Medieval castles in Castile and León

Walls and Alcazar of Segovia

Rising out on a rocky crag above the confluence of two rivers near the Guadarrama mountains, the Alcázar of Segovia is one of the most distinctive castle-palaces in Spain by virtue of its shape – like the bow of a ship. The Alcázar was originally built as a fortress but has served as a royal palace, a state prison, a Royal Artillery College and a military academy since then. It is currently used as a museum and a mili ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Segovia, Spain

Medieval Walls of Avila

The city walls of Avila were built in the 11th century to protect the citizens from the Moors. They have been well maintained throughout the centuries and are now a major tourist attraction as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors can walk around about half of the length of the walls. The layout of the city is an even quadrilateral with a perimeter of 2,516 m. Its walls, which consist in part of stones already u ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Ávila, Spain

Ponferrada Castle

In 1178, Ferdinand II of León donated the Ponferrada city to the Templar order for protecting the pilgrims on the Way of St. James who passed through El Bierzo in their road to Santiago de Compostela. Their castle was originally a hill-fort and later a Roman citadel. Templar knights took possession of the fortress and reinforced and extended it to use it as an inhabitable palace. However, the Templars were only a ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Ponferrada, Spain

Puebla de Sanabria Castle

Puebla de Sanabria Castle was built in the 15th century as a castle-palace by the fourth Count of Benavente, Don Rodrigo Alonso Pimentel, a member of the powerful Castilian nobility and the owner of many castles. The castle has a barrier with large towers and barrel vaulted rooms and a peculiar yard at the entrance. The structure has a regular, square ground floor. The multi-storey Tower of Homage, commonly known as &qu ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Puebla de Sanabria, Spain

Zamora Castle

Zamora Castle features Pre-Roman foundations and a Romanesque general structure. It was built between the 10th and 12th centuries. According to the chronicles it was ordered to be built by Alfonso II of Asturias, although it would probably be done by Ferdinand I of León (in reign 1056–1065). The castle stands northwest of the Cathedral, with magnificent views of the town and the river from the keep.  
Founded: 11th century | Location: Zamora, Spain

Frias Castle

Frias castle origins date back to the 9th century, when Alfonso VIII repopulated the valley to reinforce the border between Castile and Navarre. The historic quarter preserves its medieval atmosphere, and urban layout. On the tallest, most rugged end of a hill, the castle of the Duke of Frías stands, with its beautiful and well-kept mullioned windows, and 13th-century Romanesque capitals. In the city centre we must poin ...
Founded: 9th century AD | Location: Frías, Spain

Burgos Castle

The Castle of Burgos is located on the hill of San Miguel to 75 m above the city of Burgos. According to excavations the castle attributes to the Visigoths, and its oldest parts, to the Romans. It is believed that the fortress was already built back in 865 when Muslims amounted to the Castilian plateau led by Al-Mondzir obliterating. Twenty years later the Asturian monarch Alfonso III gives order to Count Diego R ...
Founded: c. 865 AD | Location: Burgos, Spain

Calatañazor Castle

According to the legends, Al-Mansur (legendary Moorish leader) was defeated near Calatañazor Castle in a bloody battle against Christian troops in 1002. The fortress originally had two quadrangular towers on the corners and a keep. Later on, circular towers were added to the southern wall and semi-circular ones next to the main entrance. The current  appearance dates mainly from the 14th century. The castle is part of ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Calatañazor, Spain

Ciudad Rodrigo Castle

The castle of walled city Ciudad Rodrigo was built by the medieval King Enrique II of Castile in 1372. The artillery barrier that surrounds the castle was built in the early 16th century.
Founded: 1372 | Location: Ciudad Rodrigo, Spain

Coca Castle

Magnificent Coca Castle was built in the 15th century by Alonso de Fonseca, a mighty archbishop of Seville, during the reign of King Enrique IV of Castile. It"s made up of two square baileys separated by a passageway. Both show polygonal towers at the corners. The double walls are 2.5 m thick and it"s circled by a deep dry moat. Coca castle is a mixture of western and Moorish military architecture, as can be s ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Coca, Spain

Castle of La Mota

The Castle of La Mota is a medieval fortress, located in the town of Medina del Campo. It is so named because of its location on an elevated hill, a mota (in Spanish), from where it dominates the town and surrounding land. The adjacent town came to be surrounded by an expanding series of walls in subsequent years, of which little remains. History Initial fortification of the village, repopulated after Moorish depreda ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Medina del Campo, Spain

Cuéllar Castle

Cuéllar Castle is conserved in good condition, and it has been built in different architectural styles between the 13th and 18th century. Much of the castle in the Gothic and Renaissance styles. The military building was extended and transformed in the 16th century, turning it into the palace of the Duke of Alburquerque. Among its historical owners, stands out Álvaro de Luna and Beltrán de la Cueva, as well as t ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Cuéllar, Spain

Pedraza Castle

Pedraza Castle dates from the 13th century and it was rebuilt in the 15th century by García Herrera and again in the early 16th century by the Dukes of Frías. Poligonal ground plan, double enclosure, with cues and square turrets, plus an artificial moat excavated in the rock. The castle uses part of the wall and preserves the remains of one front, with Romanesque elements. The tower that serves as the tower of homa ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Pedraza, Spain

Peñafiel Castle

Construction works for Peñafiel Castle commenced in the 10th century, although the contemporary structure underwent major interventions during the 14th and 15th centuries. This medieval fortress was declared a National Monument in 1917 and currently stands as a veritable emblem of wine tourism in Ribera del Duero. Peñafiel and its castle were key defensive locations along river Duero, both for Christians and Muslims ...
Founded: 10th century | Location: Peñafiel, Spain

Coyanza Castle

This castle held the Coyanza Council in 1050; the old Coyanza was populated and fortified by Fernando II of León in the second half of the 12th century. The current castle was built in the 15th century. It was constructed on the site of older castle that had been erected on the ruins of a fortification dating back to the Iron Age. The castle consists basically of one articulated front with projections, flanked by turret ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Valencia de Don Juan, Spain

Miranda del Castañar Castle‎

Miranda del Castañar Castle‎, or at least the tower of homage, was probably built by Pedro de Zúñiga. By means of a small enclosure that serves as a gate, the tower is attached to another D-shaped tower and other remains that might belong to a previous fortress. The round loopholes are the usual 15th-century artillery loopholes. Miranda was founded around 1215.The well preserved wall probably dates from that time. P ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Miranda del Castañar, Spain

Turégano Castle

The Castle of Turégano was founded on the site of a pre-existing Arabian fortress. Its structure is integrated into the adjacent church of San Miguel, completed in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Founded: 15th century | Location: Turégano, Spain

Castle of Don Álvaro de Luna

The construction of Don Álvaro de Luna castle was commissioned by the High Constable Ruy López Dávalos between the end of the 14th century and the beginning of the 15th century.There is very little left in the interior of the castle. The fires originating from the different wars have left, over time, only the walls of the building. In other periods it was used as a prison and cemetery, and today it is the municipal aud ...
Founded: c. 1300 | Location: Arenas de San Pedro, Spain

Villafranca del Bierzo Castle

The Villafranca del Bierzo Castle was built in 1515 over the remains of a previous fortification. Its first owner was Don Pedro Alvarez de Toledo (second marques of Villafranca) and since 1850 by Don Joaquin Caro y Alvarez. More of a fortified-palance than a castle, it was ransacked in 1809 by the English and in 1815 and 1819 by the French during the Independence War. This building is located in a town of great import ...
Founded: 1515 | Location: Villafranca del Bierzo, Spain

Simancas Castle

The site of the Simancas castle was at one time a Moorish fortress. In the 15th century the House of Enríquez constructed a new fortification on top of the existing ruins, restored the Moorish walls, and added a chapel. The new castle was seized by the Spanish Crown during the reign of the Catholic Monarchs and turned into a prison. In 1540 the Archivo General de Simancas was established in the castle, the first official ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Simancas, Spain

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Wawel Castle

Wawel Hill – a Jurassic limestone rock, a dominant feature in the landscape of Kraków, have provided a safe haven for people who have settled here since the Paleolithic Age. It is supposed that the Slav people started living on Wawel hill as early as the 7th century. Early medieval legends tell stories about a dreadful dragon that lived in a cave on Wawel Hill, about his slayer Krakus, and about the latter’s daughter Wanda, who drowned herself in the Vistula rather than marry a German knight. Towards the end of the first millennium A.D Wawel began to play the role of the centre of political power.In the 9th century it became the principal fortified castrum of the Vislane tribe. The first historical ruler of Poland, Miesco I (c.965-992) of the Piast dynasty as well as his successors: Boleslas the Brave (992-1025) and Miesco II (1025-1034) chose Wawel Hill as one of their residences.

At that time Wawel became one of the main Polish centres of Christianity. The first early Romanesque and Romanesque sacral buildings were raised here, including a stone cathedral that was erected after the bishopric of Kraków was established in the year 1000.

During the reign of Casimir the Restorer (1034-1058) Wawel became a significant political and administrative centre for the Polish State. Casimir’s son, Boleslas the Bold (1058-1079) began the construction of a second Romanesque cathedral, which was finished by Boleslas the Wrymouth (1102-1138). In his last will of 1138, this prince divided Poland into districts, and provided that Kraków was to be the residence of the senior prince. In 1291 the city of Kraków along with Wawel Hill temporarily fell under the Czech rule, and Wenceslas II from the Premysl dynasty was crowned King of Poland in Wawel cathedral.

In 1306 the Duke of Kuyavia Ladislas the Short (1306-1333) entered Wawel and was crowned King of Poland in the Cathedral in 1320. It was the first historically recorded coronation of a Polish ruler on Wawel Hill. Around that time, at the initiative of Ladislas the Short, the construction of the third Gothic cathedral began, the castle was expanded and the old wooden and earthen fortifications were replaced by brick ones. The tomb of Ladislas the Short in the cathedral started a royal necropolis of Polish kings in Krakow.The last descendant of the Piast dynasty, Casimir the Great (1333-1370) brought Wawel to a state of unprecedented splendour. In 1364 the expanded gothic castle witnessed the marriage of Casimir’s granddaughter Elizabeth to Charles IV accompanied by a famous convention of kings and princes, subsequently entertained by a rich burgher Wierzynek. The accession to the throne in 1385 of Jadwiga from the Hungarian dynasty of Andegavens, and her marriage to a Lithuanian prince Ladislas Jagiello (1386-1434) started another era of prosperity for Wawel. The royal court employed local and western European artists and also Rus painters. During the reign of Casimir Jagiellon (1447-1492) the silhouette of the hill was enriched by three high brick towers: the Thieves’ Tower, the Sandomierz Tower and the Senatorial Tower. The first humanists in Poland and tutors to the king’s sons: historian Jan Długosz and an Italian by the name Filippo Buonacorsi (also known as Callimachus) worked there at that time.

The Italian Renaissance arrived at Wawel in the early 16th century. King Alexander (1501-1506) and his brother Sigismund I the Old (1506-1548) commissioned the construction of a new palace in place of the Gothic residence, with an impressive large courtyard with arcaded galleries which was completed about 1540. Sigismund’s patronage also left an indelible impression in the cathedral, where a family chapel was erected, known today as Sigismund’s Chapel - the work of Bartolomeo of Berrecci Florence, and through various foundations, one of which was that of a large bell, called the Sigismund to commemorate the king. Close artistic and cultural relations with Italy were strengthened in 1518 by the king’s marriage to Bona Sforza. Alongside Italian artists, German architects, wood workers, painters and metal smiths worked for the king. The last descendant of the Jagiellonian dynasty, Sigismund II Augustus (1548-1572), enriched the castle’s interiors with a magnificent collection of tapestries woven in Brussels. In the “Golden Age” of Polish culture Wawel became one of the main centres of humanism in Europe.

The reign of Sigismund III Waza (1587-1632) also made a strong impression on the history of Wawel. After a fire in the castle in 1595 the king rebuilt the burned wing of the building in the early Baroque style. The relocation of the royal court to Warsaw was the cause of a slow but nevertheless steady deterioration in the castle’s condition. The monarchs visited Kraków only occasionally. Restoration of the castle was undertaken during the reign of John III Sobieski, the Wettins and Stanislas Augustus to counteract neglect.

After Poland had lost its independence in 1795, the troops of partitioning nations, Russia, Prussia and Austria, subsequently occupied Wawel which finally passed into the hands of the Austrians. The new owners converted the castle and some of the secular buildings into a military hospital, and demolished some others, including churches. After the period of the Free City of Kraków (1815-1846) Wawel was once more annexed by Austria and turned into a citadel dominating the city. By the resolution passed by the Seym of Galicia in 1880, the castle was presented as a residence to the Emperor of Austria Franz Josef I. The Austrian troops left the hill between 1905-1911. At the turn of the 20th century a thorough restoration of the cathedral was conducted, and shortly afterwards a process of restoration of the royal castle began which lasted several decades.

When Poland regained its independence in 1918, the castle served as an official residence of the Head of State, and as a museum of historic interiors. During the Nazi occupation the castle was the residence of the German governor general, Hans Frank. Polish people managed to remove the most valuable objects, including the tapestries and the “Szczerbiec” coronation sword to Canada, from where they returned as late as 1959-1961. At present, the main curators of Wawel are Wawel Royal Castle – State Art Collection and the Metropolitan Basilica Board on Wawel Hill.