslim raids and insurgencies. Within the Christian lands, Úbeda also found itself involved in the almost constant rivalry between the Spanish nobles for possession of this valuable territory that came to a head in 1368 when the city was devastated during the civil war between Pedro I of Castile and Enrique II of Trastamara. The war only served to inflame the local nobles even more and Úbeda was torn between one or the other for a hundred years until Queen Isabel la Católica of Castile intervened soon after the final reconquest in 1492 and ordered the walls and fortress to be destroyed in 1503.
Leading to the Mediaeval town
Peace allowed Úbeda to prosper during the 16th century and it is from this period that much of the Renaissance and Castilian architecture originates. It is one of the most glorious and stately towns in Andalucia. The twisting, narrow, Mediaeval town behind the remaining city walls in the south east of the present town are no place for vehicles so an exploration of Úbeda is best undertaken on foot.
To appreciate the size of the old town, take a 2 kilometre walk around the city walls and enter the Mediaeval town through the Puerto de Granada. Walking the streets you will find the Chapel of El Salvador, situated in the majestic Town Hall Square, the Church of San Pablo, the Church of Santa María de los Reales Alcázares, the Church of la Trinidad, the Oratory of San Juan de la Cruz, the Monastery of Santa Clara, the Palace of the Vela de los Cobos Family, the Palace of las Cadenas, the House of las Torres, the Hospital of Santiago, the Hospital of los Honorados Viejos del Salvador, the Clock Tower, the Murallas de la Cava (city walls), the Pottery Museum and the Parador Nacional de Turismo, are some of the marvels to be found in what is in reality, quite small area.
In the Torreon de Portillo de Santo Cristo in the western section of the city wall, you will find the Centro de Interpretacion de Murralas de Úbeda. The display is on the battlements and within the upper floors of the tower. Apart from being informative, you will be treated to panoramic views of the town and surrounding countryside.
The walls tell the story of Úbeda. The base of the wall is Andalucia. The Alcazar walls were built in the 9th century and raised with a mixture of uneven stones and old tiles and ceramics during the 11th and 12th centuries. These walls were largely replaced in the 13th century by walls constructed of long, flat ashlars. ‘Z’ shaped entrances were introduced during the Almohad period.
Between the 13th and 15th centuries the walls were reinforced by the Christians using cut stone and ashlars.
The ticket for the Centro de Interpretacion also allows access to the Campanario de la Torre del Reloj, the bell tower, situated alongside Plaza de Andalucia. This vantage point gives superb views over the old town. Be warned, the bell tolls every 15 minutes.
The urban morphology of the two small cities of Úbeda and Baeza in southern Spain dates back to the Moorish 9th century and to the Reconquista in the 13th century. An important development took place in the 16th century, when the cities were subject to renovation along the lines of the emerging Renaissance. This planning intervention was part of the introduction into Spain of new humanistic ideas from Italy, which went on to have a great influence on the architecture of Latin America.