Entering from the Guadalquivir, going up both sides of the Rio Grande, the stone sentinel has stood watch over us since the 15th century, impassive. Witness to departures and arrivals, the new castle of Los Guzmanes towers over the top of the ravine of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, in the centre of the old town, its upper quarter.
It is only fair to insist on the extraordinary location of this millenary city. Its placid and mild winters, its springs full of joy and the mauve colour of its summer sunsets make this enclave a genuine place in the province of Cadiz.
From the time of the Templo del Lucero until today in the morning, Sanlúcar de Barrameda has stood facing west. Everything came from there, from overseas, from old Europe, from the east and the west. Welcomes and farewells have been seen in the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda “de toda la vida De Dios” and which, due to the vicissitudes of destiny, the life of the river and the width of the sandy beaches, is now the nerve centre of the city in the current Plaza del Cabildo, the tapas centre and capital of national gastronomy par excellence.
Sanlúcar de Barrameda, with its name and surname, is the seat of the Casa Guzmana and the duchy of Medinasidonia. In its ducal palace we have the best example of the importance of Sanlúcar for such an illustrious lineage, making it the capital of its States, definitively established since the 16th century in this privileged corner. With the presence
of the Castillo de Santiago guaranteed the security and defence that were so necessary in those times. Alonsos, Enriques, Juanes, Gaspares and Leonores. Good for the feat of the first of them all in Tarifa, which earned them this land as a Lordship. And an Isabella to whom we have so much to thank for, who knew how to gather the old papers of the House to end up creating the most important private archive in Europe and where a large part of the History of the world sleeps.
Sanlúcar is the starting point and the end of the journey. It is the crossroads of History, Art and Talent. It is where the “palos” of Flamenco and “Tauromagia” meet on the strings of a guitar. It is a glass of manzanilla in the evening as the old people used to do, they are the ones who know how, when and how much. It is the smell of early morning “puchero” coffee and the “tostá de pringrá” of the meal “the day before”. It is the veranillo of the stew, and talking alone in the street in a loud voice. It is welcoming the stranger when he arrives because we have been receiving people from the ends of the earth for centuries and it comes from the depths of our memory.
It is to have the gift of the tardeo and the encarte; that is how they know the good things in life. It is the white gold of the salt flats and the fine sands of the Venerable Land. It’s the hands that run aground and the back that is broken. It is necessity and creativity that fused in our kitchens; women of the Colony and men of the vineyard are the basis of the avant-garde of our gastronomy so appreciated today. But it all comes from necessity and the luck of having a navazo or a farmyard on the beach. And the expression “having no choice”, because it is from the need for “little for many” that creativity is born.
Land of sailors and sailors, sailors and merchants. It is the melancholy of those who leave and do not return and the joy and relief of those who return after three years sailing westwards until they reach the port of Barrameda, sailing around the world for the first time in history. He is witness to the greatest maritime feat of all time. Like going to the moon and back. It is soon said. But it is written, signed and sealed just as Juan Sebastián Elcano described it in front of the beach of Bajo de Guía without even having set foot on land. Primus circumdedisti me.
All these things are what make us up. We are made of moments and traditions. The Castle of Santiago is a witness that continues to shout out our History because it is engraved on its walls. It is not floating on the ocean breeze, but forms part of the heritage that has survived destruction, ignorance, detachment and neglect. It is up to us to steer a steady course and not allow it to drift away into the mists of time.