From the Cerro de Santa Catalina Hill that rises pretectively over the Muslim Yayyan conquered by Fernando III, the fine olive-bearing countryside can be descried, which extends along the horizon to form part of rich natural landscapes such as the Cerro del Neveral, the Peña de Jaén, Jabalcuz, the valley of the Quiebrajano river, and as a backdrop, the spectacular Mágina Sierra. A crossroads of different cultures, Jaén is well connected by dual carriageways to Madrid, the Levant, and the rest of Andalusia. The abundance of water, present in fountains and baths and of clearly Andalusian heritage, is a constant as one strolls through this monumental city, full of churches and noble palaces, which is today the main oleic centre in Spain.
Jaén´s cultural events include an annual date not to be missed, the celebration of the Autumn Festival. Between September and December the town is in festive mood to welcome outstanding figures if music, dance and the theatre. The activities are organised in various interesting cycles, such as "Great Orchestras", "Theatre and Dance", "Cinema and Opera", "World Music", the Jaén International Jazz festival, "Music in the Palaces", or "Young Performers".
On the other hand, the visitor can enjoy the great variety of museums in Jaén, of the importance of the Provincial of the Cathedral Museums, all year round. The "Manuel Moral" International Museum of Naïve Art must also be mentioned for its originality; it is the only one devoted to this artistic tendency in Spain and exhibits 443 works including both paintings and sculptures.
The oil of the land, exceptional owing to its quality and used with skill by Jaén cooks, is one of the great protagonists of the gastronomy of this city. Here it is traditional for barmen to treat the customer to a tapa to accompany a drink. A wide range of delicious titbits is included in this "cuisine of miniatures": tender beans, salted anchovies, blanquillas, partridge paté, partidges in sauce of vinegar.
Simple recipes are alternated with more elaborate ones, and traditional dishes formerly prepared over the heath of the fire in hamlets and farms, now coexist with an innovate and creative cuisine. In the bars and restaurants of Jaén one can enjoy from the characteristic pipirrana, a kind of thick gazpacho to which are added hard-boiled eggs, tomato, and sliced peppers, or cod in tomato sauce, to the savouring of tasty game meat prepared b the best chefs. Not to be forgotten are the pastries of Andalusian heritage (pestiños, alfajores, macaroons and egg-based lardy cake) or those of medieval origin ("ochíos" and Easter cakes).
It there is one thing that is noticeable when one strolls through Jaén it is the attractiveness of its features, due to the cacareful town planning of its different settlers. Spread out on a gentle slope, the city form a wise and fine combination of traditional quarters of Arabic and medieval design with monumental areas, in which a style, that of the Renaissance, and an artist, Andrñes de Vandelvira, stand out on their own merits.
Strolling through the Plaza de Santa María allows the visitor to admire two fine buildings, the Bishop´s Palace and the Town Hall in the medieval old town, and also to contemplate the masterpiece of the brilliant architect Andrés de Vandelvira: the Cathedral Church of La Asunción de la Virgen.
Declared to be of a Site of Cultural Interests and a Historic Artistic Monument, the Cathedral is considered to be one of the greatest examples of the Renaissance in Spain. It was built on the site of the old aljama mosque and the most outstanding artists were involved in its lengthy construction. The result could hardly have been better: a splendid Main Chapel decorated by Juan de Aranda, an imposing choir balanced doorways with admirable sculpture adornments, and a collection of treasures jealously guarded in the Cathedral Museum. The stately homes of Calle Llana street, as Calle Francisco Coello is popularly known, lead towards the Carrera de Jesús, where in addition to remains of the Muslim walled enclosure and the Count of Torralba Tower, the Convent of Santa Teresa also stands. It is here where one of the manuscript copies of the Spiritual Canticle of San Juan de la Cruz is kept. The former Convent Church of San José of the Discalced Carmelites also lies nearby; in it was founded the Brotherhood of Our Father Jesus of Nazareth.
Along this attractive route, beautiful plazas full of bars and restaurants, such as those of La Merced and San Bartolomé, with their respective churches, leave in either side fine examples of the rich heritage of Jaén; the Palace of Capitán Quesada Ulloa, and the New Fountain of the San Lorenzo Arch, a National Monument and all that remains of the Church where the body of Fernando IV was watched over.
The Calles Muralla, Cerón, and Maestra surround the well-known Consuelo Arch, a typical niche and the setting for many popular legends, near the Plaza de la Audiencia.
Where the Arab walls were enlarged so as to protect the old quarter which had become overpopulated, next to the Angel Gate which is all that remains of it, was built what was to be the last dwelling-place of the great Renaissance architect of the province, Andrés de Vandelvira. This is the Church of San Ildefonso.
Its main doorway, flanked by two imposing towers, says much of the majesty of this church, which boasts a Main Altar, magnificent altarpieces, and a lovely tabernacle. It is also noteworthy in that its holds the Virgen de la Capilla, the patron saint of the city, and a abundant artistic heritage exhibited in the House of the Virgin, and adjacent building.
The Alameda is without doubt and ideal spot for resting among trees and flowers while enjoying the fine view. This route allows us to visit interesting monuments: the Renaissance Convent of Las Bernardas or the Bullring, which closes the bullfighting season with the San Lucas Fair in October.
As we again approach the old part of town with its neat pedestrian streets, elegant stately homes also begin to appear. These include the Palacio de los Vilches next to the Plaza de la Constitución, the sole surviving remnant of the old Plaza Mayor (main square) of the town, and the Palacio de la Diputación adjacent to the Calles Bernabé Soriano and Hurtado and the Plaza de San Francisco.
At one end of the Cerro de Santa Catalina Hill, concealed in a network of side streets on a slight slope, stand a considerable number of civil and religious buildings, which conceal in thear subsoil a valuable archaeological treasure.
In 1913 the Arab Baths that had remained hidden below the Palace of the Count of Villardompardo for centuries were rediscovered; this building is one of the more notable buildings of this type that remain in the country. Now declared a National Monument, today the baths occupy the cellars of the Palace of Villardompardo.
The famous yolk pastries of Santa Ursula and the fervent devotion to Santa Rita come together in the Convent of the same name next to the Plaza de la Magdalena, where the Raudal de la Magdalena Fountain, "the dwelling-place of the crocodile of Jaén", is located. This square holds the oldest church in the city, with its Muslim courtyard of ablutions and a valuable collection of Roman epigraphy.
After Christmas the people of Jaén prepare for the celebration of the popular Lumbers de San Antón, huge bonfires that are lit in the city squares as votive offering to the patron saint of animals, San Antonio Abad. Traditional dances are performed around them and roast pumpkins and traditional "rosettes" of maize are savoured.
The street bands and carnival competitions give way to traditional spring celebrations such as those of Easter week. Fifteen brotherhoods of penitence parade through the old town from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday, providing images of great beauty such as that of Jesús of Nazareth on Good Friday. The May Crosses and the Cristo del Arroz Fair, held on the second Sunday of May at the place known as the Fuente de la Peña, bring this season to a close.
The summer begins with the celebration of the Corpus Christi, with a dignified Eucharistic procession from the Cathedral, with the majestic monumental replica of the monstrance fashioned by the silversmith Juan Ruiz "El Vandalino" standing out. A few days the patron saint of Jaén, Nuestra Señora de la Capilla, becomes the protagonist with a large floral offering, fairs, and public festivities in the quarter of San Ildefonso, the part of the city that also hosts the Fiestas de la Divina Pastora.
Continuing with the festive calendar, the month of October is when the principal fiesta of Jaén takes place, the San Lucas Fair. This cattle-rearing fair gives the town a week to enjoy the dancing and the festivities in the traditional huts of the fair precinct and the fine bullfighting performances.
The Santa Catalina Fair, in November, which is held in the popular Castle that watches over the town, and the Autumn Festival, a cultural event of the first magnitude, bring the annual cycle of events to a close.
In the heart of the Jewish quarter the Renaissance shape of the Royal Convent of Santo Domingo stands out, together with the neighbouring Holy Chapel of San Adrés, a Historic Artistic Monument, with its 16th-century grating, or the Convent of Santa Clara, where the 16th-century image of the Bamboo Christ is venerated. Beneath the building of the former Butcher´s Shops, in the Plaza de los Caños, remains have been found of other Arab baths known as the "Orange-tree Baths". We are now in the centre of what was the medieval town, where the Gothic Church of San Juan and the Concejo Tower are located.
The Santa Catalina Castle crowns the town and represents the best example of the different cultures that have settled within it. Declared a Historic Monument in 1931 due to the primitive Muslim citadel, where there is currently a Parador Nacional de Turismo (high-class tourist hotel), it includes the tower joined to the former city wall that akk remain in a good state of repair.
The so-called New Citadel ,which is virtually all the remains of the fortrees, was started by Fernando III. Nowadays it is the Interpretation Centre of the Castle and the city. It is made up of five towers together with the Homenaje Tower, which was finished at the time of the Condestable Iranzo, with the Santa Catalina Chapel being set in on of the Albarranas Towers.
The paths that lead to the Cerro de Santa Catalina from the city centre offer the visitor the possibility of continuing towards surrounding areas of special natural beauty: the Cerro del Neveral, the Diocesan Seminary Park, and the Fuente de la Peña landscape at Jabalcuz. The various routes that can be followed in the Sierra de Jaén, among olive trees and country houses, are also noteworthy. One can choose to enjoy the setting of the Pago de Huertas de Valparaíso, to visit the old noble village of Santa Catalina and the Otiñar Castle, or to go trout fishing in the area of Los Cañones.
The provincial Museum of Jaén, which has been declared a Site of Cultural Interest and a Historic Artistic Monument, situated in a classicist building, includes in its interior two important doorways of the 16th-century Jaén Renaissance: that of the Pósito, by Francisco del Castillo, of the main façade, and the of the Church of San Miguel, attributed to Andrés de Vandelvira, in the courtyard. The archaeological specimens from different civilisations exhibited within it are one of its greatest riches; its collection of Iberian sculptures is particularly noteworthy for being one of the best in Spain, with material from the deposits of Porcuna and Huelma. The top floor holds the interesting Fine Arts section, which has an excellent sample of the work of painters from the province.
In the Station Paseo stands the Battle Monument in the square of the same name, which one must pass on the way to the Victoria Park or that of the Bulevar.
Children of all ages will find guaranteed maximum enjoyment at Kids´City. This is athematic children´s park that has water shows and a games area.
The whole of Jaén, from the monumental narrow streets of its old town to its newest urban districts, such as the Bulevar or Fuentezuelas, has bars and restaurants in which to sample the typical cuisine of this land, where the custom of eating tapas is firmly established. >From the Senda de los Huertos, next to the Diocesan Seminary, to the Cathedral and its neighbouring Plazas of Santa María and San Francisco, the visitor can choose from a wide range of recipes, for example in the oldest bars in the town which are grouped around the Consuelo Arch. Very popular quarters such as that of San Ildefonso, La Merced, or San Bartolomé have become cult areas for lovers of good eating. The Calle Nueva, next to the Plaza de la Constitución, has also come to be one of the most fashionable areas to eat in Jaén. Around the Calle Millán de Priego, popularly known as the Arrabalero, stands one of the convents that elaborate the best pastry in the whole town: the Royal Convent of Santa Clara and the Convent of Santa Ursula with its famous yolk pastries.
Two interpretations are given to this reptile. One refers to the shape of the city, coiled on the Cerro de Santa Catalina, while the second alludes to a legend that recounts how there was a crocodile in the fountain opposite the Church of La Magdalena that terrorised the people of Jaén. This went on until an ingenious young man managed to bring about its end by means of a trick; he persuaded it to eat a lamb full of gunpowder.
This popular relic, kept as a treasure in the Main Chapel of the Cathedral, constructed as its sanctuary, is according to tradition one of the three cloth canvases on which the Face of Christ was imprinted by Veronica. It was brought to the city by Bishop Nicholas of Biedma in 1376, who received it from Pope Gregory XI.