Zafra on the Way

Now, when this hot summer seems to let us breathe and the weather slips slowly until fall, the Vía de la Plata (Silver Way) gets the hustle and bustle of pilgrims again, looking for their own way to Santiago. Zafra, in the south part of this route, is the perfect spot for a rest on the road.

Mozarabic Way, this one which goes across the Peninsula from South to North, is the original way.   According with one of the most famous theories about the origin of the way, Saint James’ disciples arrived in Seville and took his corpse to the end of the known world, to Finis Terrae, using the same paved road built by Romans for military and commercial purposes.

This road was full-equipped for traveller’s necessities and medieval pilgrimage gave it a new dimension. In the 20th Century, the societies of the Friends of Saint James revived this way for walkers and pilgrims.

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Aerial view of Zafra

In this context, Zafra takes on importance as a commercial hub in the Middle Ages: medieval pilgrims could find a market in the current Plaza Chica, where get some supplies, a new pair of boots o a blanket. Next to this market it was Saint James’ Hospital, that provided health attention and cares.

Zafra is between Medina de las Torres and Villafranca de los Barros. Medina was a roman mansio (Contributa Iulia), the main city of the Celtic Baeturia, but it was replaced by Zafra because of the rising of the House of Feria. During 16th and 17th centuries, this aristocratic family increases its power and several congregations were settled, building churches and chapels, convents and monasteries.

Santa Clara Convent. It is still inhabited by noons, and they sell spectacular craft sweets

Santa Clara Convent. It is still inhabited by noons, and they sell spectacular craft sweets

The Way runs through the town, from the railway station, going across the heart of the town to the opposite exit to Los Santos de Maimona. This nice walk shows Zafra to the pilgrim, trekker or mere tourist, who can find shops, banks, health care and all they can need to keep walking.

In addition, if you want to stop along the Way, there are some hotels and two pilgrims’ hostels. One of them is run by the Asociación de Amigos del Camino de Santiago de Zafra, and the other one, located in the old Convento de San Francisco, is property of the regional government.

Chickpea Stew

Cocido Extremeño (Chickpea stew)

Either passing through Zafra, or planning to stay some days, the pilgrim, now as in the old days, should drop into the Plaza Chica, turn off for a while the row of yellow arrows that mark Saint James’ Way and fuel up at La Tertulia. Enjoy local produces and good meals: chickpea stew, for instance, to get their stamina back; a refreshing salad, some cheese or ham, seasonal produces and a glass of good wine.

Stopping, sitting, enjoying the atmosphere, the company or the silence. Let the bells ring up in the tower, the shallows and storks draw the sky, and the locals go up and down in front of their eyes.

Our ddinning room. There is a brazier under each table for cold days, and it is soooo cosy!

Our dinning room. There is a brazier under each table for cold days, and it is soooo cosy!

And maybe if the weather is not fair to you, hiding under our table blanket, letting our braziers be good to you and take care of your suffering pilgrims’ feet. Because, you know, “Se hace camino al andar“.

Plaza Chica: A Life Under the Arcades

It’s Sunday. Not any Sunday, but a good autumn Sunday. It’s raining outside, but wine and electric braziers warm the dinning-room, and there are lots of happy faces around the counter,  deeply engaged in cheerful conversations, everlasting discussions or love talks. Hustle and bustle, smokers jam at the door. You have to run and keep the balance with the tray, dodging a pair of tykes that are coming into, looking for their croquettes.

Say hello, smile, say goodbye, write down the orders, pull some beer and serve some drinks. Take a stew from the kitchen, a dish of olives, a salad and some desserts. Then, add one of those quarrels kitchen-waitress/waitress-kitchen that makes this job so wonderful, and you won’t be able to stand it anymore at five or six pm.

But then, everything is a bit more relaxed. You go out, smell some fresh air, stop for a while under the arcades to see the rainIMGP6689It is great to be here.

Here, in the Plaza Chica (Small Square), the small centre of our small world. More than six hundred years watching how life runs under the arcades: business and markets, trials and weddings, melon stands, theatre, carnivals, Curro Jiménez and The Holy Innocents.

The Square, setting for cinema and life, is probably the older spot in Zafra. It was the centre of the medieval town, which grew around it until the 16th  century, because economic and political power were concentrated here. The weekly market was authorised in 1380, and there are evidences of the location of the town hall since 1430.

The arcades are a natural consequence of its commercial function: three covered parts, for sheltering trades and goods from sun and rain, and a free part for the Town Hall, later the Court (It is still having the jail bars), and today, the Music School. Nowadays, the Square maintains its rectangular plan, surrounded by white buildings whose facades end in brick arches. They have assorted columns and capitals as a result of the reuse of architectonical materials from former Roman and Visigothic buildings. Some of these columns, witness of the passing of time, hold etching words that talk about past ages. In addition, we can see some intertwined arches in one of the windows. They are typical of the Gothic-Mudejar art, but very rare in Spanish architecture.

There are some signs of this commercial past. The most famous one is the Vara, an old Castilian measurement (83 cm) colengraved on a column as a reference for buying fabric. Stands were gathered by products in this old market. As an example, bakeries were located in the arc that leads to Big Square, thas is still called Arquillo del Pan (Bread Arc). The Almotacen, the guardian of the market, lived just there. And in this same corner, small as the square, a tiny baroque chapel devoted to a virgin who, because of her size is called Little Hope (La Esperancita).

The market grew as the town did during the Early Modern Period, so part of it was moved to the other square and Plaza Chica lost part of its commercial function.  However, it kept being the political and judicial centre, and became the location for some taverns and inns. They were our precedents, the ancestors of all these bars and restaurants that fill the square with life, colour and delicious food. 

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Why should you visit Zafra?

You go out any day: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday… Not necessary in August, Christmas Season, Easter or on a Bank Holiday. You go to the Town Hall for some paperwork and you find there a guide showing its Patio to a group of tourists. In Sevilla Street, you see a Swedish-looking couple who is looking over Cayetano’s shop window; and a family –say a German family- goes into the Parador carrying its baggage while you take off your car from the blue zone. Driving to work, you came across a group of pilgrims, riding their bikes, looking for the Pilgrims’ refuge, and even when you are parking, another guide introduce San Crispin and San Crispiniano, tenants of the Jerez Arch, to her group. Ok then: This is Zafra.

Now, you wonder ‘Why? What is the reason for this little town attracts so much tourists, visitors, and travellers? Maybe, when you live here, you can find beauty in any stone or in summer mornings light; in the smell of firewood burning in winter; in purple and yellow flowers blanketing the surrounding fields in spring or in the range of orange and brown colors that fall gives us. Perhaps just because you live here, you think that anyone find absolutely the same kind of beauty in their hometown.

Or maybe it is exactly the opposite thing: everyday routine makes you immune to the magic moment when summer night starts, while church bells lazily ring in the 40ºC thick air; also immune to the battlements outlined on the twilight horizon, to the singularity of tile house in Pilar Redondo square; inmune to the daily wonder of archs in both Squares, chasing each other for years ago. So you can’t understand why people come here.

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 This is Zafra. A little shopping town among lots of big villages which live off agriculture: olives and oil, wine, Iberian ham. It is a necessary stop if you go down to the South or up to the North, even if this is only to sit down at La Tertulia and enjoy an excellent Cocido Extremeño (Chickpea stew). If somebody eventually does it, he or she should make sure to get a pair of hours to stray under the arcade of the Squares, to walk to the Callejita del Clavel, to see the footprint of the quarry worker on the stones of the Jerez Arch, to wander around the castle…

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But as long as they are here, why not staying a bit else? A guided tour of the battlement, a look to the frescos at the Spouses Chamber, a walk down Sevilla Street enjoying an ice-cream from El Valenciano, a stop at the religious Santa Clara Museum and some pastries from the same convent are some of the reasons to visit Zafra.

Of course you think that you are looking after number one, but in a place like this you can’t help to be a bit patriotic. So then, welcome to Zafra.