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Castles of Spain: IV

Updated on July 4, 2012

Spanish Castles

A castle used for the tribunals of the Inquisition, a castle with a courtyard named after the legend of 100 virgins paid every year in tribute; and a castle pivotal in the Spanish Civil War and the haunting death of a colonel's son. These stories and more can be found on this page of Spain's incredible castles. Enjoy!

The castles covered on this page are: Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (Alcázar of the Christian Monarchs), Alcázares Reales de Sevilla (Royal Alcázar of Seville), Coca Castle, Alcázar of Toledo, Peñafiel Castle, Ponferrada Castle, and Monterreal Castle (Monte Real).

If you haven't yet, visit the Castles of Spain, then Castles of Spain II and Castles of Spain III.

Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (Castle of the Christian Monarchs)

Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (Castle of the Christian Monarchs)
Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (Castle of the Christian Monarchs)

Located in Córdoba, Andalucia, Spain, the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos was built by order of Alfonso XI of Castile in 1386, on the site of an old fortress. The Alcázar was built by a Christian monarch, but in the Mudéjar style, which gives it the Islamic look.

A Visigoth fortress originally stood here which was seized by the Umayyad Dynasty, and became the palace of And ar-Rahman I and his successors. The Moors built the beautiful gardens and baths, and they also built the largest library in the West. In 1236, the Alcázar was taken by Christian forces in the Reconquista(Reconquering). Additional defenses and the main tower, known as the "Inquisition Tower" were built during the civil war between Henry IV of Castile and the forces of his teenage, half-brother Alfonso.

Isabella and Ferdinand II made the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos one of their residences, and also used the Alcázar as one of the first permanent tribunals for the Spanish Inquisition. The royal couple converted parts of this grand Alcázar into chambers of torture.

In 1810, Napoleon Bonaparte used the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos as a garrison. The Alcázar was later turned into a prison. Finally, in the 1950s the Spanish government saw the potential of the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, and opened it to the public as an architectural wonder and national monument.

Large photo of Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos courtesy of Tim Parker. Smaller hyperlinked photos courtesy of Hameryko. All used under CC license.

Alcázares Reales de Sevilla (Royal Alcázar of Seville)

Alcázares Reales de Sevilla (Royal  Alcázar of Seville)
Alcázares Reales de Sevilla (Royal Alcázar of Seville)

Located in Seville, Spain, the Alcázar of Seville is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was once a Moorish palace. While their was at one time a 5th century Christian basilica here, the first palace was built by the Almorhades, but the palace was heavily damaged in the Reconquista. In the 1360's, Peter of Castile salvaged what he could, and employed the remaining Moors to rebuild the alcázar in the Mudéjar style. The upper level of the alcázar was begun by King Charles V in 1540 and not complete until 1572.

The Royal Alcázar of Seville became the home of King Peter I of Castile and his mistress, Maria de Padilla (Peter had his wife imprisoned and murdered). Peter is also known as Peter the Cruel by some and Peter the Lawful by others. Peter seemed to not be particularly daring, and had a reputation for ordering a series of murders, even that of Suero, the Archbishop of Santiago, and the dean, Peralvarez. Those who call him the Lawful do so because they say Peter only killed those who did not obey the law or respect the rights of others.

The Patio de las Doncellas (the Courtyard of the Maidens) was built for Peter I of Castile with inscriptions proclaiming him Sultan. A large reflecting pool is centered in the courtyard, with sunken gardens on either side, and grand rooms beyond. The courtyard was so named because of the legend of the Moors demand for 100 Christian virgins every year as tribute.

Los Baños de Doña María de Padilla (the Bath of Lady María de Padilla) is the name given to the beautiful underground rainwater tank area. Considered a symbol of purity, there is a story in which Peter I of Castile was so taken with María de Padilla that he had her husband killed so he could pursue her. María poured hot oil over her face to disfigure herself to stop Peter's advances. However, she married Peter I of Castile in secret in 1353.

The Salón de Embajadores (Ambassador's Hall) is the room used for affairs of the state with many of it's original elements, some walls dating back to the 11th century. The room is built similar to an Islamic mausoleum with horseshoe arches and geometric motifs, and a magnificent gilded dome.

Large photo of Alcázar of Seville courtesy of Daniel Csorfoly. Smaller hyperlinked photos courtesy of Andrea Kirkby, Alex Steffler, and Felix Caballero Cañadas, under CC license.

Coca Castle

Coca Castle
Coca Castle

Located in Coca, Segovia, Spain, Coca Castle was once called Cauca Castle, and was built in the 15th century by order of Archbishop Don Alonso de Fonseca as a home and refuge, since he was not always a popular figure. The castle was built in the Mudejar style using bricks.

Coca Castle has an enormous moat around it that made the castle difficult for those wishing to besiege it. In 1505, the defenses of the castle were increased by Antonio de Fonesca. These defenses along with the deep moat have kept the castle safe from attack until Napoleon successfully took the castle in the 1800's.

Coca Castle was once much more ornate than what is seen now, but the beautiful style in which the castle was built is still evident. Today, Coca Castle is used as a Forestry School. Coca Castle was also portrayed as Camelot in the 1967 film Camelot.

Large photo of Coca Castle above courtesy of elarequi61 . Smaller hyperlinked photos courtesy of albtotxo and Harmonia Amanda under a CC license.

Alcázar of Toledo

Alcázar of Toledo
Alcázar of Toledo

Located in Toledo, Spain, the Alcázar of Toledo is a restored 3rd century Roman Palace. The Alcázar was rebuilt under the rule of Alfonso VI and Alfonso X the Wise, giving the fortress a square floor and towers at each angle. The Alcázar of Toledo was rebuilt again by Charles V. The different facades of the Alcázar represent several different architectural styles.

The most famous story of the Alcázar of Toledo is of its use as a holdout in the Spanish Civil War in 1936 by Col. Jose Moscardo and his troops, who took refuge inside the Alcázar along with them women and children. The Alcázar of Toledo and its inhabitants had not long been in the Alcázar when the phone rang. The Colonel was informed that his 16 year old son had been captured, and would be shot if they did not give up the Alcázar in 10 minutes. Col. Moscardo spoke to his son, saying to him, "Commend your soul to God and die like a patriot, shouting 'Long live Christ King' and 'Long live Spain.'" "That, I can do", answered his brave son. He was later shot in the head. The Alcázar of Toledo along with the Colonel held out until Franco's troops arrived to relieve them. Colonel Moscardo wore a black cloak over his uniform in mourning for his son until the day he died.

The Alcázar of Toledo suffered much damage during the bombardments, but has been restored and now houses the Spanish Military Museum and a Museum of Knives and Swords, and the Castilla-La Mancha Regional Library. The rooms where Col. Moscardo, his troops, and the refugees stayed were kept in their damaged condition, along with the telephone the Colonel answered and heard of the cowardly act that took the life of his son.

The large photo of the Alcázar of Toledo courtesy of R. Duran. The smaller hyperlinked photos courtesy of Ana Aranguren and Diliff.

Peñafiel Castle

Peñafiel Castle
Peñafiel Castle

Located overlooking the village of Peñafiel in Valladolid, Spain, Peñafiel Castle sits on the site of an old fortress that dated as far back as the 9th century. This fortress was conquered by Count Sancho Garcia stating, "This will be Castile's Faithful Rock", hence the name Peñafiel, which is derived from the Latin: Pinna Fidelis (the Loyal or Faithful Rock).

The unusual shape of the castle gives it the nickname "gran buque" meaning "great ship". The shape of the hilltop defined the peculiar ship-like shape of the castle. The castle has an outer curtain wall which encloses an inner wall with several towers, all of which were built in the 13th and 14th centuries. The central Keep is a 15th century structure. Much of the castle seen today is because of the building projects and restorations of Don Juan Manuel, a very wealthy man who became the Duke of Peñafiel.

The town of Peñafiel has many underground caverns that hold the various wines of the area. The chimney vents can be seen throughout the Peñafiel Castle grounds and outside the town. These vents were for ventilation and escaping gases brought about by the fermentation. Today, the Castle is home to the Wine Museum of Valladolid.

Large photo of Peñafiel Castle courtesy of GS3. Smaller hyperlinked photos courtesy of gotcoffee, tnark, and Zarateman under a CC license.

Ponferrada Castle

Ponferrada Castle
Ponferrada Castle

Located in El Bierzo, in the province of León, Spain, Ponferrada Castle is a Templar Castle that looks as if it came out of a medieval knight's fairy tale. Built on the site of an old Celtic castro, a Roman fort, and a Visigothic fort, the castle was built by the Templar Knights in the early 12th century to protect the pilgrims on the Way of St. James, which leads to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

There is a story that says when the Templar Knights were clearing the forest to build the castle, they found a statue of the Virgen de la Encina in the hollow of an old oak tree. The statue can now be seen in the Basilica de Santa Maria de la Encina, and the Virgin has been declared as the Patroness of El Bierzo.

In 1311 the order of the Templar Knights was disbanded and Ponferrada Castle was given to the Count of Lemos by King Alfonso XI. In 1486, the castle became property of the Crown. The castle was involved in the Reconquista and set on fire by the French in the War of Spanish Independence. After the war, stones from the walls of the castle were used for some of the city's building projects. The grounds were rented out for grazing, and a football field was even built in the vicinity. This beautiful medieval castle was slowing being taken apart until 1924, when Ponferrada Castle became a registered National Monument, and restoration efforts began. The castle is still undergoing restoration, slowly transforming back to the grand medieval castle it once was.

The large photo of Ponferrada Castle above courtesy of Spanaut. The smaller hyperlinked photos courtesy of Lourdes Cardenal, desconciertos, and Dietmar Gikjohann under a CC or GNU license.

Monterreal Castle (Monte Real)

Monterreal Castle (Monte Real)
Monterreal Castle (Monte Real)

Located in the coastal town of Baiona, Galicia, Spain, Monterreal Castle dates as far back as the 11th century, however, a fortress of some sort has stood here since the year 60, when Julius Caesar conquered Baiona (Bayona). The castle has been the focus of many different peoples, with Romans, Visigoths, Muslims, and Christians leaving their mark.

King Alfonso V restored the ruins bringing the castle and surrounding area under Christian rule. In the 12th century, Alfonso VII successfully defended the town against his cousin, Lusitanian King Alfonso. He then ceded the land to the Cistercian Monks, who defended the town against the Turks and Algerians. Monterreal Castle was called to protect the surrounding area and its waters many times in history. Sir Francis Drake landed on the local Santa Marta beach with plans to attact the city of Baiona. In the 14th century the Duke of Lancaster successfully attacked occupied the castle. The town was also attacked by the Count of Camiña of massacred many of the locals. Eventually, Monterreal Castle and the town of Baiona found peace under the Christian Monarchs.

Monterreal Castle overlooks the port where the Pinta Caravel ship arrived in 1493 with news of the New World. This particular ship was the fastest of Christopher Columbus's ships, and arrived first. A replica of the ship and models of its crew is open to visitors. There is also the grand four star Parador Bayona (Hotel) inside the castle walls which provide a beautiful view of the coast.

Large photo of Monterreal Castle courtesy of Masito76. The smaller hyperlinked photos courtesy of Grzegorz Polak, María Ouro, and Javier Habladorcito under a CC license.

For your travels through Spain

Rick Steves' Spain 2012
Rick Steves' Spain 2012

Find some of Spain's hidden treasures with this travel book. Go to the non-tourist places, get away from the crowds, and drink in the beauty. The book also highlights the more common places in Spain, so you get the best of both worlds.

 

Have you visited any of these amazing castles?

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      ok

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      Greyer 7 years ago

      I always enjoyed visiting ad reading about different castles. I will definitely look your other lenses as well :) I have only seen the Alcázar of Toledo. We stayed for a night in one of the hotels in Toledo and took a quick tour around the city and visited the castle.

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      julieannbrady 8 years ago

      Just dropped back by for another look at your beautiful castles of Spain!

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      julieannbrady 8 years ago

      Would you believe??? We leave this Thursday morning for Costa del Sol -- Southern Spain and have a castle visit or two in our schedule. Possibly an overnight stay in a Parador! ;)