Jimena de la Frontera Detailed

Jimena gatewayJimena de la Frontera castle has a long and eventful history. It is situated on a hilltop overlooking the town of the same name in a region of Cadiz in Aldalusia rich in castles. The ‘Frontera’ or ‘Frontier’ element of the name is common to many villages in this part of Spain and refers to what has become known as the ‘banda morisca’ or moorish strip. This is the region that formed a frontier zone between the Christian kingdoms who were gradually taking the country during the reconquest and the remaining Islamic kingdoms of Granada and al-Andalus.

The castle is fairly ruinous but no less interesting for that. It has so far avoided the over-restoration that so many Spanish castles have been subjected to meaning that the standing remains that do exist here (and there is still much to see) are largely authentic.

Jimena islamic archThe most notable remains that greet the visitor today are the fine and interesting gatehouse to the outer bailey, the tall circular keep built on the highest part of the castle site within the inner bailey, and the multiple underground water cisterns or ‘aljibes’. These latter remains have features such as the ornate brick arcading within, reminiscent of Almohad work elsewhere in al-Andalus and almost certainly of Islamic period work but the main structure may even be of Roman origin.

The castle of Jimena was built upon an earlier Roman site and many archaeological finds from this earlier occupation have been found and some Roman masonry has been incorporated into the Islamic horseshoe arch gateway. Although the castle has a long history and the dating of some of the walls and other building remains difficult it is likely that the castle was enlarged to its present extent in the 13th century by the Islamic lords of the area. This was in response to the growing threat from the Christian reconquest which was retaking ever more land from the Muslims and the increasing number of displaced Muslims who needed to be accommodated as the frontier was pushed back.

The gateway with its original double horseshoe arch and traces of original red and white painted plaster may be 13th century in date but it has been modified by the addition of the square flanking tower known as the Torre del Reloj to the left of the entrance at a later date. Jimena Torre RelojThis tower is possibly a Christian addition of the 15th century, but more likely to be Islamic and closer in date to the original gateway. The square tower shows toothing on its outer face towards the town suggesting that an extension of the curtain wall up to this gate tower existed at this point and this toothing represents the bonding of the wall into the tower.

The large outer bailey would have been the main living area of the castle for the garrison and townspeople, and the inner bailey or Alcazar was the principal part of the castle. This inner enclosure has a rock-cut ditch separating the two areas and an inner gateway across and drawbridge and a finely built double inner curtain (the row of circular holes in the outer of the two walls are gunloops created in 1812 during the Peninsula wars).

Most interesting is the circular keep or great tower that dominates the inner bailey. This tower was enlarged and modified some time after the Christian Jimena keepoccupation of the castle that occurred in 1456. With large first floor doorways and remains of an external staircase this late 15th century keep harks back to the 12th century circular Donjon’s of France and England but it was not built anew at this period. It was a remodelling of an earlier Islamic tower polygonal inside and circular outside which is encased within the later structure. Islamic circular towers within castles are unusual and this one may have started out as a watch tower before being incorporated within the later enlarged castle complex.

The gatehouse contains an inner passageway and chamber, with the raised doorway probably via a timber stair in the gable end of the gate, giving access to a gatehouse chamber with window overlooking the inside (now blocked) and the murder holes situated over the gate passage. Jimena AljibeThe crenelated wall-walk above the gate provides access to the slot machicolation above the outer gateway from which the gate below can be defended and the staircase to the later square tower rising above.

The inclusion of much Roman masonry into the outer face of the gateway including stones with Latin inscriptions and dedications and a capital incorporated into the inner side of the gateway tower as a quoin stone is interesting and the subject of a separate paper on the website here.

It is likely that Jimena castle under the Muslims was plastered and painted thus concealing the reused and irregular masonry blocks and traces of original plaster around the gateway give some indication of this. The location of these Roman monumental stones at gateways and as quion stones may have a wider significance.

Jimena cistern archesA large water cistern or Aljibe is located close to the gateway on the inner courtyard. It has a series of five long rectangular original brick barrel vaulted roofs covering the cistern and the whole is a wonderful survival. The inner structure of the cistern has graceful plastered brick arcades, the construction and design of which resembles Muslim construction of the Almohad period from elsewhere in al-Andalus and are likely to date from this time.

Situated as it was for a long time during the reconquest on the borders of Christian and Islamic Spain, Jimena would have been no stranger to the tensions and conflicts of border skirmishing and politics. Jimena from townThe Christians captured Jimena in 1431 and held it only for a short time before the Muslims retook the area back. The final capitulation of the castle came in 1456 during the concerted period of hostilities against the Kingdom of Granada. The Muslims of al-Andalus would not see Jimena castle again.


There are more pictures of Jimena castle here.





Photos on this page: Jimena de la Frontera castle. From top to bottom: general view; Islamic gateway: torre del Reloj showing toothing; circular great tower; cisterns or Aljibes general view and detail; view of castle from town square.