29 September 2015

Spain: Chipiona's religion, gorgeous beaches and fish dinners

Chipiona (pop 18,000) is a Spanish village in the southern province of Cádiz, near the cities of Cádiz, Jerez and not far from Seville. The town had a fortress that had belonged to the Ponce de León family. In 1251 Chipiona was reconquered by King Fernando III who soon rebuilt the old fortress into a more modern structure. Over time, the fortress became a monastery for different Catholic orders.

The town's famous statue of the Virgin was possibly commissioned by St Augustine and was possibly brought by Saint Cyprian during an invasion of the Vandals into Spain. The statue was placed in Chipiona and was venerated in the local monastery by the Augustinians. Times were good. The Virgin enjoyed a peaceful life in her Augustinian hermitage for three centuries; then it was time to flee again. This time the invaders were Muslim Saracens and she went under ground. The monks hid her in an underground cistern next to a fig tree where she remained for 500 years.

Only in the C13th did Our Lady finally reveal where the precious treasure was to be found. Rediscovery of the statue, chalice and lamp encouraged new devotion to Our Lady of Rule and the first known miracles were being recorded by 1330. Pilgrims flocked to see her from all across the country. The Black Madonna apparently freed prisoners, saved sailors from shipwrecks, prevented children from drowning in wells and healed the sick.

Although devotion to Our Lady of Rule reached its peak in the C18th, the monastery and sanctuary fell somewhat into decline and were not restored until the middle C19th. A small chapel near the great sanctuary marks the place where Our Lady of Regla was found centuries ago, and the cistern and fig tree are still looked after carefully.

Today 8th of September is still celebrated each year as the feast day of Our Lady of Rule, the birthday of the Virgin. Festivities begin with a vigil the night before, followed by fireworks, processions and wine.

 Our Lady of Rule Sanctuary

Our Lady of Rule statue

Our Lady of Rule's influence lasted! Today Chipiona is still only a small seafaring town on the Atlantic coast, yet it is boxing above its weight. The key facilities still have a connection to the sea and are mostly found close to the beaches. The port, for example, is located in the west of the town and has moorings for hire, as well as a sailing school. The long stretches of white sandy beaches are very attractive, and full of Seville-ites topping up their city tans.

Apparently there was an old Roman lighthouse situated near the mouth of the River Guadalquivir, built by Quinto Sevilius, 40 years before Christ. It was located on Punta del Perro, a projection of land into the Atlantic Ocean, only 6 kilometres south-west of the river mouth. Even that far back in history, the lighthouse was built to warn ships of the large rock named Piedra de Salmedina. So why did ships approach the river? Because it led to the important centre of Seville.

Chipiona lighthouse, 69 ms tall 
set right on the beautiful beach
Note the keeper's house and facilities, at base of lighthouse tower

Modern Chipiona’s lighthouse stands on the exact spot where the Roman lighthouse stood. It was designed by Jaime Font and built between 1863-7, still with the goal of warning ships away from a large dangerous rock. The only time the light was turned off since the 1860s was during the years of the Spanish Civil War.

The round cut stone tower with lantern and gallery on top is mounted on a 4-storey square stone base. As you can see in the photos, the tower rises from the front of a 2-storey keeper's house. The lighthouse itself is unpainted; the keeper's house is partially painted white. The lighthouse is 69 metres high and there are 344 steps to climb to reach the top. Although the beacon still has a formal role, the lighthouse is open to visitors; those who climb all the steps will be rewarded with magnificent views stretching for 40 ks on clear days. All of Chipiona's architectural treasures, eg the cloister of the Sanctuary and the Cuzmán el Bueno Castle, can be beautifully photographed from the top.

But be warned: wear sensible shoes! This is the tallest lighthouse in Spain and it is claimed to be the third tallest in all of Europe.

On the map of the Costa de la Luz, in the very south of Spain, press to identify Cadiz and Seville. Chipiona is located 35 kilometres from Cádiz on the coast, and 150 kilometres from Seville.

Fishing is the oldest trade in Chipiona; the citizens have been making a living from the sea for a very long time. The industry in this town is is characterised by its traditional fish traps, expertly built stone walls that begin at the coast and become higher as they stretch out to sea. The fish are trapped here by the tide. 

The city's own home page says Chipiona produces a wide variety of products, from fish and crustaceans to fruit and vegetables. Shrimps are farmed in the rivers and the area yields huge white claw crabs. Chipiona is famous for its lobsters and nowhere in Spain will you find lobsters quite like here! At the seafront, particularly during the summer months, the bars and Mediterranean seafood restaurants are very popular. The main agricultural activities in the region are tomatoes and wine growing. Since spouse and I don’t eat meat, we can assure you we tested the fish meals many times, just to be certain. They are very very good!

This is my type of coastal city: clean beaches, seafood, wine, fruit, vegetables, preserved medieval architecture, religious parades and sea views, not necessarily in that order.


Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, I wonder if there are any traces of the old Roman lighthouse? The new one certainly is a handsome structure. I see nothing to suggest scale in the Lady of Rule statue, so have no idea how large it is. The way it is set into its base reminds me of many Chinese statues of Guan Yin.

Joe said...

Castillo de Tarifa aka Castillo Guzmán el Bueno is cool. The king of Castile gave it to Alonso Pérez de Guzmán to defend it in c1300. It is well worth having a look at the new Cadiz and the New World Museum, inside the old castle.

Hels said...


Unfortunately I have completely forgotten the details of the statue, and for some reason I don't have any of my old notes. What we can say is that normally a Black Madonna would be 12th or 13th century and would be 70 centimeters in height. So it seems improbable to me that this statue was commissioned by Augustine (354-430) himself. Nonetheless there is something compelling and Byzantish about most Black Madonnas.

Hels said...


thanks for reminding me... here is a super photo of the castle:

The Chipiona Castle must have originally been very solid and well fortified, even more so because of the two high, protective towers. But I imagine the gates, arches and ramparts have been modernised over the centuries and so no-one would know what was original any longer.