Fortified Farmsteads of Torredelcampo - the Marches of Southern Spain

After the initial occupation of the Iberian peninsular by Muslims from North Africa and the Middle East (the Moors) in the 8th century, the area of Islamic occupation had retreated to the south of Spain by the 13th century.

This southern region of Spain was always the heart of the Islamic kingdom of Al-Andalus, (originally the Arabic name for the whole Iberian peninsula) and, by being the first area settled and continuously inhabited by Muslims was their heartland. The greatest and most lavish areas of the kingdom were here and the final stronghold of the Islamic kings (or Caliphs) was here too, in Granada. The Christians finally expelled the Moors from Spain in the late 15th century after a 700-year presence in the country.

One of the major centres of Islamic territory for most of this period was the city of Jaen (pronounced hay-en), in the northern part of the province of Andalusia, the warm dry region in the south of Spain. Today in Jaen can be found the remains of a magnificent Muslim castle on the hill above the city, with remaining sections of protective town wall stretching from the castle, down the hillside and around the settlement below.

There are also numerous castles still to be seen in this area and, in the Middle Ages, the region formed a frontier zone between Muslim and Christian occupation for many years.photo burreco

An area named after the village of Torredelcampo a few kilometres to the northwest of Jaen is particularly interesting as it was a medieval frontier zone and it contains today the remains of several fortified buildings mostly of modest scale and domestic origins. This area can be compared to the Marches of Wales or, particularly in regard to the architecture, to Scotland in the Middle Ages and like those areas had many years of border conflict, skirmishing and raiding.

The ownership and occupation of the area ebbed and flowed between Christian and Muslim, between periods of stability and warfare. The first half of the 13th century saw particular activity but the area remained a frontier zone for over two hundred years.

In the 13th century in particular, the area not only alternated between Christians and Muslims but also between factions and groups within. For example the powerful military orders in Spain (the Crusaders of the Iberian peninsula) were particularly keen on gaining territory and castles from the Moors, some of which they retained for themselves and others that would in turn be taken by Spanish Kings. The Knights of Calatrava were the most powerful military order in Spain and for many years held vast estates, including territory around Torredelcampo.

Torredelcampo was not only a frontier zone it was also a region through which major supply routes passed. It was, and still is, a very fertile area with excellent soil and a good climate for growing olives and other valuable crops.

However, during the frontier period (Jaen was taken by Christian kings in 1246) most border areas are assumed to have been sparsely populated due to the obvious dangers. Most agricultural land was given over to the grazing of livestock on both sides and this often formed the target of raiding parties. Despite the dangers it was in the interests of the kings to have a human population in these areas so incentives such as tax reductions were offered to inhabitants in order to encourage them to stay.

So our area was always a rural, agricultural one in the Middle Ages with a few small villages and isolated farmsteads scattered around. It is still essentially the same landscape today and because no important routes pass through nowadays it is probably quieter and more isolated than it was for most of the Middle Ages. For people who lived here it is not surprising in such a frontier zone that defensive structures were built to live in along with the hilltop watchtowers that were a common feature of medieval Spain.

However, it is the concentration of small domestic fortified towers and farmsteads that make this area of particular note. Tower Houses are not common in Spain and the few still here, in circumstances that are not too difficult to visualise in the Middle Ages, are significant.

The visitor to Torredelcampo today can travel the area and see the remains of small medieval fortified houses and farmsteads, minor castles and a number of watchtowers. The Jaen tourist office has created an archaeological route of these buildings and they make an interesting few hours excursion driving around some quiet country lanes and tracks to discover and explore the buildings. Few visitors actually make the effort to see this area and as most of the buildings are either still occupied, incorporated into later farms or simply ruinous, they hold little interest for the general public.

La Muna

photo la munaOf particular note is the farmstead of La Muna some 10 Km northwest of Torredelcampo. The important remains are of a 13th/14th century rectangular tower keep of two storeys surrounded by farm buildings, all built on a small rocky knoll. It has not yet been established by archaeologists if the adjacent buildings are in some parts contemporary with the tower or built on earlier foundations or if the site consisted only of the strong tower that we see today. The name of the site is Arabic in origin (meaning garden) strongly suggesting the foundation of la Muna was during the Islamic occupation period of the early middle ages. Nearby can be found some remains of the Roman period indicating the long history to the location.

There do not appear to be any earthworks or visible defences around the site and the tower-house may well have been the main refuge in troubled times if indeed there were further outbuildings at all. The farmstead is still occupied so viewing has to be from the roadside but there is an information board here.

plan la munaThe tower is stone built with a ground floor entrance and a first floor chamber above. Both ground and first floor rooms are brick vaulted with the upper room much larger and higher than the ground floor. There are no windows or loops at ground floor level but the upper floor has three small openings with wide embrasures to the interior. The stair to the upper floor is contained within the thickness of the wall.

It can be conjectured that the ground floor was used as storage and perhaps kitchen space with the upper chamber providing living accommodation and a little more comfort.

From the entrance door one has to walk across the ground floor to the recess and staircase in the far wall in order to gain entry to the upper floor and roof space.

 

El Castil

photo el castilAnother very interesting fortified farmstead is within the remains of El Castil. A few kilometres nearer to the village of Torredelcampo the ruins of this building can be explored with care. The original medieval buildings have been much added to over the years but with a little time spent here the remnants of the medieval buildings can be detected.

photo el castil detailThe farmstead held a strong tower at its heart as well as some square section towers and a wall enclosing a small courtyard surrounding the tower. These remains have more recent extensions to them, particularly the tower which has a building on top of the original and covered with a tiled sloping roof.

The heavy stone walls of the lower storeys have no lights or openings at ground level and small openings at first floor reveal the defensive origins.

 

El Berrueco

photo el berrueco wideThis structure is actually a small castle built on a low outcrop of rock in an otherwise gentle rolling landscape. Never a major fortress, this was a simple and roughly built enclosure, established by the Muslims in the 11th century, with simple accommodation within a roughly built stone curtain. The walls were built around the edge of a rocky outcrop of sandstone with the curtains built as extensions of the cliff faces where possible.

The castle comprises of two courtyards, the lower of which contains very steep and rocky ground and would be most unsuitable for human habitation. Perhaps this was a livestock compound. Some of the remains we see today are likely to be of 11th century date, particularly the lower courses of the curtain and probably some areas of tapial wall, being of the original Islamic foundation. But as is often the case later additions and alterations have been made to the original structure and the bulk of the visible remains date from the 13th century and is the work of the Christian conquerors.

photo el berruecoIt is most likely that the circular towers the remains of wall walks and the box machicolations above the vulnerable corners of the curtain are 13th century.

As with most of the buildings in the area the castle changed hands many times and the Knights of Calatrava were in possession for a period. Surrounding the castle until the 14th century was a small hamlet of dwellings but then abandoned after that time. In more recent years iron ore mining was introduced in the vicinity of El Berrueco, albeit on a very small scale, and this led to the re-establishment of a small community again that lasted until 1950.

Today a smallholding occupies the site and it sees few travellers or visitors. But this site in particular was the most important fortified building in the area, standing as it did, on the crossroads of some important routes. Well positioned to provide both a watching eye on traffic moving along these roads and perhaps to collect tolls from travellers and merchants.


The above introduces three of the more interesting of these modest, domestic medieval buildings to be found within this small area around Torredelcampo. There are a number of others to be visited that have not been described here but are also of great interest.

Slightly further afield are to be found a number of more substantial castles, perhaps these being more typical of those found throughout Spain but all of them full of interest and well worth visiting.

 

 


Photo's on this page: Self explanatory.