Jaén is a city in south-central Spain. The name is derived, with all probability, from the Roman name Villa Gaiena (Villa of Gaius), which the Arabs called Yayyan. It is the capital of the province of Jaén. It is located in the autonomous community of Andalusia.
The inhabitants of the city are known as Jiennenses. Its population is 116,731 (2012), about one-sixth of the population of the province. Recently Jaén has had a great increase in cultural tourism, having received 604,523 tourists along the year 2015, 10% more than in 2014. The city is also known as the World Capital of Olive Oil, because it is the biggest producer of the oil, known by locals as liquid gold.
The layout of Jaén is determined by its position in the hills of the Santa Catalina mountains, with steep, narrow streets, in the historical central city district. The city of Jaén is the administrative and industrial centre for the province. Industrial establishments in the city include chemical works, tanneries, distilleries, cookie factories, textile factories, as well as agricultural and olive oil processing machinery industry. On 1 April 1938, during the Spanish Civil War, the city was bombed by the Nazis.
The motto of the city is: “Muy Noble y muy Leal Ciudad de Jaén, Guarda y Defendimiento de los Reynos de Castilla” (“Very Noble and very Loyal City of Jaén, Guard and Defense of the Kingdoms of Castile”).
This title was given by King Enrique II of Castile to the city of Jaén, due to the privileges that the city had, and to the role that the city was playing in the defense of the kingdom of Castile against the Moors.
Jaen is also known – by historians – as the “Holy Kingdom”. This is because more or less the very same area we know today as Jaen Province, was long ago a kingdom, ruled first by Moors and then by Christians.
There is evidence that Jaen was civilised as early as the Copper Age with important archeological sites and rock paintings to prove it. The Iberians and the Carthaginians left their marks as well with the Romans taking over in 207 BC – relieving the local Carthaginians of their duties entirely.
Roman historians described their new acquisition as quite an impressive – even “opulent” – city. The new rulers kept Jaen under military rule for the first couple centuries, but then sometime during the first century A.D. it was granted full Roman status and became a municipality known as Flavio Aurgitano.
As is to be expected, not much is left from the glorious days of Roman rule in Jaen, just scattered mosaic and bits of ceramic and other relics of the past. You’ll find some of these in the provincial museum. Many more are certainly waiting to make the next builder cringe when excavators uncover their buried faces.
The Visigoths were next on the scene, but they didn’t make a huge impact on the city as it was only a peripheral possession for them. It was up to the arabs, then, to make the next big mark on Jaen with five centuries of dominion that only ended in 12 46 when the Christians most certainly raised their flag with pride over the city they had just conquered.
The modern face of Jaen is mostly marked by its moorish and Christian past with most monuments standing in testimony either to the great moorish rulers who reigned for 500 years or the Christians who have been building the city since.
The beginning of the 19th century was a traumatic time for the people of Jaen as the French invaded and took over during what is known in Spanish as the “War of Independence”. Today, at the press of a button, in a display at the Santa Catalina castle prison you can hear a lifelike figure in chains retell the story of what it was like to be under French rule – but “ojo” (warning), as they say in Spanish, the figure in chains tells a very one-sided tale, to the detriment of our French neighbours. Possibly the idea is to get back at the invaders (even after all these years), for we mustn’t forget that the French troops took it upon themselves to blow up the castle before the left the city as Spanish King Jose I took back Andalucia.
During the Spanish Civil War the situation in Jaen was about as tragic as it got anywhere in the country. The majority of the city’s residents were on the republican side and according to history, at one point non-republicans were loaded onto a train and sent to Madrid where they were shot mercilessly by communists as soon as they reached the south of the city. And if you visit Jaen’s cathedral, you might take a moment to imagine the desperate souls who were imprisoned there – people who were brought from all over. Yes, there were so many prisoners the prison reached the point of overflowing and the House of God was called into service for such tragic purposes. Executions were carried out almost daily, according to reports.
Thankfully, the Spanish Civil War is well behind us – but it’s good to have that story tucked into the back of your mind as you make your way around the city and get to know it’s inhabitants. Even today, the grandchildren and great grandchildren listen to the stories of their forebearers and the suffering both during and after the war. The postwar period, as you can imagine, was especially harsh for Jinienses (as locals are knowns) as supporters of the vanquished republicans.
Today Jaen city is doing very well and will certainly go down in history for its olive production. That and tourism promise to be the hallmark of this era when future generations look back in time to see what things were like at the beginning of the 21st century. Thankfully, they’ll see peace, prosperity and a city where culture, education and modern technology thrive.
1002 – Baños Árabes de Jaén (es) (bath) constructed.
1225 – Siege of Jaén.
1230 – Siege of Jaén (1230) by Castilian forces.
1245 – Siege of Jaén (1245–46) begins.
1246 – Jaén becomes part of the Kingdom of Castile per Treaty of Jaén (es).
1248 – Roman Catholic Diocese of Jaén established.
1712 – Earthquake.
1724 – Jaén Cathedral consecrated.
1727 – Iglesia de la Merced (Jaén) (es) (church) consecrated.
1786 – Real Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País de la Ciudad y Reino de Jaén (es) (learned society) established.
1813 – Diputación Provincial de Jaén (es) (government body) founded.
1833 – City becomes part of the newly formed Province of Jaén.
1842 – Population: 17,387.
1895 – Jaén Public Library established. Palacio Provincial de Jaén (es) built.
1901 – Casa consistorial de Jaén (es) (city hall) built (approximate date).
1907 – Teatro Cervantes (Jaén) (es) (theatre) opens.
1922 – Real Jaén (football club) formed.
1927 – Teatro Darymelia (es) (theatre) built.
1937 – 1 April: Bombing of Jaén by German forces.
1940 – Population: 54,631.
1941 – Diario Jaén (es) newspaper begins publication.
1944 – Estadio de la Victoria (stadium) opens.
1949 – Estación de autobuses de Jaén (es) (bus depot) built.
1958 – Premio Jaén piano competition begins.
1960 – Plaza de Toros de Jaén (bullring) built.
1969 – Museo Provincial de Jaén (es) (museum) established.
1988 – Edificio del Banco de España (Jaén) (es) built.
1989 – Iglesia de Belén y San Roque (es) (church) built.
1990 – Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares de Jaén (es) (museum) opens.
1991 – Centro comercial La Loma (es) opens.
1993 – University of Jaén established.
Saint Catherine’s Castle (Castillo de Santa Catalina) sits on the top of a hill overlooking the city. Previously there had existed a fortress of Arabic origin (Abrehui’s castle), of which some remains still exist. The current construction is of Christian origin, raised after the conquest of the city by Ferdinand III of Castile, called the Saint, in 1246.
Jaén Cathedral is one of the most important Renaissance-style cathedrals. Construction began in 1570 and was completed in 1802. It is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin, and it was built to shelter the relic of the Holy Face, or Veil of Veronica, lodged at the major chapel and exposed to the public every Friday. Due to the length of time in its construction, different artistic styles can be appreciated, the most prominent being Renaissance; Andrés de Vandelvira the most important architect. He is the greatest exponent of the Andalusian Renaissance. It aspires to be listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Arab Baths, the most significant remnants of the Moorish era of Andalusia, are the largest Arab baths preserved in Spain. They can be visited under Villardompardo’s Palace (another important monument in the city).
Other important monuments are the Museum of Arts and Popular Customs, the International Museum of Naïf Art, San Andrés’s Chapel, the Provincial Museum of Jaén (which shelters an important collection of archaeological Iberian remains), Saint Ildefonso’s church, etc.
Feria de San Lucas: On 18 October Jaen celebrates his biggest festivity. It lasts more than a week where jienenses and visitors can enjoy music, Sevillanas dancing, gastronomy, culture and tradition.
Romeria de Santa Catalina: Procession in the hill with the same name where the Castle is located to honour the Saint Patron of the City. It is typical to eat sardines and barbecue in the forest around the Castle.
San Anton: The 16 January it is celebrated the fires of San Anton. In the different neighbourhoods there are built bonfires and people eat and sing around them celebrating the beginning of the year. Also the International Urban Race of San Anton takes place that night, the fifth in the Spanish Ranking of Athetism.
Virgen de la Capilla: The 11 June Jaen celebrates the appearance of the Virgin Mary in the city. A weekend where there are flower offerings and a Virgin procession, as well as traditional activities to show the culture of the city.
Holy Week: The tradition of celebrating the Holy Week in the city started in the Middle Ages, and nowadays it has been declared “Bien de Interés Turístico-Cultural Andaluz” since 2006 and “Fiesta de Interés Turístico Nacional de Andalucía”. From Palm Sunday until Resurrection Sunday 17 catholic brotherhoods carry out their processions through the most beautiful streets of Jaen.
The gastronomy of Jaen is very varied, emphasizing local dishes such as the pipirrana (tomato, green peppers, breadcrumbs, garlic shoots, olive oil, vinegar, salt and hard-boiled egg); “spinach a la Jaén” (garlic, croûtons, spiced sausage, bayleaf, egg, orange zest and vinegar); “rice a la Jaén” (very weak), “veal with chopped garlic”, “trout from the rivers of Jaén” (trout, butter, chunks of ham with bacon, parsley, white wine and salt), “ajo blanco a la Jaén” (raw almond, olive oil, eggs, garlic, salt, vinegar and water).
Among the most well-known confectioneries of Jaén is “rice pudding”, “gachas of Jaen” (a sort of porridge), “pestiños”, “gusanillos” and “ochíos”.
In Jaén the eating of tapas is very common; numerous bars exist where, for the price of a beer (around €1.50), one can purchase a tapa, which consists of a small plate of food for one person.