The Alcazar of Jerez de la Frontera is a Moorish palace built in the 11th century. It’s a very nice palace, complete with a vaulted mosque, a system of wells, elaborate gardens filled with fragrant trees and even a multi-room hamam for performing ablutions in style. But it wasn’t until this century that the camera obscura was put in place.
Taking advantage of the fact that the alcazar was built on the highest point in the ancient city, and that the tower is the highest point of the palace, a system comprised of two lenses and a large periscope mirror was installed on the very top of the tower. This optical contraption is controlled from below by a pair of long wooden-handled levers, to cast live images of the surrounding town onto a large parabolic table around which people gather.
In a modern age where the resolution and saturation of the images we see on our myriad screens are constantly questioned and evaluated, the lenses’ projected picture on the table before the viewer is dazzlingly sharp. The mirror swivels around and zooms in on impossibly small details of the buildings of historic Jerez, the sprawling sherry warehouses and the fields beyond. Birds fly past, cars rush by, and the effect is thrilling, like the gods atop Olympus watching the minutiae of their human world below in the surface of a birdbath.
Know Before You Go
The guide and lens-operator spoke brilliant English and used the Camera Obscura not only to show the incredible architecture, but also to discuss a little bit about the history of the development of Jerez. The tour costs a couple euros supplemented onto the normal price of admission to the palace grounds, and is worth every penny. Go on a particularly bright and sunny day for the best effect.