[By Luis Ruiz in Arcos de la Frontera, Spain]
There is a long row of towns and cities in the middle of Andalusia that add the particle ‘de la Frontera’ to their names; therefore you can find in the map places like Jerez de la Frontera, Jimena de la Frontera, Aguilar de la Frontera and so on. This fact might be puzzling to those who are not familiar with the history of Spain, as they look laid just in the heart of the country, far from any present-day border. What they share in common is their picturesque setting on the top of hills, overlooking winding valleys; in fact they look as if they were designed by a skillful painter’s hand.
The truth however is that they follow the late medieval frontier between the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada and the Christian states of the Iberian Peninsula, even before you could speak of ‘Spain’ as such, and their picturesque setting responds to defensive issues. That border was much more open than we think today and the relationship between both sides produced a very beautiful series of 'romances fronterizos', one of the most popular of which is the Romance de Abenámar.
An excellent example of this frontier towns is the city of Arcos de la Frontera, located on the top of a cliff above a meander of the Guadalete river. Its monuments show this strange but smooth blend of gothic and baroque which is particular of this part of Andalusia, especially the massive church of Santa María that crowns the old town. At the back, a narrow alley runs below the flying buttresses of the building. The ancient unfinished portal deserved a sketch, but… am I the only one that sees on it a huge baboon face carved on the stone??