Route of the Castels and Forts
The need to defend the province of Cadiz, which had been subject to waves of invasions since time immemorial due to its strategic location between two continents, explains the numerous military constructions: towers, forts, bastions and citadels that are scattered throughout the province.
The defence system of the province of Cadiz, which was the frontier lands during the long Reconquest wars against the Muslim invaders, provided the towns, which had already been won back by the Christians, with fortifications that would become some of their best known features. Apart from the medieval forts that blend perfectly into the urban setting, isolated towers and strategic towers are to be found inland on rocky outcrops which were ideal lookout points. On the other hand, beacon towers, bastions and coastal castles were built and defended the province from the permanent risk of invasion from the sea.
The extensive list of military architecture to be found in the province of Cadiz means that routes can be organised to suit the time that each visitor has available. In general, the castles and forts of Cadiz are integrated into the urban landscape or close to the different towns. Some of them have set opening hours. However, the different types of ownership or use - private residences, administrative headquarters, location on estates with restricted access,...
means that you should ask for information from the different municipal tourist offices before setting off on your route.
This route can be divided into two different sections which both take two days:
The Maritime Defence Route.
The Frontier Castles Route.
THE MARITIME DEFENCE ROUTE: FROM SANLÚCAR TO TARIFA
This route beings in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, due to its strategic situation on the mouth of the River Guadalquivir, which determined the defence of the entrance of the river and the waterway up to Seville. This fortification system was made up of the Castles of Espíritu Santo (16th century) which no longer stands, of San Salvador in the port of Bonanza, which is now semi-covered by dunes, and the most important castle, Santiago Castle (15th century) built by the Duke of Medina Sidonia. Built in the Gothic style on the highest part of the city, Santiago Castle is an impressive square fort with square towers.
From then until 1645, it was a ducal fort and it witnessed a steady flow of people through its walls who visited Sanlúcar as it was the departure port for the adventures across the Atlantic. The visitors included Isabel the Catholic Monarch and Colombus, and it seems that the latter slept there, according to some historian, before setting sail from the city on one of his voyages.
Did you know that Queen Isabel the Catholic Monarch saw the sea for the first time in Sanlúcar de Barrameda when she visited the city in 1478? She would have seen it from the towers of the castle where she stayed. She must have been truly stuck when she saw the Doñana Natural Park opposite and the mouth of the River Guadalquivir.
Your next stop is just 8 km from Sanlúcar and is the town of Chipiona, a seafaring town on the mouth of the River Guadalquivir. The castle declared a Site of Cultural Interest (BIC) was built under the aegis of Guzmán el Bueno in the 14th century. It is a square building, with battlements all the way around and has ogival windows and a square tower.
This is an ideal opportunity to make time and visit some of the city's other iconic sights, such as the Regla Chapel, the Church of Our Lady of La O. However, a real must is the visit to its famous Lighthouse, the highest in Spain (69 m.), and built on the ruins of the former Roman lighthouse in 1867. You can climb up to the top and enjoy the magnificent view.
Yet, first and foremost, the city is a popular summer resort, as visitors flock here to enjoy its beautiful beaches such as the Regla, the Canteras, the Tres Piedras, Montijo, etc..., the lively sidewalk cafés where you can take a break and enjoy a glass of the local moscatel wine, and with a modern marina that offers a range of watersports.
The route now takes you along the coast to Rota, which has been a commercial port since Phoenician times. It has been declared a historical complex, with streets lined with white houses, old arches and beautiful squares. This city boasts the Luna Castle (BIC) built in the 13th century by Guzmán the Good on the site of an ancient Arab ribat of the 11th century. It was home to the Ponce de León family and played a key role in defending the Bay of Cadiz
It is rectangular with five towers with battlements. It has an original courtyard dating back to the 15th century with a beautiful arched gallery and decorated frescos; there are also remains of the walls built between the 12th and 15th centuries, such as the Regla or Chipiona, Sanlúcar or Puerta del Mar gates.
Before you leave this town, there are two things that you must do: try the "urta a la roteña" (toothed sea-bream with tomatoes, onions and peppers), the typical local dish, and a visit to the "fish pens". The pens probably date back to Roman or Arab times that fill with seawater at high tide. The fish and shellfish are then trapped there at low tide and are caught by the fishermen. The fish pens off the Almadraba beach have been declared a Natural Monument.
After leaving Rota, you continue along the northern Cadiz coast to El Puerto de Santa María, a historical town on the banks of the River Guadalete, the birthplace of the poet Rafael Alberti, and a city which, due to its geographical situation, has witnessed many cultures pass through it, proof of which are the valuable archaeological remains at Doña Blanca, a settlement dating back to the 10th to 3rd centuries B.C. on the outskirts of the city, which would later be the site of a Medieval Castle in the Mudejar style and of which only a tower remains.
Yet the finest example of a castle is in El Puerto, San Marcos Castle (10th-14th centuries), which was originally an Arab mosque, where a fortified church would be later built where Alfonso X narrated the miracles surrounding its building in his famous "Cantigas" or medieval narrative songs about miracles.
This town was closely connected to the Discovery of America. It is said that Christopher Colombus resided in the castle when he was in the city seeking the patronage of the Duke of Medinaceli for his voyage of discovery. Another interesting fact about the town is that the sailor and navigator from El Puerto, Juan de la Cosa, drew the first mapamundi in 1500 which included the Americas.
And your next stop is Cadiz with its complex fortification system built in the 16th century after the city had been looted by the troops of the Earl of Essex in 1596. It was built to protect the city against future attacks, particularly from pirates, who had been attracted by the intense trade with the Indies. The defensive system of Cadiz consists of strong walls and bastions that nearly completely surround the urban perimeter and along which the visitor can stroll:
The Puertas de Tierra- the gateway to the old part of the city and which separates it from the modern city. In the 16th century, the first city wall was built here and it was extended in 1574 with two semi-bastions on each side, named San Roque and Santa Elena, in order to protect the city. The other defensive features were built in the 18th century. A marble portico was built as a triumphal arch in the façade that led into the city.
The Puerta de Tierra tower was built at the end of 1850 to be the tower of the "Optic telegraph line of Andalusia", that could send messages from the Ministry of the Government in Madrid to Cadiz, in just under two hours.
The San Roque Bastion stands to the right of the gateways. It was built in 1594 and was part of the Frente de Tierra or Land Front. This front is now made up of the Puertas de Tierra (Land Gates) and the adjoining semi-bastions, Santa Elena, which was built on the site of the chapel of the same name, and San Roque, which was also named after a chapel that stood there. The San Roque bastion was the starting point for the Southern As you walk along the seashore, you will come to Campo del Sur, which borders the old town and from where the defensive bastions can be seen. In this avenue, where the "Die Another Day" Bond film was shot as it is reminiscent to the Malecón promenade in Havana (Cuba), with its colourful houses, the Old and New cathedrals, which the Romans had chosen as the site for their theatre as there could be none better; and which is an unrivalled spot to pause to enjoy a sunset...., you will find the Capuchinos Bastion built in 1672 and Los Mártires or Martyrs Bastion which was built in 1676 and has been declared a Site of Cultural Interest in 1993 by the Autonomous Government of Andalusia
And then you will come to La Caleta beach guarded by two castles, Santa Catalina from the 16th to 17th century. The castle is pentagonal and forms a three-point star on the side that overlooks the sea, with a gateway flanked by two semi-bastions and a moat. It is currently a cultural centre used for exhibitions, concerts and is therefore open to visitors. It has been the backdrop for several films including "Die another Day" by James Bond, "Alatriste"....
The second castle, San Sebastián, was finished in the 18th century and is on a small island just off the beach jointed to the mainland by a small walkway. According to classical texts (Strabo refers to it), there was a temple dedicated to Baal, the Phoenician God, associated to Kronos, on the island. The castle dates back to 1457, when a group of Venetians took refuge in it as they fled from the plague, and where there was a watchtower from the Muslim era. The tower was reconstructed in 1613 and work began on the castle in 1706. It is currently undergoing refurbishing work to turn it into the iconic centre of the celebration in 2012 to mark the Bicentenary of the 1812 Constitution.
As you continue along the route, you will come to Alameda Apodaca, and the Candelaria Bastion located opposite the Church of El Carmen, built in 1672 under the aegis of the governor of that time in order to protect the entrance to the city port. It has been refurbished on several occasions due to the effects of the sea and today it is a cultural centre, which has a coffee shop with a terrace in its outside wall, where you can stop and get your strength back.
At the end of La Alameda, there is the San Carlos bastion and walls. Built in 1784, it contained 55 vaults and protected the entrance to the port.
The route now takes you to San Fernando and Chiclana The restored San Romualdo Castle, a simple rectangular building around a central courtyard, originally constructed by the Muslims, in San Fernando, and the Sancti Petri Castle (18th century), in Chiclana, situated on the mythological island of the same name, where there was a temple to the God Melkart, that inspired Manuel de Falla, the musician from Cadiz, to write La Atlantida, close the defences of the Bay of Cadiz along its south-eastern border.
Continuing along the Atlantic coast, which suffered so badly during the raids by the pirates and Berbers, you will come across a series of towers (Roche, Castilnovo, La Atalaya,...), in the municipal district of Conil de la Frontera, which thanks to its fire and smoke signals or artillery helped to defend the region from all types of attacks. Even though it has been greatly transformed during the successive restorations, the square keep, with its battlements still remains of Conil's castle that Guzmán the Good ordered to be built during the 16th century.
Standing slightly back from the coast, Vejer, on a small hill that rises up 190 metres high, is a fortified complex that was adapted to the difficult terrain on which the town stands. The Vejer walls, covering a surface area of 4 hectares, are flanked by the Mayorazgo, La Corredera or Los Castrillones and the San Juan towers. The gateways to the towns are known as Sancho IV, La Villa, Cerrada and La Segur. In the highest part of the town, the rectangular castle, with three towers and a garrison courtyard, preserves its single entrance dating back to the 11th century.
The need to defend the fishing activities and the Almadraba labyrinth of fishing nets that belonged to the Dukes of Medina Sidonia, meant that fortified shelters were built along the coast. The La Almadraba Castle (16th century), with Cervantes connotations, in Zahara de los Atunes, near to Barbate, where the solitary fortified towers - El Tajo, Caños de Meca and Cabo de Trafalgar - also sprung up, is a clear example of this type of buildings. Its inside was also designed as a factory where the chanqueros prepared the fish products before they were sent to the different markets. There is practically now nothing left to see.
The route ends in Tarifa. Due to its strategic situation on the Straits of Gibraltar, it would play an important role from the very moment that the Muslims arrived in the Peninsula. In the 10th century, during the Abderraman III period, when the town began to acquire its definitive layout, the walled enclosure was built, together with an elegant castle that would become legendary thanks to the heroic exploits of Guzmán the Good, after whom the fort would then be named and specifically the turret which was scenario for the historical event.
The castle of Guzmán the Good still has its outer walls with its towers and gates. It is one of the best preserved complexes in Europe that reflects classical military architecture built during the Caliph era. Yet the views over the Straits of Gibraltar, with Africa in the background are the truly spectacular features and are absolutely breath-taking.
THE FRONTIER AND INLAND CASTLES ROUTE
There are two possible itineraries for this route that takes in the inland part of the province. The first is through the fertile area towards the mountains to the north and the second follows the frontier that divided the province into Muslim and Christian territories.
The first route starts off from Medina Sidonia, in the centre of the inland La Janda region. A significant part still remains of its medieval defences which reveal the important role that this old town played during the Muslim era. The keep of the old Arab castle can still be perfectly made out and is today known as the Doña Blanca Tower, along with three of its main gateways: the Arco de la Pastora or Shepherdess Arch, which was the most importance entrance, the Arco de Belén or Bethlehem Arch, which led to the medieval centre of the town, the Puerta del Sol or Sun Gateway, next to what was the Palace of the Duke of Medina Sidonia.
You should not leave the town before you have tried the local gastronomy and particularly the pastries, as Medina Sidonia is known for the sweets passed down from the Arabs and in fact they have been awarded a protected geographical denomination, the Alfajor de Medina.
Along the road to the Alcornocales National Park, you will first come to the famous Gigonza Castle, on the road from Medina Sidonia to Arcos, just over 10 kilometres from Paterna de la Rivera. This Arab fort consists of a wall, where the coat-of-arms of the house of Arcos appears over the entrance arch, garrison courtyard and the castle itself, which is square and has Mudejar and Renaissance architectural features. The castle cannot be visited as it is privately-owned. A real pity
The route now takes you to Jerez de la Frontera. The city has a magnificent Almohad citadel, which was the residence of the caliphs of Seville and seat of the Christian governors after Jerez fell to Alfonso X. Its Christian mosque, the Arab baths and beautiful gardens are particularly worth seeing. Its characteristic octagonal tower, the Keep and the Ponce de León Tower, with the latter being added at a much later date than the original building in the 17th century, are the outstanding features of its outside appearance. It currently boasts a camera obscura that is noteworthy.
- 11.00 to 20.00 hours from 1 May - 15 September.
- 10.00 to 17.30 hours from 16 September - 30 April.
- The last session of the Camera Obscura is half an hour before it closes
While you are in Jerez, you should make time to visit this magnificent city, try a glass of Sherry served with some of the delicious tapas, go to the unique show of the horses that dance. And not only the horses dance in Jerez, as everyone does so in the city that is the birthplace of Flamenco, declared as a UNESCO intangible heritage of humanity. Then, if you are the city in May, a real must is the spring Horse Fair, which is a breath-taking spectacle of light, colour and music. Everything this city has to offer is a truly special blend of sensations and experiences.
You now make your way to the Sierra de Cádiz mountains, where the castles are even more striking if that were possible. In Arcos de la Frontera, the gateway to the mountains and the Route of the White Villages, its fort, the seat of the ancient kingdom of the Moorish kings and subsequent residence of the powerful family of Los Arcos, lords of the town, is at the highest point of this unusual town, next to the Plaza del Cabildo.
Square in shape and with battlements around the towers at each corner, which include the keep and the so-called Tower of the Secret, the castle in Arcos still has many of the construction aspects that determined its past power. The castle can be seen from the outside but cannot be visited as it is a private building.
If you are visiting Arcos during the days leading up to Christmas, you will see one of the most unique cultural displays of this beautiful white village perched on a hill: its Nativity Play in which the whole village takes part and stages the most traditional nativity scenes. Yet at any time of the year, you can visit its magnificent courtyards in the purest Andalusian style.
OPENING HOURS: Mondays to Fridays: 12.00 and 18.00 hours (Saturdays, booking required in advance)
The next stop is in Bornos, where there is a good example of a castle converted into a palace. It was used as the residency of the Marquis of Tarifa, who, in the 16th century, added the various Renaissance architectural features that are particularly visible in its column courtyard and on its magnificent windows. Located in the centre of the town, this castle-palace belonging to the Ribera family, has manicured gardens and still boasts the robust keep of the early medieval building.
The castle of Espera known as Fatetar (13th-15th centuries) stands on the hillock of the same name. It is an ancient fort modernised by the Arabs and conquered by Alfonso X, who would add the Chapel of Santiago. Part of its walls, the keep and the Arab Aljibe cisterns are still preserved. You can visit the castle, along with the Archaeological Museum, with its collection of Iberian-Roman funeral articles from the nearby Roman "Carissa Aurelia" archaeological site.
Matrera Castle is located on the Pajarete hillock, in the neighbouring town of Villamartin, which played an important role during the conquering of the Kingdom of Granada. The garrison courtyard and the keep cannot be visited. The first itinerary ends here.
Our second itinerary begins in the Los Alcornocales Natural Park. The towns of Jimena and Castellar de la Frontera, which are both located inside the Campo de Gibraltar, both provide examples of forts that can be considered as being among the most interesting in the province of Cadiz. The fort (12th to 15th centuries) in Castellar de la Frontera, which is extraordinarily well preserved, was at its zenith during the Nasrid period. The main gateway or Arco de la Villa and the citadel-palace, which is now a charming hotel, are the features of special note in its irregular fortified walls and flanked by towers. The castle has one of the few existing examples of an inhabited urban centre inside a fort. Castellar Viejo still retains its medieval air with its winding streets and whitewashed buildings.
Jimena's Castle, dating back to the 13th-14th century (BIV), on the San Cristóbal hillock, is a Muslim construction, which was later refurbished on various occasions, and its magnificent gateway with the Clock Tower, its unusual circular tower and its walls with battlements still stand. The International Music Festival is held in this town every year in July. It is famed for the quality of its acts and the performances in the natural settings and against the magnificent backdrop of the old town.
These two towns are in the heart of the country and are good bases for activities holidays, such as hiking, cycle-tourism, horse riding, etc.
You now head north again to the Sierra, but to its southern slopes. The route takes you to the mountain villages of Ubrique, the leather capital, which is internationally renowned. In fact, leading brands, such as Dior, Loewe, Gucci, etc..., stock items made here. And to Villaluenga del Rosario, the smallest and highest village of the province, where you can visit the factory where the famous payoyo cheese is made from the milk of the goats of the same name that are native to these mountains.
And you then come to one of the province's most spectacular towns: Zahara de la Sierra. The image that comes to mind of Zahara de la Sierra is the graceful keep of its castle (13th-15th centuries), high up on a crag that is difficult to reach and which towers over the white houses of this notably medieval town. And if you are brave enough to climb steadily and patiently up the crag, you can see the tower.
The Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park is the ideal setting for many sports and outdoors activities and you can even swim from its beach in summer, though of course it is an artificial beach in the Zahara reservoir.
Torre-Alháquime and Setenil de las Bodegas, two villages located on Cadiz's north-eastern border with the neighbouring province of Malaga, preserve some remains of their respective castles. The silhouette of the keep (12th-13th centuries) is the key feature of Setenil's castle perched on the highest part of the town, However, the real feature of this town is its unusual town layout as the houses are built into, on or away from the rock.
And this second itinerary ends in Olvera. Its castle from the Nasrid era (12th century) is at the top of this town and provides it with its unmistakable skyline against the mountain backdrop. The fort is a long triangular building. Its keep, its walls with its walkway and some of its towers are still preserved in a good state of repair.
A visit to the Frontier and Castles Museum, located in the magnificent building of the Cilla Mansion, is an opportunity to learn about the important role that the Cadiz mountains played as a border during the Nasrid reign.
And before leaving, remember that this northern part of the Sierra (Algodonales, Setenil, Olvera and Zahara) produces the virgin olive oil covered by the Sierra de Cádiz Denomination of Origin. Make sure you do not miss this opportunity to try its excellent oils produced using traditional methods.
VISITS TO THE CASTLES AND FORTS OF THE PROVINCE OF CADIZ
Chiclana de la Frontera
Sancti Petri Castle
Location: Opposite the old Sancti Petri village, Chiclana
Guzmán the Good Castle
Location: c/ Castillo 5
TEL: 956 92 90 65
Visits: 10.00 to 14.00 hours Tuesday to Sunday, only interpretation centre.
El Puerto de Santa María
San Marcos Castle
Location: plaza Alfonso X el Sabio s/n
TEL: 956 85 17 51 / 627 56 93 35
Visits: 11.30 in Spanish, 12.30 in English on Tuesdays Free but must be pre-booked.
11.30 and 12.30 in Spanish and 13.30 in English on Thursdays and Saturdays
La Luna Castle
Location: avenida Mancomunidad Bajo Guadalquivir, 3
TEL: 956 846 288
Visits: Free guided visits, but need to be booked. 13.00 and 17.00 hours on Saturdays and Sundays
Currently being refurbished. It will open soon.
Location: plaza del castillo de Santiago
TEL: 956 088 329 // 637 834 846
Visits: 11.00, 12.00 & 13.00 and 19.00 and 20.00 hours from Tuesday to Saturday
San Romualdo Castle
Closed temporarily until around Easter.
Guzmán the Good Castle
Location: c/ Guzmán el Bueno, s/n
TEL: 956 680 993
Visits: 11.00-13.30 and 16.00-17.30 hours from Tuesdays to Saturdays Sunday mornings only.
Jerez de la Frontera
Location: c/ Medina 19
TEL: 956 14 99 55/56
The Alcázar is open every day from Monday to Sunday except for 1 & 6 January and 25 December.
November, December and January: From 9.30 to 15.00 hours (Last entrance at 14.30 hours).
February, March, April, May, June, 1st fortnight of July, 2nd fortnight of September and October: 9.30 to 18.00 hours. (Entrance until 17:30 hours)
- 16 July to 15 September: from 9:30 to 20:00. Saturdays and Sundays, from 9:30 to 15.00 hours.(Entrance until 14:30 hours)
Horario especial: Easter and Spring Horse Fair, from 9.30 to 15.00 hours and every Saturday and Sunday.
N.B.: Last entrance half an hour before the castle closes.
Los Ribera Castle-Palace
Open every day from 09.00-19.00/21.00 hours in summer
Check with the Tourist Office. Tel: 956728264
Location: cerro de Fafetar
Visits: Mondays and Fridays, need to book
Tel: Tourist Office- 956720432
Location: Plaza de la iglesia s/n
TEL: 956 120 816
Visits: Winter: 10:30 to 14:00 and 16.00 to 18:00 hours - Tuesdays to Sundays
Summer: 10:30 to 14:00 and 16.00 to 19:00 hours - Tuesdays to Sundays