Along with Ronda, this old Arab town is a highlight of the Pueblos Blancos and the center of the best inns along the route. Now a National Historic Monument, Arcos de la Frontera was built in the form of an amphitheater. The major attraction here is the village itself. Wander at leisure and don't worry about skipping a particular monument.
Once under the control of the Caliphate of Córdoba, Arco's period of glory came to an end when the kingdom collapsed in the 11th century. Arcos fell to Seville. By 1264, the Catholic troops had moved in, signaling the end of Muslim rule forever. Nearly all that interests the casual visitor will be found in the elevated Medina (Old Town), towering over the flatlands. The Old Town is huddled against the crenellated castle walls. You park your car below and walk up until you reach the site built on a crag overlooking a loop in the Guadalete River.
Pick up a map at the Tourist Office (tel. 95-670-22-64; www.ayuntamientoarcos.org), at the main square, Plaza del Cabildo. Hours are May to October Monday to Friday 10am to 2:30pm and 5 to 8pm, Saturday 10:30am to 1:30pm and 5 to 7pm, and Sunday 10:30am to 1:30pm; off season Monday to Friday 10:30am to 2:30pm and 4 to 7pm, Saturday 10:30am to 1:30pm and 4 to 6pm, and Sunday 1:30am to 1:30pm. Start your visit at the Balcon de Arcos, at the same square. Don't miss the view from this rectangular esplanade overhanging a deep river cleft. You can see a Moorish castle, but it's privately owned and not open to the public. The main church on this square is Iglesia de Santa María, constructed in 1732 in a blend of Renaissance, Gothic, and baroque styles. Its western facade, in the Plateresque style, is its most stunning achievement. The interior is a mix of many styles -- Plateresque, Gothic, Mudéjar, and baroque. Look for the beautiful star-vaulting and a late Renaissance altarpiece. Check with the tourist office to see when it will reopen after renovations.
You can head down the main street out of Plaza del Cabildo to Iglesia de San Pedro, with its baroque bell tower. It is on the other side of the cliff and approached through a charming maze of narrow alleys evocative of Tangier. You can climb the tower, but there are few guardrails. It's not for those with vertigo. Paintings here include Dolorosa by Pacheco, the tutor of the great Velázquez, and works by Zurbarán and Ribera. It's open Monday to Friday 10:30am to 2pm and 5 to 7pm, Saturday 10am to 2pm. Admission is 1€ ($1.60).
Another panoramic lookout point is Mirador de Abades, at the end of Calle Abades.
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