The beautiful cities of Ubeda and Baeza are recognized by UNESCO for their outstanding Renaissance architecture. They are located in the province of Jaen, in the Andalusian region of southern Spain. These cities boast a large number of impressive buildings from the 16th century, many designed by one man, Andres de Vandelvira. Enjoy a walk through their gorgeous streets, sampling the gastronomy of the province of Jaen that produces some of the best olive oil in the world.
Table of Contents
Itinerary for visiting the province of Jaen
- Day 1: Ubeda – Explore the city plazas, visiting both the Santa Maria Minor Basílica and the Sacred Chapel of the Saviour, a funeral chapel.
- Day 2: Baeza – Visit the 16th-century University and the Baeza Cathedral.
- Day 3: Jaen (optional day) – Visit Jaen’s Renaissance Cathedral and the Arab Baths of the province’s capital city.
What is Spanish Renaissance architecture?
Italian architects in the early 15th century began designing buildings in a style more like classic Romanesque buildings. Instead of the Gothic era’s pointed arches and thick buttresses, the Renaissance style showcased rounded arches and sturdy columns. The arches, columns and rounded roof domes are in buildings of all types. The style wasn’t widely adopted in Spain until the 16th century when Andres de Vandelvira began his career as an architect.
Who is Andres de Vandelvira?
Andres de Vandelvira, born in 1509, is given credit for bringing the Renaissance style from Italy to Spain. Though trained as a stone mason, his building designs stretch over three phases of Spanish Renaissance architecture. All phases can be seen in Ubeda. An example of the early phase called plateresque is the Sacred Chapel of the Saviour. The Vazquez de Molina Palace displays the middle phase with more classical proportions. The Hospital of Santiago, further to the west of the historical core of Ubeda, is a late Renaissance style. Vandelvira died in 1575 and was buried in the San Ildefonse Basilica in Jaen.
Úbeda’s old town is filled with beautiful stone mansions and churches, many built in the Renaissance architectural style. It is one of the few places in Andalusia where the bulk of the remaining historic buildings were not built by the Moors. These Ubeda buildings are the largest group of Renaissance buildings to survive to the 21st century in Spain and are considered some of the most important in Europe.
Prominent 16th-century resident Francisco de los Cobos y Molina became state secretary to King Carlos I gaining influence over state-sponsored development. His nephew Juan Vazquez de Molina also became secretary to Carlos I and continued under Felipe II. These men were early promoters of the Spanish Renaissance movement. Their wealth and power led to the construction of many of the beautiful Renaissance buildings now protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ubeda Walking Tour
A walking tour of Ubeda is the best way to explore the beauty of its Renaissance masterpieces. The perfect place to start is in the heart of the old city at Vazquez de Molina Square.
Plaza Vázquez de Molina
The city’s 16th-century nobility decided to build a suite of grand buildings to show off their wealth and importance. This set of buildings is centred around this square. Also known as Santa Maria Square, it is one of the best places to see buildings built in the Renaissance style. Many of them were designed by famous Spanish architect Andres de Vandelvira, whose statue is in the square.
Have a seat in the square’s pretty garden of cypress and orange trees. Take a look at the stunning buildings around the square, beginning on the east side with the Sacred Chapel of the Saviour.
Sacra Capilla del Salvador
The funeral chapel of Úbeda aristocrat Francisco de los Cobos was built between 1536 and 1559. Considered one of the most important civil mausoleums in Spain, it remains privately owned by descendants of Cobos. The family tombs are in the chapel’s crypt and not open to the public.
Andrés de Vandelvira designed the front façade with sculptures showing Greek gods, scattered skulls, the family shields and the Christian transfiguration. This was Vandelvira’s first commission.
Admission is charged to visit the chapel.
The Ubeda Parador is next door, on the left, of the chapel.
Parador de Úbeda
The 16th-century building was built for Fernando Ortega, the first chaplain of the mausoleum. Vandelvira designed the front of the Palacio del Deán Fernando Ortega in a very plain, reserved manner to not out-shine the church next door.
In 1930, the palace was the first heritage building to be converted into a hotel in Spain. Called paradors, they are state-owned hotels in castles, convents and monasteries across Spain. They ensure that culturally important sites are saved from falling into ruin.
The hotel has two main floors and a basement level. The covered interior courtyard allows full use of the space during the hot summer. The courtyard was originally open-air. Take a minute for a look at the courtyard and its stone stairway.
At the northwest corner of the Vazquez Molina Square is Vázquez de Molina Palace, now Ubeda’s city hall.
Palacio de Vázquez de Molina
This palace was built by Vandelvira between 1540 and 1560 for Juan Vazquez de Molina, nephew of the Francisco de los Cobos.
The large building to the south of city hall is the city’s basilica.
Basílica Menor de Santa María de los Reales Alcázares
The basilica is the oldest church in the city. It was built around the ruins of the Muslim city’s main mosque. Consecrated as a Christian church in the 13th century, many changes were made over the centuries in a number of different architectural styles. Examples of Gothic, Mudejar, Renaissance and Baroque styles are all found. The main entrance facing the Plaza Vazquez de Molina is Renaissance fitting with the rest of the square’s buildings.
Walk east from the square to the viewpoint, Mirador del Salvador, on the old city walls for a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. The gate, Puerta de Santa Lucía, is to the left. Walk through the gate, following the path along the old walls parallel to Calle Muralla de San Millan to Carmen Park. Walk through the park and enter the city through Puerta del Losal.
Follow Losal Street to Iglesia de San Pablo in Ubeda’s former market square.
Plaza Primero de Mayo
For centuries this was the site of elections, executions, markets, religious events, and the bullring.
The building in the southwest corner, now a music conservatory, was the old city hall.
Rogue Rojas Street is on the north side of the San Pablo Church. Walk it west to the old synagogue.
Sinagoga del Agua
The remains of a 14th-century Jewish synagogue were discovered during building demolition in 2007. Three years later, the restored Water Synagogue opened to the public. See the ritual bathing room of purification or Mikveh and the Women’s Gallery where women met during ceremonies and rituals.
There is evidence that Islamic Ubeda had a significant Jewish population living peacefully within the larger Muslim community.
Walk about 50 metres south to Calle Real, and north to the corner of Calle Juan Pasquau. Look up to the 17th-century tower, part of the former Palace of the Counts of Guadiana.
Palacio de los Condes de Guadiana
The tower was added to the 16th-century palace early in the 17th century to show its owner’s wealth to the public. Built in Spanish Renaissance style, the former palace is the majority of the spa-hotel Hotel MS Palacio de Ubeda.
Continue down Calle Real to Vela de los Cobos Palace opposite the plaza to the north of city hall.
Palacio Vela de los Cobos
Vandelvira designed this mid-16th-century Renaissance palace as well. The doorway is typical of the time period with two warriors and the family’s coat of arms.
The palace is a private home. Tours of its art collection and library are by appointment.
Walk south to return to Vazquez de Molina Square. The circular route is about 1.5 kilometres.
If you are interested in more artifacts, visit the Casa Museo Andalusí. This private museum, in a 16th-century house, has a large, diverse collection.
End your day in Ubeda with dinner at Restaurante-El-Abside in Hotel MS Palacio de Úbeda.
The city of Baeza, 9 kilometres to the west of Ubeda, showcases more stately architecture. Little is left of the Muslim town of Bayyasa which fell to the Christians in 1227.
In the 16th century, several wealthy families, rich from grain, cloth and leather production, spent some of their wealth building church and civic-related buildings. As a result, Baeza became an important religious and educational centre. Many of those buildings, which remain today, are built in the Renaissance style. They are protected as part of the UNESCO Heritage Site designation.
19th-century Plaza de la Constitución began as the city’s marketplace and site of the bullring. It is the heart of the modern city and lined with cafes and bars.
Baeza Walking Tour
Most of the UNESCO protected, historic buildings are along the old town’s narrow streets. The best place to begin a visit is Populo Square, just southwest of Constitution Square.
Plaza del Pópulo
The square was one of the main entry points through the city walls. Looking toward the twin gates, the Puerta de Jaén is on the left and the Arco de Villalar is on the right. The Jaen Gate was part of Muslim Bayyasa. The Villalar Arch was built in 1526 by King Carlos I.
The square is often called Plaza de los Leones for its central fountain, the Fountain of the Lions. It was part of the city’s water supply in the 16th century. The sculptures, four lions and a woman, may have been moved from the Roman city of Castulo.
The 16th-century buildings surrounding the square had both commercial and civic uses so residents could access many services in one spot. The building on the south side of the square houses the Oficina de Turismo. Built in early Renaissance style, it was originally the city’s courthouse.
The current courthouse occupies the Renaissance building on the east side of the plaza. The Antiqua Carniceria or Old Butchery was built close to the city gate because the government preferred the animals to be kept outside the city.
Climb the stairs to the left of the Tourism Office to Calle Conde Romanones and walk east to the Old University of Baeza.
Antigua Universidad de Baeza
The university was built at the request of the pope in the 16th century. It became a major Spanish cultural and spiritual centre prospering in the 16th and 17th centuries.
On the exterior of the university’s walls, note the different red inscriptions. Graduating students painted their initials on the walls to celebrate completion of their studies. The red paint was usually a mixture of bull’s blood and gun powder. They painted the initials of their first and last names plus the letter ‘V’ as a symbol of their “Victory”.
The university’s importance gradually decreased until it closed in the early 19th century. The building has housed a secondary school since 1875. Several areas of the school are open to the public.
Visit the beautiful Renaissance courtyard with its circular arches and the formal Parainfo Hall. See the classroom of D. Antonio Machado, a famous Spanish poet, who taught French grammar from 1912 to 1919.
From the school, continue east to the Church of Santa Cruz.
Iglesia de la Santa Cruz
This small church is one of the oldest in the province of Jaen, built in the 13th century after the Christian conquest. The late Romanesque-style exterior is very plain. Its simple interior is divided into three naves. Paintings from 15th and 16th centuries were discovered on several walls and under arches between the naves.
The Jabalquinto Palace is across from the church.
Palacio de Jabalquinto
The palace is part of the Baeza campus of the International University of Andalusia. The university offers postgraduate and specialty courses.
The front wall of the 15th-century Gothic palace is decorated with sculpted ribbons, pinnacles and the coats of arms of the owner.
Inside, rooms lead off from a central square courtyard with semi-circular arches and marble columns on each of its two levels. A beautiful Baroque staircase, on the courtyard’s left side, leads to the upper level walkway.
The university includes a beautiful private garden and a former seminary both to the south of the palace. The Seminario San Felipe Neri was built in the 17th century.
The south façade of the seminary faces Santa Maria Square.
Plaza de Santa Maria
As the historic heart of Baeza, this square is surrounded by many of the city’s important buildings. Its central fountain, Fuente de Santa Maria, was built to celebrate the completion of the city’s water supply in 1564.
The Baeza Cathedral is the main attraction of the square.
Catedral de Baeza
Construction began in the 13th century on the site of the city’s mosque which was destroyed by the crusaders. Built over 3 centuries, the cathedral is a combination of architectural styles.
The Renaissance facade facing Santa Maria Square and parts of the interior were designed by Andrés de Vandelvira. The easternmost, Gothic naves have pointed arches and columns with gargoyles at their tops. The Renaissance, western naves have circular arches. Their columns have elaborate tops decorated with leaves and scrolls.
Climb the cathedral’s tower for a great look over the city and out to the surrounding countryside. The base of the tower was part of the mosque’s 11th-century minaret.
The doorway on the west end of the cathedral, Puerta de la luna, has a beautiful 14th-century Rose Window above it. This is the tourist entrance.
Walk west on Carretera Canónigo Melgares Raya. Turn right onto Calle Santa Catalina which becomes Carretera San Gil. Walk north back to the stairs at the start of the tour. The full circular walk is about 700 metres.
For a longer scenic walk, instead of turning right onto Calle Santa Catalina, turn left. It becomes Carretera San Benito. At the “T” intersection, turn right onto Paseo del Obispo which becomes Paseo de las Murallas de Baeza. The Baeza Walls Walk follows the old city walls on the Alcazar Hill overlooking the Guadalquivir valley. There are a number of viewpoints.
The valley is filled with olive trees which are so important to the province of Jaen. The view stretches to the distant mountains of the province including the Sierra Mágina to the south and the Sierra de Cazorla to the east.
Continue along the walls travelling west then looping back to the east. The name changes to Paseo de Antonio Machado. Follow this back to Plaza del Pópulo. The full circle is about 1.7 kilometres.
End your day in Baeza with dinner at La Barberia.
On the next day, continue south to Jaén, the capital city of the province of the same name.
Jaén (the Capital City)
While not officially recognized by UNESCO, the historic core of Jaén has a number of notable 16th-century Renaissance buildings.
Unlike Ubeda and Baeza, more of the foundations of older buildings have been preserved in Jaen. Muslim Yayyan was an important city when conquered in 1246.
Jaén Walking Tour
The best place to begin a tour of Jaen is St. Mary Square, the centre of the historic old town.
City Hall (Ayuntamiento de Jaen) and the cathedral face each other across Plaza Santa Maria. The Jaen Cathedral is the highlight of a visit to the city.
Catedral de Jaén
A mosque occupied this site when Jaen was captured in 1246. It was converted to a Christian church but was damaged and rebuilt several times over the next 3 centuries.
The construction of today’s cathedral began in 1540. The Catedral de la Asunción was designed by Andrés de Vandelvira, who worked on it from 1550 to his death in 1575. Construction continued over the next 2 centuries involving several architects. Generally they respected the ideas of Vandelvira. While the sculptures on the exterior of the cathedral facing St. Mary Square appear more Baroque, the interior showcases Renaissance architecture with rounded arches, carved stone ceilings and circular domes.
There are 17 beautiful chapels around the cathedral’s perimeter built over the centuries in a number of styles. The Vault of the Canons under the sacristy houses a permanent exhibit of religious art. Climb the stairs from the room where the sacred vessels and vestments are kept, up to corridors along the south and west sides of the cathedral. The corridors give unique perspectives into the cathedral’s interior and out to the cityscape.
Exit the cathedral and walk southwest out of the square, following Carrera de Jesus Street to Plaza del Torreón del conde de Torralba, a short walk away. The tower and wall are part of the protective wall which ran from the castle at the top of the hill to enclose the town. The tower was restored in 1972.
Retrace your steps back to Plaza Santa Maria. Calle Muñoz Garnica begins at the northeast corner of the square. Andres de Vandelivra is buried in the Basilica de San Ildefonse, at the end of this street.
Return to the square and walk northwest to Maestra Street. The street is pedestrian-only for about 150 metres. Grab a coffee at one of its outdoor cafes. Visit the Oficina de Turismo de Jaén about 70 metres from St. Mary Square, for information about both Jaens, city and province.
Continue on Calle Maestra, as it becomes Calle Martínez Molina, for about 750 metres to the Villardompardo Palace Cultural Centre. Arab Baths, the Museum of Popular Arts and the International Museum of Naive Art are in this 16th-century Renaissance building.
Banos Arabes, Palacio de Villardompardo
The Arab Baths, in the basement of the building, were built in the 11th century and used through the 15th century. They were filled in by Conde de Villardompardo (Dom Fernando Torres) when he built his palace on top of them in the late 16th century.
The palace was used as a bank in the 17th and part of the 18th centuries. It became a hospice for women at the end of the 18th century. The baths were discovered when the hospice was moved to another location in the early 20th century.
The baths were protected as a historic place in the 1930’s and restored in the 1980’s. Archaeological evidence suggests there were 2 cold rooms, a warm room and a hot room. The skylights brought natural light and fresh air into the rooms.
Walk the glass walkway covering part of a roman street discovered adjacent to the baths. A brief film is available to view giving more information on the baths.
The Museo de Artes y Costumes Populares exhibits artifacts and a number of photographs of pre-industrial Jaen.
The Museo Internacional de Arte Naif began with the donation of the private collection of artist Manuel Moral. His donation included Spanish and international art as well as some of his personal work.
Walk northwest on Calle los Uribes which continues northwest onto Calle Santo Domingo Bajo. Turn right onto Plaza San Juan de Dios and follow it for about 30 metres to the 16th-century former Hospital of Saint John of God.
Hospital de San Juan de Dios
In 1619, a hospital was donated to the Order of Saint John of God. The hospital complex was the 16th-century building itself, two courtyards and a church. It operated as a hospital until 1973 when it was abandoned.
Rescued in 1992 by the province, it houses the Institute for Giennesse Studies and the provincial archives.
The short Jaen walk ends here. It is about one kilometre back to St. Mary Square.
For a panoramic view of the Jaen, go to the top of Santa Catalina Hill high above the city.
If you don’t have a vehicle to drive to the top, taxis are available from the city, or you can walk up.
To walk from the former Hospital of Saint John of God return to the corner of Calle Santo Domingo Bajo. Turn right and follow Calle Arquillos as it becomes Calle Empedrada de la Magdalena for about 1 kilometre. Turn left onto Calle Juanito el Practicante which becomes Calle Santísima Trinidad following it as it turns left for a total walk of about 250 metres. The street ends at Carretera de Circunvalación. Turn right and walk about 80 metres to the road up the hill. Either walk the road to the top or find the path which follows the old city walls, Muralla de Jaén, as a short but more difficult route to the top. The entire walk from the hospital to the top is about 3.2 kilometres.
At the top explore Santa Catalina Castle.
Castillo de Santa Catalina
The view across the Guadalquivir Valley is spectacular either from the castle walls or by the huge cross on the east end of the ridge. Fernando III placed a cross at the edge of the ridge when he took control of the city in 1246.
Three separate fortresses occupied the hilltop; the Alcazar Viejo or Old Fortress built by King Alhamar, the Abrehui Castle and the Alcazar Nuevo. Learn the role of the hilltop fortresses and the history of Jaen at the castle’s visitor centre.
All that remains of these fortresses is the ruins of the Alcazar Nuevo, today the Santa Catalina Castle. Built by Fernando III in the 13th century, the castle replaced the bulk of the Muslim fortress captured from King Alhamar. It played a role in the battles between the Moors and Christians as it sat along the border between the two. During the Napoleonic War, the castle was an important base for Napoleon’s troops.
The Jaen Parador is beside the castle.
Parador de Jaén
In the 1960’s the Old Fortress and the Abrehui Castle were demolished. The Jaen Parador was built in their place.
See the beautiful ceilings in the main reception area and dining room. The dining room and bar welcome everyone, not just hotel guests.
End your day in Jaen with dinner at the Jaen Parador. Relax and enjoy the view from the main dining room looking out over the city and the countryside.
Cuisine in Jaen
Discover the rich gastronomy of Jaen province. The high quality, local olive oil is used in the preparation of exceptional cold soups, salad dishes and much more. For entrees, enjoy various meat and fish dishes, such as deer, lamb, trout and sardines.
For a traditional Jaen dessert try Spanish bread pudding, a caramelized, toasted, brioche bread. When you are in Baeza, try the traditional pastry, the virolos de Baeza.
Olive Oil Tourism
The Spanish province of Jaén produces an amazing 20% of the world’s olive oil. More than 60 million olive trees grow in the province, dominating the landscape.
The “picual” olive variety is the most common in the region. The outstanding quality of the extra virgin olive oil produced here enhances the cuisine of the region.
Visit Oleicola San Francisco, located just outside Baeza. Enjoy a tour of this modern oil mill to discover how farmers harvest olives and create the best olive oils in the world. Harvest occurs between October and January.
What is the best time to visit the province of Jaen?
The best time to visit Jaen is in the spring and autumn. The weather is very good in these seasons. Summers are very hot and winters quite cold.
Transportation – How do I get to Ubeda, Baeza, Jaen?
By Trains: Trains leave from Seville or Madrid to Jaen. Trains also arrive at the Linares-Baeza station. From this station there are bus connections to Ubeda and Baeza.
By Bus: There are frequent buses between the three cities of Baeza, Ubeda and Jaen.
Baeza to Ubeda (9 km) is a 15 minute ride.
Baeza to Jaen takes from 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Ubeda to Jaen is between 1 hour to 1¼ hours.
The province of Jaen has 4 Natural Parks.
The most famous and largest is the Sierras of Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas. The Southern Woodlands Trail is southern Europe’s longest circular hiking route, a distance of 478 kilometres. For those seeking thrills, these mountains have a number of launch sites for paragliders.
The three other natural parks are Sierra Magina, Sierra de Andujar and Despenaperros. At all four natural parks, enjoy activities such as hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing and more.
We were guests of the Andalucia Tourism Board.
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