Baeza and Ubeda, Spain. So much architecture in this pair of unique Spanish towns reflects Renaissance style that visitors could believe they are in Italy.
Úbeda and Baeza are two towns located right in the heart of the province of Jaén in northern Andalucia, close to Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas National Park (a Unesco Biosphere Reserve and Spain’s largest protected area and the second largest in Europe, declared a Unesco Biosphere Reserve). So much architecture in this pair of unique towns reflects Renaissance style that visitors could believe they are somewhere in Italy.
Úbeda’s origins date back some 3,000 years, a time when the location was a mining center. Later, under the Roman Empire, it was known as Bétula, possibly given the proximity of the Betis River (known today as the Guadalquivir). The Muslims built over the city where they founded Ubbadat al-Jarab, which would go on to become one of the most important cities in Al-Andalus and known throughout the Muslim world for its embroidered mats, pottery and ceramics that are still crafted today. In 1234, Fernando III conquered the city, which later suffered a series of of civil disputes that nearly caused the city’s complete destruction. Entering the 16th century Úbeda reached the height of its opulence, when the city was filled with noble and civil buildings displaying mostly Renaissance style, although remains of Romanesque, Arab, and Baroque styles were also present.
Exploring Údeba and enjoying the wonderful tapas on offer is a unique way to indulge the senses. Make your way to the Plaza de Vázquez de Molina and its surrounding area and you will feel as though you have travelling in time to a distant past. You must check out the Capilla del Salvador (chapel of the Savior), the Parador del Condestable, the Palacio de las Cadenas (Palace of Chains), the old town hall, the Palacio del Conde de Guadiana (Palace of Count Guadiana), and the Casa del Camarero Vago (house of the lazy waiter) also known as the Casa de los Salvajes (house of the savages –take one look at the sculptures around the house’s shield you will immediately know why it is called this.
Just ten kilometers from Úbeda is Baeza, a town that also has roots in the Argaric Age and where different cultures have left their marks, from Muslim to Roman and Visigoth. The city takes its name from the Roman city of Biatia, which would go on to become an Episcopal see during Visigoth times in the 7th century and later a flourishing city under Muslim rule. In 1227 it was conquered by Fernando III and it reached the category of civil and religious capital of Alto Guadalquivir. In the 16th and 17th centuries it achieved its maximum splendor as an agricultural, livestock, and industrial center. During this time the University was also built along with much of the city’s architectural heritage that still stands today, such as La Plaza de los Leones (square of the lions) which features a spectacular Roman fountain, and the Old Market located right in the heart of town and near the Old University, where Antonio Machado once taught when it was a high school, a school that has recovered its status as a Summer University for the University of Granada. The Cathedral of Baeza is also an essential attraction as is the Town Hall, which was declared a national monument.
Celebrations in Úbeda and Baeza
This pair of cities offers much more however than just historic scenery: every spring Baeza’s Tapas Fair serves up delicious samples of local dining concepts in the town’s most celebrated eateries, a perfect opportunity to sample andrajos, perdiz en escabeche (partridge in marinade), bean casserole, Baeza-style cod, and deserts like virolos. Not to be outdone, Úbeda holds its own tapas event in September known as the Ruta de la Tapa.
In July, the cities jointly celebrate the Feria del Renacimiento (Renaissance Fair) in which the streets are decorated in Renaissance style with markets and concerts that recall the period. Speaking of music, fans of cante jondo can enjoy flamenco events all year round in these two towns. In autumn, the curtain rises for the Muestra de Teatro de Otoño de Úbeda (Autumn Theatre Festival of Úbeda), where you can see performances from some of Spain’s best theater companies. And to wrap up the year, the Festival de Música Antigua de Úbeda y Baeza (Old Music Festival of Úbeda and Baeza) adds a touch of elegance to the city’s unique ambience. The variety and inspired richness of melodies performed at the festival can only be compared to the wonderful architectural scenery these two dynamic cities exhibit.