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Puntos de vista - a personal Spain blog

Musings about Spain and Spanish life by Paul Whitelock, hispanophile of 40 years and now resident of Ronda in Andalucía .

Jerez de la Frontera
Monday, December 12, 2022 @ 8:57 AM

Jerez de la Frontera, the largest city in the Andalusian province of Cádiz, yet not the capital, which is Cádiz city, owes its growth, wealth and importance to sherry production, although it is also famous for its riding school, flamenco and the Christmas zambombas. Pablo de Ronda takes up the story.



The name sherry, given to the fortified wine produced in the area, is a corruption of the Arabic name for the city, Sherish.  Jerez or sherry is a denominacion de origen, so only sherry wines produced in the Sherry Triangle, the area between the towns of Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María, may be called sherry.

Jerez city has 71 sherry producers (bodegas) of which several bear English names, reflecting the significant involvement of British entrepreneurs in the development of this unique tipple from its expansion in the 16th Century. These include Garvey, Grant, Harvey, Osborne, Sandeman and Williams & Humbert.

Although the very first mention of sherry wine comes from the Greek geographer Strabo in the 1st Century BC, it wasn’t until the 12th Century, that sherry wines began to be exported to England, where they were known by the Moorish name for the city: Sherish.


De la Frontera

Along with several other towns in Andalucía, especially in Cádiz province, Jerez’s full name is Jerez de la Frontera. Other towns with “… de la Frontera” in their names include Arcos, Castellar, Chiclana, Conil, Jimena and Vejer.

They are all ‘on the frontier’, and yet, they clearly aren’t. Jerez de la Frontera, for example, is 242 kilometres away from the nearest frontier – that is to say, Portugal.

To find an explanation for this, we need to go back a few centuries to the time of the Moors and the Kingdom of Granada.

The Christian forces of Aragon and Castile were engaged in la Reconquista, slowly taking the country back from the Moors. These North African colonists had arrived in the peninsula in 711 and had been in control of almost all of Spain and Portugal for over seven hundred and fifty years. The Reconquista finally ended when Granada, capital of the ‘Nazarí kingdom’, fell in 1492, the same year that Spain discovered the Americas. 

Standing between the Christian and Moorish territories, while leading up to the final push in the later XV Century, were several frontier towns which watched uneasily over a no-man’s-land, or Terra Nullius as it was officially known – an unclaimed space between the two forces. During its existence, this border strip had great military, political, economic, religious, and cultural importance.

Beyond being a border like many others, it was for more than two centuries the European border between Christianity and Islam. It was, therefore, a place of exchange and barter, which kept alive in both territories the spirit of the Christian crusade and the Islamic jihad together with the chivalric ideal, already anachronistic in other European territories.

It also made possible illicit economic activities, such as trade in oriental products, as well as regular military incursions, aimed at taking booty, as well as the capture of hostages with whom to maintain the slave business, or simply to negotiate the return of captives.

Religious orders took sides in this regard. The border was a key element in the formation of the identity of Andalucía and in the formation of the vision of Islam throughout Spain.


The Riding School

The Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art (Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre) is an institution dedicated to the preservation of the equestrian arts, in the Spanish tradition, The Jerez school is one of the "Big Four" most prestigious classical riding academies in the world.

The school is devoted to conserving the ancestral abilities of the Andalusian horse, maintaining the classical traditions of Spanish baroque horsemanship, preparing horses and riders for international dressage competitions, and providing education in all aspects of horsemanship, coach driving, blacksmithing, the care and breeding of horses, saddlery and the manufacture and care of harnesses.

The Royal Andalusian School is well known for its "dancing stallions" shows for tourists. Unfortunately, there was no performance to coincide with our visit.



Flamenco is an art form composed of three elements: cante, toque and baile, ie singing, clapping and dance.

It is believed that the flamenco genre emerged at the end of the 18th century in cities and agrarian towns of Baja Andalucía, highlighting Jerez de la Frontera as the first written vestige of this art.



The zambomba is two things. It’s a musical instrument, but also a traditional Christmas “fiesta” of carols where said instrument is played. 

The zambomba is a friction instrument. It frequently accompanies the singing of Christmas carols and popular songs.

It consists of a large hollow cylinder that can be made of different materials (ceramic, wood, etc.) with one of its ends closed with a piece of leather. This is crossed through the centre with a rod, which can be made of wood or other materials. This rod is sometimes replaced by a rope. By rubbing the rod or rope with both hands, the vibration produced by the rod or rope is transmitted to the leather, producing a low and peculiar sound.

Zambomba is also the name of a typical Christmas fiesta in some parts of Spain, especially in Andalucía, at which Christmas carols are sung accompanied by said instrument.

Jerez de la Frontera is believed to be the home of flamenco and of the zambomba


Visiting Jerez

I reckon I’ve been to Jerez de la Frontera six times over the last 20-odd years and with three different female companions: my first wife, an interim girlfriend, and my second and current wife.

The first visit was in 2000 with my then wife Jeryl on that fateful trip around Andalucía which ultimately led to me emigrating to the region in 2008. The highlight of that visit was a tour of the Gonzalez Byass bodega, makers of fino sherry Tío Pepe.

Since then, I’ve been three more times. With my girlfriend Maude the highlight was the visit to the Alcázar.

The next two visits were linked to airport runs to Jerez airport. They were “memorable” for the difficulty of finding one’s way out of the city by car. The road signs are appalling or non-existent. And Google Maps isn’t very good with one-way streets and bus lanes.

The fifth visit was on my 67th birthday when we visited the riding school Fundación Real Escuela Andaluza Del Arte Ecuestre with family members visiting from Germany. That was fascinating.

Now, I’ve been for a sixth time ….. last Saturday.


Village coach outing to Jerez

Thirty or so folk from Montejaque (Málaga) boarded the coach for a day trip to Jerez. We were a fascinating mix of young montejaqueños and elderly “guiris” (foreigners). We left at 11.00 am and returned around 10.00 pm.

It turned out that the locals were going for the zambombas and a bit of a party, while the seven guirisfour British, one Canadian, a German and a South African – were on the trip for tourism purposes, as some had never visited the city before.

We decided to hang around together and came up with a rough itinerary during the two-hour journey from Montejaque to Jerez. We didn’t manage to complete our programme, however, as the place was heaving. The hunt for an available restaurant table took ages and by the time we had eaten, we’d missed the zambomba we had planned to watch.

But we did manage the Alcázar, the old Moorish castle and palace. What a delight! Well worth the five-euro admission charge (only 1.80€ for senior citizens).

The only drawback to the excursion was that we missed England’s world cup football quarter final clash with France, which took place during our journey back to Montejaque.

But England lost, so it didn’t really matter.


Jerez de la Frontera was a great day out. The first-timers loved it and vowed to return. Can’t wait for the next village charabanc trip. Next up for us oldies is the Christmas Lunch provided by the local council.

¡Felices fiestas!


Tags: Alcazar, Andalucia, bodega, Cadiz, Christmas lunch, denominacion de origen, England, fiesta, flamenco, France, Garvey,  Google Maos, Grant, Harvey, jerez, Jerez de la Frontera, Montejaque, Osborne, Puerto de Santa Maria, riding school, Sandeman, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Sherish, sherry, Sherry Triangle, Williams & Humbert, World Cup, zambomba

Like 2


PablodeRonda said:
Thursday, December 15, 2022 @ 8:15 AM

Sounds like house/pet-sitting worked really well for you. Well done!

estupendo said:
Saturday, December 17, 2022 @ 9:13 AM

Schedule of Zambomba gatherings on this plus beautiful video showing exhuberance and participation of locals

vickya said:
Saturday, December 17, 2022 @ 8:28 PM

I did a coach trip about 12 years ago when living in Vera and taking the free Spanish classes. We students shared the trip with OAP locals and it was to the salt flats and then lunch. A long Spanish lunch. I so enjoyed all the company, as well as the lunch :).

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