About La Casa Del Califa
- History, ethos and a little bit about us
The principal Califa building dates from 1527 and incorporates parts from the 10th.C. The eleven buildings that make up the Califa complex range from the Islamic era of Vejer to the present day.
History of La Casa del Califa
The site of La Casa del Califa has been strategic in history for many reasons; it overlooks the principal medieval access to the town; the properties face the Plaza de España, Vejer’s largest flat open space ideal for markets & cultural events; the house is very close to Vejer’s principal gateway (Arco de la Villa) and the original road into Vejer (its origins may be Roman or even Phoenician) arrives at the back door of the property.
The historic SW façade dates from c.1600
The earliest known history of this location goes back to when the ‘Moors’ were the dominant culture in Vejer between 711 and 1264 and continued to play an important part in Vejer’s history until the late 1400’s. The ‘Aljibe’ at the back of the restaurant is a 10th-11th.C water cistern and the room directly above it (the Sala del Nogal) is contemporary to this era too.
The current principal house was erected by the local diocese in the late 15th C. & was opened in 1527 as a grain store (Cilla), while the the upper levels (the top floor is an addition from the 1960’s) were residential and administrative quarters. Goods carried up the valley or from the barges that ferried the river Barbate would all pass through this building to be weighed, measured & taxed before going to market or being placed in storage. The building was used for this purpose up until the mid-1770’s when increasing humidity forced the Diocese to build a second ‘Cilla’ on Vejer’s Calla Sagasta.
The main façade overlooking the Plaza dates from the 17th C. but the building possibly suffered damage during the earthquake of 1775 and many ornamental features have been lost. In the 1950’s, a large window in the façade at street level was replaced by the door that is the current entrance into the Magistrates office who are tenants of the Casa del Califa. The Nationalist forces in the 1930’s used the house as stables for their horses and billeting for their soldiers.
Regli in what is now room 10, James in Marrakesh 2001, head of an ancient cistern possibly 13th.C.
The other properties that make up the hotel were undoubtedly residential & stabling quarters all varying from different ages. The service area (not open to the public) has rooms that are less than 1,80m. high indicating use by servants of the principal building. The Patio de los Jazmines was a stable (the stairs leading to it were a ramp until a few years ago & the large double doors indicate that use). All the rooms from 1 to 7 are located around the courtyard of a 17th.C building in such bad repair it was demolished to make way for the rooms. The courtyard retains the exact same orientation & size as the original one. Three water cisterns were discovered here with possibly the oldest being 15th. Century.
Hotel façades 1989 & 1990, Palmeras del Califa rear façade 1999
The origins of the hotel are in Plaza de España 17 where James Stuart lived from 1989 to 2007. Originally James rented out rooms in his house in an era where tourists were an unusual site on Vejer's quiet streets. By 1999 James had bought two neighbouring houses & the project was drawn up to convert the 3 houses into a small hotel. In 2001 James opened the hotel with his business partner Regli Alvarez with 8 rooms and a large sun terrace. In 2002 James & Regli with support from the late James Whaley (of the famous Hotel Hurricane in Tarifa) opened the Jardín del Califa restaurant and 6 more rooms. In 2007 the Califa bought two more buildings which now incorporate the Teteria del Califa. In 2010 the Palmeras del Califa (originally a restoration project and home of the McDonough family) was incorporated in to the business. By 2018 the Califa Group had full ownership of all the buildings within the Califa complex.
The union of the eleven houses that make up the Califa complex including Las Palmeras (four in the Plaza, six in Calle Cilla Vieja and one on Calle Triperia) are a good example of changing structures & the adaptability of Vejers’ houses where ‘seamless’ unions are easily made between different dwellings. In the whole complex seven cisterns (wells) have been found (two of them still in use), there are nine entries on four different streets, 16 different stairways, 90 windows, 70 doors (excluding internal room doors), six courtyards & a cave.
The Califa employs predominantly locals, the majority are women, we use solar power for our hot water and our ‘green’ credentials have been in place for well over a decade. In our well known restaurant the ‘Jardin del Califa’ up to 50% of our vegetables are organic as is all our beef, chicken, sugar and flour. We have an egalitarian approach to life and we think smiling is always the best option.
The business was founded by Regli Álvarez a tourism graduate from Vejer and James Stuart a traveller and surfer who came to Vejer in 1988. The original business was a successful destination management company specialising in adventure holidays for the northern european and U.S. market. Between them they have created a unique and interesting space where maximum respect has been laid to the original structures combined with a blend of quality antiques from Andalucía and furniture and artefacts from the Middle East and North Africa. The Califa is managed by a small team who have worked together for over 20 years.
James's VW Beetle arrives in Vejer, 1988