Spanish Castle Types
There is a great deal of discussion and debate at the moment surrounding the definition of a ‘Castle’. We are not going to explore this interesting subject within the pages of this website.
Most people today, especially those with only a passing interest in castles, seem clear about the meaning of the term. It would appear that people of the medieval period had a wider range of meanings for the word castle. Indeed there are many associated words for castle in most European languages that are interchangeable.
I am going to adopt a somewhat liberal interpretation in this website and include fortified buildings of all types throughout our period including some religious buildings.
Introduced by the first Muslim conquerers of Spain in the 8th century and developed various styles and attributes until the 15th century.
Early examples were essentially fortresses to house a garrison and later more sophisticated designs and uses developed. Often used ‘tapial’ in the construction of walls.
Characteristic features are ‘Albarrana’ towers. sophisticated water cisterns and water storage engineering, often containing towers but less commonly with residential ‘keeps’
These are not unique to Spain by any means but rock castles are by their very nature dominant and highly visible features in the landscape. Rock castles are built onto and sometime out of the living rock. They can be situated high above the town below, or in some cases built in inaccessible mountain passes or remote outcrops.
They are often built from the same rock on which they stand, emphasising the unity of both castle and rock as a impregnable and therefore powerful structure.
Keeps or Towers of Homage (Torre del Homenaje) are mainly constructed in Spanish castles by Christian builders and date from the 12 to the 16th century and beyond. The many castles in Spain of Islamic origin were often modified during the re-conquest with the addition of a keep. Sometimes an existing Islamic tower was heightened or otherwise embellished and made more significant. A few castles were built with keeps by Islamic rulers (e.g. Biar) but they are unusual and probably influenced by Christian contemporaries.
They were employed by all kinds of castle owner from kings and nobles to the military orders and, as in other parts of Europe, were of many and varied styles.
This feature is a tangible reflection of the different social and political structure of Christian and Muslim society and no longer considered a purely defensive feature.
They are found throughout Spain wherever Christian occupation demanded castles to be built or maintained.
Many walled towns in Spain have a long history with some dating from Roman times. The Muslims were great builders of walled towns, many encircling vast areas including the castle. The Islamic term for defensive walled towns was Alcazaba with the adjoining fortified castle or palace the Alcazar.
The Christians were equally skilled in the construction of fortified towns and gateways, again as much for the prestige brought to the town, as for defensive qualities.
Not all fortified towns had a castle within the walls with some, such as Avila, maintaining a full circuit of walls to this day.
Here the definition of Castles becomes a little stretched. If we accept that a castle is the seat of administration of the area, town or region, we are left with the private residences and farms, country houses and hunting estates that either for defence or prestige (or both) were built in defensive style.
Both Muslims and Christians built such fortified houses and palaces, most often in places of border conflict. The remaining visible remains of these types of buildings are far less common and naturally more modest structures than are true castles but none the less interesting for that. Indeed, their scarcity make them a fascinating line of study.