The Andalusian City of Jaén, sits like a sentinel guarding the gateway pass between the Castilian flatlands and Andalusian, the “Desfiladero de Despeñaperros”, a steep mountain path dividing both cultural regions. Jaen, although Andalusian, also shares many characteristics with its Castilian neighbours; almost sitting at a crossroads between both regions, as if in it , but not fully of it in both instances. This has given Jaen a certain charm all of its own, halfway between her sunny, whitewashed and laid back sisters to her south and the more sombre and austere cousins of the Castilian plain.
As is true for most Spanish cities, Jaen’s beginnings go back to time immemorial, but like all its Andalusian neighbour capitals, its first urban settlement can be traced to the Phoenicians, to continue with the Romans, and Visigoths, until the Muslim occupation. Each civilization left its influences and imprints thus creating rich cultural tapestries. Jaen played a very important part in the Christian reconquest, as at Las Navas de Tolosa, in 1212, the Christian troops coming from the Kingdoms of Castile, and Aragon, which were later to unite under the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, joined their armies to fight against Moslem rule.
The Islamic rulers were defeated, opening the way for the reconquest of the rest of Andalusia. History was to repeat itself centuries later, when another location in Jaen, Bailen was the battle ground which saw Napoleon’s invading army defeated in the early 19th century to leave Spanish soil forever. As in other cultural aspects, architecturally, Jaen is also a graceful mixture of the magnificent Arab architecture and the styles of Christian Spain.
Santa Catalina Castle, Jaén
Jaen sits sheltered at the foot of a hill on which summit the castle of Santa Catalina sits proudly dominating the ancient city. Today the castle is an elegant and stately Parador Hotel, but it began as an 8th century Moorish Fortress built by the same Arab King responsible for the building of the Alhambra in Granada. The castle underwent a s significant transformation when King Ferdinand of Castile captured the castle in 1246. The castle boasts five towers and the Chapel of Saint Catalina is located in one of them. The castle and parador have a view over the Guadalquivir valley to the ridges of the Sierra Morena. General Charles de Gaulle stayed in the parador while writing his memoirs.
The Parador de Jaén is a 4 star Parador Hotel with 45 rooms set in an 18th century castle on top of an escarpment with spectacular views over the city of Jaén.
The Parador de Ubeda is a 4 star Parador Hotel with 36 rooms located in a former 16th-century palace in the historical centre of Ubeda which is approximately 40 kilometres from the city of Jaén.
A cathedral in the Spanish renaissance style which is centrally located opposite the Town Hall and the Episcopal Palace. The cathedral was built over the ruins of an ancient mosque, with construction beginning in 1249. Because it suffered damages on several occasions, it was also rebuilt several times with its final consecration carried out in 1724. Jaen capital has a wealth of other magnificent monuments, churches and museums which are worth visiting.
Sierra de Cazorla, Jaén Province
One of the many wonders of Jaen province is Spain’s largest Natural Park, along a mountain chain with natural lakes and streams defining the border between Granada and Jaen at the foot of these mountains, there are four lakes, as well as valleys, mountains, gorges all teeming with wildlife. There are several scenic villages in this area known as the lakes district. The area also has great botanical importance with many different varieties of pine trees and other native species.
Next to the Cazorla National Park, lies the Castril Park a vast area of protected space with impressive peaks, wonderful waterfalls, and where wildlife abounds.
Olive Oil Museum & Visitor Centre
Jaen is the World Capital of Olive Oil. The province of Jaen, produces over 25% of the total Spanish olive grove surface and 42% of the Andalusian, producing around 45% of the national olive oil. Jaen alone produces an astounding 20% of the world’s total olive oil production. Jaen is to construct a tourist centre tracing the history and culture of olive oil in the region. The project is known as “Almazara Escaparate”. The centre will be situated in the historic old quarter of the city and will consist of an open museum space, with lecture hall dedicated to the study of olive oil in collaboration with the nearby university. The exhibition area will showcase various olive oil based products which will be available for sale and a restaurant with scheduled tasting. An important aspect of the centre is a section dedicated to exalt the various health benefits of olive oil consumption and the Mediterranean diet.
Being an inland city in Spain’s sub tropical south, summers in Jaen are very hot, with temperatures in August often exceeding 40ºC, so this should be taken into consideration if planning a trip during the summer months. The differences in temperatures are greater than in the coastal areas of Spain, so winters can be cold, when minimum temperatures in mountain regions may fall below 0º C. With a typical subtropical climate, there is scarce rain in summer and humid and moderate winters. As it is an inland city, there can be temperature difference of 10 º C in the same day, especially in summer, which means summer evenings will be considerably cooler than its days.