Medieval castles in Andalusia

Alcázar of Seville

The Alcázar of Seville is a royal palace, built for the Christian king Peter of Castile. It was built by Castilian Christians on the site of an Abbadid Muslim residential fortress destroyed after the Christian conquest of Seville. The palace, a pre-eminent example of Mudéjar architecture in the Iberian Peninsula, is renowned as one of the most beautiful. The upper levels of the Alcázar are still used by the royal famil ...
Founded: 10th century AD | Location: Seville, Spain

Alhambra

The Alhambra is a palace and fortress complex located in Granada. It was originally constructed as a small fortress in AD 889 on the remains of Roman fortifications, and then largely ignored until its ruins were renovated and rebuilt in the mid-13th century by the Nasrid emir Mohammed ben Al-Ahmar of the Emirate of Granada, who built its current palace and walls. It was converted into a royal palace in 1333 by Yusuf I, Su ...
Founded: 889 AD | Location: Granada, Spain

Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos

The Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos ('Castle of the Christian Monarchs') served as one of the primary residences of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. It forms part of the Historic Center of Córdoba that was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994. In early medieval times, the site was occupied by a Visigoth fortress. When the Visigoths fell to the Umayyad conquest of Hispania, the ...
Founded: 8th century AD | Location: Córdoba, Spain

Alcazaba

La Alcazaba is Malaga"s most important landmark, and overlooks the city from a hilltop inland. It is one of two Moorish fortresses in the city, the other being the Castillo de Gibralfaro. The Alcazaba is the best-preserved Moorish fortress palace in Spain. Constructed on the ruins of a Roman fortification during the reign of Abd-al-Rahman I, the first Emir of Cordoba, in around 756-780 AD, the Alcazaba"s origin ...
Founded: 756-780 AD | Location: Málaga, Spain

Calahorra Tower

The Calahorra tower (Torre de la Calahorra) is a fortified gate in the historic centre of Córdoba. The edifice is of Islamic origin. It was first erected by the Almohad Caliphate to protect the nearby Roman Bridge on the Guadalquivir. The tower, standing on the left bank of the river, originally consisted of an arched gate between two. A third tower was added to the existing ones, in the shape of two cylinder connec ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Córdoba, Spain

Gibralfaro Castle

The magnificent Castillo de Gibralfaro sits on a high hill overlooking Málaga city and, and dates back to the 10th century. Gibralfaro has been the site of fortifications since the Phoenician foundation of Málaga city, circa 770 BC. The location was fortified by Calif Abd-al-Rahman III in 929 AD. While, At the beginning of the 14th century, Yusuf I of the Kingdom of Granada expanded the fortifications within the Phoenic ...
Founded: 929 AD | Location: Málaga, Spain

Silla del Moro

Silla del Moro is a small castle built in the 14th century and ruined in the 17th century. It was built to protect the water system for Generalife and Alhambra palaces and surrounding gardens.
Founded: 14th century | Location: Granada, Spain

Arcos de la Frontera Castle

Arcos de la Frontera Castle was first constructed in the 11th century by the Moors when Arcos was briefly a taifa (small kingdom) before being captured by the Christians in 1250. The Christians rebuilt the castle as part of their campaign to retain their hold on the town, which was in a strategically important position for maintaining the border between the Muslim and Christian kingdoms.
Founded: 11th century | Location: Arcos de la Frontera, Spain

Tarifa Castle

Tarifa Castle was built in 960 by the Abd-ar-Rahman III, Caliph of Córdoba. When Tarifa was taken over by the king of Castile, Sancho IV in 1292, the castle was handed over to Alonso Pérez de Guzmán for its defense. Pérez de Guzmán get the nickname of 'Good' (el Bueno) by refusing to hand over the castle in 1296 to the besieging forces of the Infante Don Juan, the rebellious brother of the king Sancho, an ...
Founded: 960 AD | Location: Tarifa, Spain

Alcazar of Jerez de la Frontera

The Alcazar of Jerez de la Frontera is a former Moorish alcázar, now housing a park. A first fortress was probably built in the 11th century, when Jerez was part of the small kingdom of the taifa of Arcos de la Frontera, on a site settled since prehistoric times in the south-eastern corner of the city. In the 12th century, a new structure was erected to be used as both residence and fortress by the Almohad rulers of ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Jerez de la Frontera, Spain

Alcazaba of Almería

In 955, Almería gained the title of medina ('city') by the Caliph of Cordoba, Abd ar-Rahman III: construction of the defensive citadel, located in the upper sector of the city, began in this period. The alcazaba, provided not only with walls and towers but also with squares, houses and a mosque, was to be also the seat of the local government, commanding the city and the sea nearby. The complex was enlarg ...
Founded: c. 955 AD | Location: Almería, Spain

Alcazaba de Antequera

The Alcazaba of Antequera was erected in the 14th century to counter the Christian advance from the north, over Roman ruins. The fortress is rectangular in shape, with two towers. Its keep (Torre del homenaje, 15th century) is considered amongst the largest of Moorish al-Andalus, with the exception of the Comares Tower of the Alhambra. It is surmounted by a Catholic bell tower/chapel (Templete del Papabellotas) added ...
Founded: 14th century | Location: Antequera, Spain

Almodóvar del Río Castle

The town of Almodovar del Rio played an extremely important role in the Middle Ages owing to its strategic location on a hill around 252 metres high next to the Guadalquivir river, which at that time was navigable for small vessels. The traces of multiple cultures, amongst which are Islam and Christianity, can be evidenced in the architectural style of this unique building. In the year 756, this fortress became the estate ...
Founded: 8th century AD | Location: Almodóvar del Río, Spain

Salobreña Castle

Castillo de Salobreña dates from the 10th century. The current structure which was built during the Nasrid dynasty. Trapezoidal in shape, it has four towers. It has 3 enclosures: the disposition of the interior comes from the old Nasrid palace; the other two, with a defensive function, are a Castilian extension of the end of the 15th century. Refreshing internal gardens surround the architectonic volumes. From its towers ...
Founded: 10th century AD | Location: Salobreña, Spain

San Miguel Castle

Castillo de San Miguel is located in Almuñécar and is bounded by the remains of the original city walls. The castle sits on a small hill, which is difficult to access. The original fortifications date of 1st century BCE. During the Moorish occupation, the castle was enlarged to include towers and three gates. At the end of the reign of the Catholic King Ferdinand in the 16th century, more was added (the moat, the drawb ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Almuñécar, Spain

Castellar de la Frontera Castle

Castellar de la Frontera is a village within a castle surrounded by the walls of a well preserved Moorish-Christian fortress. It is located within the Parque Natural de Los Alcornocales next to a reservoir formed by the Guadarranque River. The history of the village goes back to prehistoric times and the Bronze Age, after which the place became a medieval fortress. The prehistoric presence is still evident in the m ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Castillo de Castellar, Spain

Olvera Castle

Olvera castle was built in the late 12th century as part of the defensive system of the Emirate of Granada. The castle was seized from the original Moorish builders and occupants and redesigned and expanded under King Alfonso XI in 1327. Situated at the highest point of the town, the castle has an irregularly-shaped elongated triangle that fits the form of the rock base.
Founded: 12th century | Location: Olvera, Spain

Aracena Castle

Aracena Castle was erected in the 13th century, during the Islamic period, and was itself built on the site of an ancient Moorish castle. The walled enclosure was partitioned inside, with the tower of homage, or castle keep, defending the barrier that divided its interior. The population of Aracena settled around this structure, giving rise to the current urban landscape. During the late Middle and Modern Ages, Aracena co ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Aracena, Spain

Sohail Castle

Sohail Castle was built in AD 956 by Abd-ar-Rahman III to strengthen the coastal defenses. Later, in the 12th century, the Almoravids raised a defensive enclosure with an irregular floor plan, adapted to the slopes of the terrain. In 1485 the Castillo de Sohail was occupied by the Christian armies battling against the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada. From that time the military complex underwent an inevitable process of arc ...
Founded: 956 AD | Location: Fuengirola, Spain

Carmona Castle

The Moorish fortress or Alcazar of Carmona rises above the Puerta de Sevilla (Gate of Seville), forming an almost impregnable defensive complex. It underwent major alterations in the 14th and 15th centuries. Theestoration work carried out between 1973 and 1975 included the refurbishing of several sections as venues for staging cultural events. Puerta de Sevilla origin dates back to the 9th century BC. The Carthaginians c ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Carmona, Spain

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque French château built between 1658-1661 for Nicolas Fouquet. It was made for Marquis de Belle Île, Viscount of Melun and Vaux, the superintendent of finances of Louis XIV, the château was an influential work of architecture in mid-17th century Europe. At Vaux-le-Vicomte, the architect Louis Le Vau, the landscape architect André le Nôtre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun worked together on a large-scale project for the first time. Their collaboration marked the beginning of the 'Louis XIV style' combining architecture, interior design and landscape design. The garden's pronounced visual axis is an example of this style.

To secure the necessary grounds for the elaborate plans for Vaux-le-Vicomte’s garden and castle, Fouquet purchased and demolished three villages. The displaced villagers were then employed in the upkeep and maintenance of the gardens. It was said to have employed eighteen thousand workers and cost as much as 16 million livres. The château and its patron became for a short time a focus for fine feasts, literature and arts. The poet La Fontaine and the playwright Molière were among the artists close to Fouquet. At the inauguration of Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Molière play was performed, along with a dinner event organized by François Vatel, and an impressive firework show.

After Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life, and his wife exiled, Vaux-le-Vicomte was placed under sequestration. The king seized, confiscated or purchased 120 tapestries, the statues, and all the orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte. He then sent the team of artists (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) to design what would be a much larger project than Vaux-le-Vicomte, the palace and gardens of Versailles.

The Marshal Villars became the new owner without first seeing the chateau. In 1764, the Marshal's son sold the estate to the Duke of Praslin, whose descendants would maintain the property for over a century. It is sometimes mistakenly reported that the château was the scene of a murder in 1847, when duke Charles de Choiseul-Praslin, killed his wife in her bedroom, but this did not happen at Vaux-le-Vicomte but at the Paris residence of the Duke.

In 1875, after thirty years of neglect, the estate was sold to Alfred Sommier in a public auction. The château was empty, some of the outbuildings had fallen into ruin, and the famous gardens were totally overgrown. The huge task of restoration and refurbishment began under the direction of the architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, assisted by the landscape architect Elie Lainé. When Sommier died in 1908, the château and the gardens had recovered their original appearance. His son, Edme Sommier, and his daughter-in-law completed the task. Today, his descendants continue to preserve the château, which remains privately owned by Patrice and Cristina de Vogüé, the Count and Countess de Vogüé. It is now administered by their three sons Alexandre, Jean-Charles and Ascanio de Vogüé. Recognized by the state as a monument historique, it is open to the public regularly.

Architecture

The chateau is situated near the northern end of a 1.5-km long north-south axis with the entrance front facing north. Its elevations are perfectly symmetrical to either side of this axis. Somewhat surprisingly the interior plan is also nearly completely symmetrical with few differences between the eastern and western halves. The two rooms in the center, the entrance vestibule to the north and the oval salon to the south, were originally an open-air loggia, dividing the chateau into two distinct sections. The interior decoration of these two rooms was therefore more typical of an outdoor setting. Three sets of three arches, those on the entrance front, three more between the vestibule and the salon, and the three leading from the salon to the garden are all aligned and permitted the arriving visitor to see through to the central axis of the garden even before entering the chateau. The exterior arches could be closed with iron gates, and only later were they filled in with glass doors and the interior arches with mirrored doors. Since the loggia divided the building into two halves, there are two symmetrical staircases on either side of it, rather than a single staircase. The rooms in the eastern half of the house were intended for the use of the king, those in the western were for Fouquet. The provision of a suite of rooms for the king was normal practice in aristocratic houses of the time, since the king travelled frequently.

Another surprising feature of the plan is the thickness of the main body of the building (corps de logis), which consists of two rows of rooms running east and west. Traditionally the middle of the corps de logis of French chateaux consisted of a single row of rooms. Double-thick corps de logis had already been used in hôtels particuliers in Paris, including Le Vau's Hôtel Tambonneau, but Vaux was the first chateau to incorporate this change. Even more unusual, the main rooms are all on the ground floor rather than the first floor (the traditional piano nobile). This accounts for the lack of a grand staircase or a gallery, standard elements of most contemporary chateaux. Also noteworthy are corridors in the basement and on the first floor which run the length of house providing privacy to the rooms they access. Up to the middle of the 17th century, corridors were essentially unknown. Another feature of the plan, the four pavilions, one at each corner of the building, is more conventional.

Vaux-le-Vicomte was originally planned to be constructed in brick and stone, but after the mid-century, as the middle classes began to imitate this style, aristocratic circles began using stone exclusively. Rather late in the design process, Fouquet and Le Vau switched to stone, a decision that may have been influenced by the use of stone at François Mansart's Château de Maisons. The service buildings flanking the large avant-cour to the north of the house remained in brick and stone, and other structures preceding them were in rubble-stone and plaster, a social ranking of building materials that would be common in France for a considerable length of time thereafter.

The main chateau is constructed entirely on a moated platform, reached via two bridges, both aligned with the central axis and placed on the north and south sides. The moat is a picturesque holdover from medieval fortified residences, and is again a feature that Le Vau may have borrowed from Maisons. The moat at Vaux may also have been inspired by the previous chateau on the site, which Le Vau's work replaced.

Gardens

The château rises on an elevated platform in the middle of the woods and marks the border between unequal spaces, each treated in a different way. This effect is more distinctive today, as the woodlands are mature, than it was in the seventeenth century when the site had been farmland, and the plantations were new.

Le Nôtre's garden was the dominant structure of the great complex, stretching nearly a mile and a half (3 km), with a balanced composition of water basins and canals contained in stone curbs, fountains, gravel walks, and patterned parterres that remains more coherent than the vast display Le Nôtre was to create at Versailles.

Le Nôtre created a magnificent scene to be viewed from the house, using the laws of perspective. Le Notre used the natural terrain to his advantage. He placed the canal at the lowest part of the complex, thus hiding it from the main perspectival point of view. Past the canal, the garden ascends a large open lawn and ends with the Hercules column added in the 19th century. Shrubberies provided a picture frame to the garden that also served as a stage for royal fêtes.

From the top of the grand staircase, this gives the impression that the entire garden is revealed in one single glance. Initially, the view consists of symmetrical rows of shrubbery, avenues, fountains, statues, flowers and other pieces developed to imitate nature – these elements exemplify the Baroque desire to mold nature to fit its wishes, thus using nature to imitate nature. The centerpiece is a large reflecting pool flanked by grottos holding statues in their many niches. The grand sloping lawn is not visible until one begins to explore the garden, when the viewer is made aware of the optical elements involved and discovers that the garden is much larger than it looks.