Vejer de la Frontera is a hilltop town in the province of Cadiz, close to the Strait of Gibraltar, around 200 metres above sea level. The old part is very well conserved and it contains a lot of ancient churches and convents within a labyrinth of white-washed houses, narrow winding streets and stone pavement. Vejer was used as a defensive town for centuries and its castle, wall, gates and towers are ones of its main attractions.
Vejer very soon became an important city of Al-Andalus in the 8th century. It is still possible to appreciate the legacy from that period and in different guide books and tourist leaflets it is described as a “Moorish looking” town. Maybe that is the reason why vejer and Chefcahouen (Morocco) are sisters cities. The entrance to the castle dates back to the 11th century, with a horseshoe shape.
The castle was built in the 11th century in Islamic period, but in the 13th was taken by the Christian army of Ferdinand 3rd, the king of Castilla. Vejer resisted more than many other towns in the same area, and the local population could even reconquest their own city two times. It was in 1307 when the territory was granted to Alonso Pérez de Guzman, also called “El Bueno” (The Goodman). This noble man owned all the almadrabas (tunny nets) of the closer coasts and later he conquered Tarifa, becoming the Lord of the Strait of Gibraltar too. The Dukes of Medina Sidonia inherited the title from the Guzman and they owned Vejer during the 15th and 16th century. One of the main constructions from that period are the walls. They are 2 kilometers long and 2 meters wide, being the 4 gates still perfectly conserved.
So the area closed by the walls is the Ancient town, declared Historic-Artistic site in 1976. Some of the highlights, apart from the castle and walls, are Concepcion Convent and the Church of El Salvador. But what it takes the attention of the visitors more are the beautiful patios decorated with flowers all around.
In the old town, but out of the walls, it is the main square of the village: Plaza de España. It was built in the 16th century to celebrate bullfights but the emblematic fountain is from the 50’s, decorated with traditional tiles. Locals call it Fuente de los Pescaítos (fountain of the fish) because in the past children used to fill it with small fish.
The places mentioned above are what visitors see in a short visit, but if it is possible for you I recommend you to stay some more time to see the mills in Hazas de Suerte. Until the 19th century all the mills were hydraulic, but after the industrial revolution and in the beginning of the liberal regime the mills built worked with the wind. Nevertheless, the strong winds of the region made the installation impossible, so it was necessary to make them with a very robust conic base. The silhouette of the mills is a very typical image from Vejer.
The name given to that place, Hazas de Suerte, is the name of the communal lands created by the king Sancho the 4th after the Christian conquest. In the 16th century the Duke of Medina Sidonia started to rent these lands, provoking a popular riot led by Juan Relinque. The solution was to celebrate a lottery to raffle these lands, called “de Suerte” because suerte means “luck”. Juan Relinque is the most famous historical character of Vejer, and this lottery is celebrated every year. It is proposed to be declared Untouchable Cultural Heritage.
Nowadays the main industry in Vejer is still agriculture and livestock, mainly bulls, including fighting bulls. The second most important industry is tourism, of cultural character in the old town. But the beaches of Costa de la Luz are only 10-15 minutes drive away, so the tourism of sun and beach has been also developed in El Palmar, the coastal frame that belongs to Vejer. Anyway, still there are a lot of non urbanized coastal areas. Traditioanl craftwork has also survived: wicker, palm, clay and pottery, leather.
To sum up, Vejer is a town that has been isolated during many decades in the last century. So for me visiting this place is like traveling on time. The most impressive tradition they conserve is “la cobijada”. It is said that the origin of this dress is from the Islamic period, but that idea is not right. The way women covered there bodies with the cloak is from the 17th century, which is much later than the Christian conquest. Not only the women in Vejer dressed in this way, in all the kingdom of Castilla they did it, but now it is possible to see the “cobijada” only in Vejer and Tarifa. Cobijada means “to be covered”, but under the cloak they are dressed with a white blouse decorated with very elaborated embroideries that in the past marked the social class of the woman. Women from Vejer are very proud of this tradition and they love to be “cobijadas” for special occasions like in the local festivals and celebrations. The “cobijada” is now emblem and sign of identity of the town. There is an statue in the one of the entrance to the old town and sometimes is possible to see these women walking in the narrow streets, something that is really impressive.
Cobijadas in the emblematic street of the city: Arco de las Monjas (“Arch of the nuns,” a serial of arches built to hold a lateral wall of Encarnación Convent).
When they are covered, we can only see the left eye of their faces. So we can think that cobijadas are like a Andalusian patio: From outside is simple and moderate, but once you can see the interior, is refined and splendid.
Are you visiting Andalusia? Maybe I can help you to organize your trip or I can be your guide. Penelope
Note: Some pics in this post are from turismovejer.es and some others were made by Jose Ramon Rosado, who also has a blog in http://efemeridesxxi.blogspot.com.es/