Úbeda, Jaén, Spain

 Visited 19 October 2008

Úbeda and its sister town, nearby Baeza, are by far the two most Renaissance of towns in Andalusia. For Úbeda, this happened when a deep-pocketed noble named Francisco de los Cobos accompanied his Emperor to Italy -- and brought back the High Renaissance. He hired the best architect of his day -- but ended up with the man’s apprentice, a young stone mason named Andréa Vandelvira who would go on to make Úbeda a town much copied in Spain and the New World.

Úbeda has had some tough times before and since: After being captured by King/Sain Fernando III and the Christians in 1233, it was on the firing line for 250 years until the Moors were driven from Granada.   During that time, a 1368 war over the Spanish succession all but leveled the town. Since then the 1755 Lisbon earthquake (a Richter scale 9!) and the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s have further increased the havoc and destruction.

Yet what’s left is a stone feast for the eyes; over 48 buildings are still classified today as monuments and UNESCO made the town a World Heritage site in 2003.  

Plaza Vazquez de Molina

Úbeda, Spain
Perhaps the most magnificent Renaissance square in all of Andalusia is Úbeda's Plaza Vazquez de Molina. Once the old market square, it acquired its present set of Renaissance buildings mostly in the 16th century when the ministers of Spain’s new Emperor funded Andalusia's most famous Renaissance architect to line this area with palaces. Of the many beautiful buildings that edge this square, four standout (clockwise from upper left): Capilla del Salvador, Palacio de las Cadenas, The Parador, and Iglesia de Santa Maria de los Alcazares.

Palacio de las Cadenas -- the Palace of Chains

Úbeda, Spain
Úbeda is not only important in its own right, but its architecture and city-planning inspired much other building in Spain and in Latin America. Part of this was due to Renaissance Andalusia's greatest architect, Andréa Vandelvira, who left behind his
Jaen, Spain, cathedral legacy in stone here and through his son’s writings. In a time of very little formal training for architects, these influenced many builders who followed. Above we look from the Palacio de las Cadenas towards the Chapel of our Savior. Note that the red car is parked on the street, not on the plaza. (More on that later).

Does the picture at right look familiar? We saw this great Renaissance cathedral near Úbeda in its provincial capital of Jaen. It’s the religious masterpiece of Andréa Vandelvira. While Úbeda has no church on this scale, Vandelvira’s secular architecture here is spectacular. (If you want to see Vandelvira's masterpiece in Jaen, click here.)

Back to Úbeda now where we see another three-story façade with two "steeples" at either end: The Palacio de las Cadenas (above and below). This is one of Vandelvira's most important secular buildings. Its name comes from its time as the jail when chains were stretched across its entrance. It has also been used as a Dominican nunnery and is now a triple threat as a pottery museum, archive, and Úbeda's city hall.

Úbeda, Spain

 Look carefully at the top floor where we see the circular windows separated ...

Úbeda, Spain ... by 8 caryatids inspired (if not done by) the French sculptor Esteban Jamet who was active in Plateresque Spain around the time this was built. Caryatids are usually female and a bit less bellicose than what we see here (and not always as well fed, either). The male warriors hold the coat of arms of the family who first used this place as their palace -- the de los Cobos tribe who flourished in mid 16th century. Inside the nearby chapel that we’ll soon see, Jamet created many more caryatids as he brought this classic Greek form into the High Renaissance that was flowering in the soil of Gothic Spain.

Below is one of the turrets/viewing galleries that straddle each end atop the Palace. This is a hexagon, a common shape in this Renaissance town. Unlike most of the rest of the facade, these Dorian pillars and the crowning sculptures could use some restoration.
Úbeda, Spain
Besides being known as the palace of chains (Cadenas), it's also called Palacio de Juan Vázquez de Molina after the noble who paid Vandelvira's bills. He was a member of the town's own dynasty: the los Cobos family. More famous was his uncle, Don  Francisco de los Cobos, who served as secretary of state for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V who is often considered to be the first king of Spain (and a whole lot more territory besides). It’s likely that Francisco de los Cobos was the 2nd most powerful man in a Spain that had just expelled the Moors and was creating the world’s most powerful empire. Nephew Vázquez de Molina followed in his uncle's footsteps and became Charles's secretary as well as that of Charles' successor, Philip II. When these two ruled, Spain was hands down the world power. But this new country spent more than it took in, and financial deficits eventually contributed to Spain's downfall. (Aren't you glad that can't happen today!) palace of Charles V at the Alhambra in Granada

At right is  another close-up of the 2nd and 3rd stories -- actually not. These are the upper floors of the palace of Charles V at the Alhambra in Granada. Obviously Charles first secretary borrowed some ideas from his Emperor. Above is probably the first Renaissance building in Spain and precedes the Úbeda palacio by 3 decades. It's the work of Pedro Machuca who probably studied under Michelangelo. Vandelvira's influences are easy to trace in stone.

Below is a shot of the graffiti found on many of the Renaissance buildings in Andalusian Spain. It's obviously historic, but what does it mean? Vázquez de Molina and Vandelvira built this palace in 6 years starting in 1562. Unfortunately, de Molina had no children and so he decided to found a religious order to take over the place. He undoubtedly had help from his brother who was bishop.

Úbeda, Spain

Fernando Ortega Salido Palace -- the Parador

The picture below lookseast from the palace across the long rectangle that is the Plaza Vázquez de Molina. To the left is Úbeda's old prison (right on the street with the nobles' palaces!) In the foreground is a Renaissance fountain. To the left center we see our next building, the Parador hotel. In the background is the Capilla (Chapel) of Our Savior.

Úbeda, Spain

Below we look the opposite way from the prior picture. Down the long Plaza Vázquez de Molina is the more austere Deán Fernando Ortega Salido Palace, another Renaissance work of Andrés de Vandelvira. This was one of the first Parador hotels, and was the first Parador that Dick stayed in shortly after the global and personal darkness of 9-11. On this trip we again used this for our Úbeda base, looking out at this magnificent square from the 2nd window from the left on the upper floor.

Úbeda, Spain

We probably had better plumbing than did the builder of this palace: Don Fernando Ortega Salido, Dean of the Cathedral of Malaga who, like the de los Cobos, was a part of the Emperor's retinue. Note the lack of cars here; no parking (other than luggage handling) is allowed in the entire plaza. More places should do this, especially if they look as good as Úbeda's public squares. (On the down side, we found a few dents on our rental car the next morning as we had to park it on the street.)

Úbeda, Spain

During our stay, the Parador seemed empty, especially around dinnertime when no more than three couples would be in the dining room. The inner courtyard was spectacular -- and typical of Vandelvira's palace architecture.

Let's continue our tour of the Plaza Vázquez de Molina with the town's most spectacular building, inside and out, the building told everyone that young Andréa Vandelvira was to be Andalusia's Frank Lloyd Wright: the Chapel of the Savior (Capilla del Salvador). Join us by clicking here.

Please join us in the following slide show to give Úbeda the viewing it deserves by clicking here.

Úbeda, Spain

            Next: Chapel of the Savior

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