The white house facades are a stark contrast to the sea of olive groves that surround them. They are grouped in the old town which shows the marks of the many centuries that the Córdoban town has enjoyed. During the 17th and 18th centuries, its streets experienced an artistic explosion of religious works which fixed the name of Priego for all posterity.
The parish of Ntra Sra de la Asunsión (Our Lady of the Assumption), built in Mudejar gothic style and finished off with a solid tower, together with its small chapels is the main religious architectural reference for the town. This intervention would signal the arrival of Francisco Hurtado Izquierdo (Lucena, 1669), a prestigious architect, who would go on to remodel a great number of buildings. This set in motion a creative whirlwind not only of his own making, but that of his students and would become known as the Priego school. The artists of the time were given a blank canvas on which they could develop their technique which led to an ebullient style and form of Baroque. The old chapels were enlarged, the ceilings raised and retablos began to be added, converting them into vibrant places of worship. The play of light and curves in local churches had come to stay.
PLACES OF WORSHIP. The creative boost that Hurtado Izquierdo had given Priego would be continued by the Sánchez de Rueda brothers, Jerónimo (Granada, 1670) and Teodosio (Granada, 1676). The story grew in stages with Juan de Díos Santaella (Priego, 1718), Francisco Javier Pedrajas (Priego, 1736) and Remigio de Marmol (Alcalá la Real, 1758). The last would bring to fruition the great civic monuments such as the Fuente del Rey. The fertile artistic environment that Priego de Córdoba gave these artists allowed them to provide us with the cornucopia of styles that leap out from every church.
Its streets are an explosion of religious art.
Even before entering any of the churches, what will astound the visitor is that eight great masterpieces are clustered together in such a small area. You can marvel at the great heights that Priego must have reached during this period and how it must have astounded the inhabitants to see their beloved town grow so fast. There is barely 460 metres between the parish of the Assumption and the Iglesia del Carmen situated at either end of the old town. Between them are six churches crammed into this tiny space that can only but increase the delight of the visitor.
Two of the first renovations were undertaken in the San Juan de Díos and San Pedro churches, whose respective plans are a single nave and Latin cross. These form part of the early part of the Priego School, marked by their straight lines but also giving an inkling of the exotic baroque style to come.
Many of the great works that we can see today were created during the frenetic activity of the first decades of the 18th century. The renovation of the Iglesia de la Aurora (starting in 1711), San Franciso (1712), Church of the Assumption (1743) and finally Las Mercedes (1780) and el Carmen (1784). These works continued for many years up until the beginning of the next century.
Long naves, ornate altar pieces, garlanded cupolas and intricate plasterwork are the common elements you meet at every turn, when crossing the threshold of these various churches. In every chapel, be it great or small, you can find religious imagery, brought to life by figures of renown such as Alonso de Mena, Pablo de Rojas, José de Mora or José Risueño.
SANCTUARY. Our individual journey to understand Priego de Córdoba, by looking at just a fragment of its rich history through the microscope of the Baroque, must culminate in the very outskirts of the alleyways of the old town. This is where we come across a most splendid cupola. Set to one side of the central nave of the church of the Assumption, built at the beginning of the 16th century, here we find the unique octagonal form of the sanctuary.
Its elaborate decoration, a thousand and one elements bathed in light from the eight great windows, was created by the Prieguensan Francisco Javier Pedraja, in 1784. The space is decorated with exuberant ornate mouldings from the ground up to the tip of the cupola, enveloping the visitor in a panoramic baroque fantasy.
Only the peel of bells in the great bell tower will awake you from your reverie. Retrace your steps that lead you out into the streets of Priego de Córdoba for now you will see the town in a completely different light. You have discovered a jewel amongst a sea of olive groves, the beating heat of Andalusian baroque.