12 Spanish castles in dialogue with the sea: from Salobreña to Monterreal with a stop at Peñíscola

They protected ships in search of a safe landing; they prevented hostile landings and watering places; they controlled the territory and guarded the frontiers. Of course, the castles by the sea gave the alarm signal by sounding the alarm bell and smoke, sheltering the fishing population. They were also used as presidios. But, above all, these fortresses manifested, with their defensive elements, an undoubted power that today takes us back to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. These fortresses are now used to look out over the sea, rather than to defend against possible dangers.

These dozen Spanish fortresses, which can be replicated in the sand with a bucket and spade, justify the trip, taking advantage of the winter diaphanousness that provides the best photographs.

The castle of Salobreña is part of the visual memory of any traveller who comes to the Costa Tropical of Granada. Arriving from Motril, you can see the contrast between the fertile plain – once teeming with sugar cane – and the intimate Moorish village of Salobreña, in an undefined squeeze of white houses under the formidable castle-fortress, a strategic control point in North Africa. It was first mentioned in 913 (1,111 years ago), and during its golden age, between the 13th and 15th centuries, it provided rest and relaxation for the sultans. It was also a gilded cage for uncomfortable members of the Nasrid royal family.

The Pontevedra city of Baiona is located at the head of a bay marked by the castle of Monterreal, whose structure fits like a glove – like a shoe’s tongue, according to a 17th century chronicler – to the peninsula on which Monte Boi rests. This is the most important fortress erected on the southern coast of Galicia. “The enclave can be surrounded outside the walls, making the traveller feel like an invader or a tourist; or along the ramparts that run along the battlements, like an inhabitant of Monterreal”, says Anxo Rodríguez Lemos, doctor in History and chronicler of the town of Baiona. We choose the latter itinerary for the visit.

The evocation is triggered by the mere mention of Benedict XIII, Pope Luna. In the midst of the Western Schism (1378-1417) he maintained his legitimacy from the castle of Peñíscola with an Aragonese stubbornness as forceful as the tombolo in Castellón where he lived until he died at the age of 95. After swallowing up a Muslim citadel, this was the last castle to be erected by the Order of the Temple (1307), so much in love with mystery and the cabala. This entire 230-metre perimeter is shrouded in legend. Like almost everything at sea. In 1319 it passed into the hands of the Order of Montesa, who ceded it to the Supreme Pontiff; and from 1411 to 1423, the fortification housed one of the three papal seats in history, the others being Rome and Avignon.

When the castle of Santiago was erected at the end of the 15th century on a natural ravine in the upper quarter of Sanlúcar de Barrameda (Cádiz), the Guadalquivir flowed much closer than it does today. Its towers were even more imposing, and at its feet ships were being built in the shipyards, amidst the mercantile bustle – the clattering, shouting of vendors, braying, tinkling of forges – of the Indies Fleet, all of which led the second Duke of Medina Sidonia to build this fortress to extend his dominions over the mouth of the river.

The castle of Santa Cruz, in Oleiros (A Coruña), the castle of Santa Bárbara in Alicante, the hill of San Cristóbal in Almería, the castle of Bellver in Mallorca, the castle of Sohair in Fuengirola, the castle of Tamarit in Tarragona, the castle of Gibralfaro in Málaga, Tossa de mar in Girona … all of them are marvellous historical architectures of Spain.


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Wednesday Mar 27 1:57 pm

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