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Spain’s most spectacular castles

From the homes of kings and popes to Hollywood movie locations and luxury hotels, our pick of 15 stunning fortresses

  • Built by the Knights Templar in the late 13th century based on designs from fortresses they came across in the Holy Land, Peñiscola’s castle holds the distinction of having once been the residence of Spanish-born Pope Benedict XIII, known as Papa Luna, who refused to relinquish his papacy after he was excommunicated in 1417. The so-called anti-pope fled to what was then the Kingdom of Aragon, setting up residence in Peñiscola until his death in 1423.
    1A papal refuge (Peñíscola, Castellón) Built by the Knights Templar in the late 13th century based on designs from fortresses they came across in the Holy Land, Peñiscola’s castle holds the distinction of having once been the residence of Spanish-born Pope Benedict XIII, known as Papa Luna, who refused to relinquish his papacy after he was excommunicated in 1417. The so-called anti-pope fled to what was then the Kingdom of Aragon, setting up residence in Peñiscola until his death in 1423.
  • Built by the Arab conquerors at the end of the 10th century to strengthen the frontier north of the Duero river, this was one of the largest castles in Europe, playing a key role during the Christian Reconquest of Spain. It was subsequently turned into a prison.
    2The Reconquest in the Duero (Gormaz, Soria) Built by the Arab conquerors at the end of the 10th century to strengthen the frontier north of the Duero river, this was one of the largest castles in Europe, playing a key role during the Christian Reconquest of Spain. It was subsequently turned into a prison.
  • Dating back to the 12th century, this castle was part of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada. Its elongated triangular shape is the result of its construction being adapted to the rock on which it is built. It’s a steep climb to the top, but the views are spectacular.
    3A view from the rock (Olvera, Cádiz) Dating back to the 12th century, this castle was part of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada. Its elongated triangular shape is the result of its construction being adapted to the rock on which it is built. It’s a steep climb to the top, but the views are spectacular.
  • One of the best-preserved early medieval castles in Europe, Loarre has featured in several films, among them Ridley Scott’s ‘Kingdom of Heaven.’ Its dark, narrow passages, designed to trap attackers, contrast with the beautiful church, the dome of which is built into the walls.
    4A Hollywood movie set (Loarre, Huesca) One of the best-preserved early medieval castles in Europe, Loarre has featured in several films, among them Ridley Scott’s ‘Kingdom of Heaven.’ Its dark, narrow passages, designed to trap attackers, contrast with the beautiful church, the dome of which is built into the walls.
  • This magnificent pile was built by the Arabs in 760 on top of the ruins of a Roman fortress looking out over the Guadalquivir plain. According to legend, the ghost of Princess Zaida of Seville, a refugee Muslim princess and mistress of 11th-century monarch Alfonso VI of Castile, still walks the ramparts in search of her regal love.
    5Watching over the Guadalquivir (Almodóvar, Córdoba) This magnificent pile was built by the Arabs in 760 on top of the ruins of a Roman fortress looking out over the Guadalquivir plain. According to legend, the ghost of Princess Zaida of Seville, a refugee Muslim princess and mistress of 11th-century monarch Alfonso VI of Castile, still walks the ramparts in search of her regal love.
  • Ordered built by Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar y Mendoza, Count of El Cid and Marquis of Cenete, this marvel dates back to the early 16th century and is one of the first examples of renaissance architecture in Spain. The inner courtyard is made from white Carrara marble, while the outer walls have been stained red by the dust blown from the iron mine at nearby Alquife.
    6A renaissance palace in Granada (La Calahorra, Granada) Ordered built by Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar y Mendoza, Count of El Cid and Marquis of Cenete, this marvel dates back to the early 16th century and is one of the first examples of renaissance architecture in Spain. The inner courtyard is made from white Carrara marble, while the outer walls have been stained red by the dust blown from the iron mine at nearby Alquife.
  • The boat-like shape of this fortress overlooking the wine-making region of Ribera del Duero comes from it being built along the top of a long, narrow hill. It dates back to the 10th century when the area was the front line in the fight between Muslims and Christians, but its current form dates from the 15th century. The southern wing is home to a wine museum. The view of the castle from the lovely square in Peñafiel is magnificent.
    7The court of the Ribera wine region (Peñafiel, Valladolid) The boat-like shape of this fortress overlooking the wine-making region of Ribera del Duero comes from it being built along the top of a long, narrow hill. It dates back to the 10th century when the area was the front line in the fight between Muslims and Christians, but its current form dates from the 15th century. The southern wing is home to a wine museum. The view of the castle from the lovely square in Peñafiel is magnificent.
  • Built by the Arabs in the 10th century, Monzón’s fortress was captured by the Spanish Christians and later given to the Knights Templar, who educated future king James I the Conqueror here. Legend has it that on certain nights in May, a figure robed in white can be heard crying out – it is the last commander of the castle, who had to hand it over when the Templars were disbanded by order of Philip V of France in 1312.
    8James the Conqueror’s childhood home (Monzón, Huesca) Built by the Arabs in the 10th century, Monzón’s fortress was captured by the Spanish Christians and later given to the Knights Templar, who educated future king James I the Conqueror here. Legend has it that on certain nights in May, a figure robed in white can be heard crying out – it is the last commander of the castle, who had to hand it over when the Templars were disbanded by order of Philip V of France in 1312.
  • There is something more than a little Walt Disney about Segovia’s alcázar, one of the most distinctive castle-palaces in Spain by virtue of its shape – like the bow of a ship. The fortress was originally built by the Arabs, then extended in the mid-13th century, and then further developed under Philip II in the mid-16th century. It has since served as a royal palace, a state prison, a royal artillery college, a military academy, and now houses a museum and military archive.
    9A fairytale fortress (Segovia) There is something more than a little Walt Disney about Segovia’s alcázar, one of the most distinctive castle-palaces in Spain by virtue of its shape – like the bow of a ship. The fortress was originally built by the Arabs, then extended in the mid-13th century, and then further developed under Philip II in the mid-16th century. It has since served as a royal palace, a state prison, a royal artillery college, a military academy, and now houses a museum and military archive.
  • Perched atop the aptly named Eagle’s Mount, this gothic construction dates back to the Arab period, and had fallen into such disrepair over the centuries that it came close to being demolished in 1919. Fortunately, it wasn’t, and is now one of the best examples of its type in the Castilla-La Mancha region.
    10Perched atop the aptly named Eagle’s Mount, this gothic construction dates back to the Arab period, and had fallen into such disrepair over the centuries that it came close to being demolished in 1919. Fortunately, it wasn’t, and is now one of the best examples of its type in the Castilla-La Mancha region.
  • A strategic enclave during the Reconquest, Jadraque has been the home of kings and a witness to the feats of medieval hero El Cid. What remains today dates back mainly to the last third of the 15th century. In 1899, the authorities in the nearby town of Jadraque bought it for 305 pesetas.
    11A strategic enclave during the Reconquest, Jadraque has been the home of kings and a witness to the feats of medieval hero El Cid. What remains today dates back mainly to the last third of the 15th century. In 1899, the authorities in the nearby town of Jadraque bought it for 305 pesetas.
  • Used in the epic movie ‘El Cid’ starring Charlton Heston, this 13th-century fortress resisted conquest and is today a center for medieval studies.
    12For medieval scholars (Montealegre de Campos, Valladolid) Used in the epic movie ‘El Cid’ starring Charlton Heston, this 13th-century fortress resisted conquest and is today a center for medieval studies.
  • The castle of the Dukes of Alburquerque is a mish-mash of styles, ranging from the 13th century through to the 18th century, with gothic and renaissance predominating. From the 16th century onwards, the original fortress was transformed into a sumptuous palace that was used by the Duke of Wellington during the Peninsula War. Today, it houses a high school.
    13See you in school (Cuéllar, Segovia) The castle of the Dukes of Alburquerque is a mish-mash of styles, ranging from the 13th century through to the 18th century, with gothic and renaissance predominating. From the 16th century onwards, the original fortress was transformed into a sumptuous palace that was used by the Duke of Wellington during the Peninsula War. Today, it houses a high school.
  • The court of the monarchs of Navarre until the region was incorporated into the Crown of Castile in 1512, this was one of the most luxurious medieval palaces in Europe. In the 1940s it was restored based on the designs of French architect Viollet le Duc and today part of it is a hotel belonging to the state-run Parador chain.
    14Medieval luxury (Olite, Navarre) The court of the monarchs of Navarre until the region was incorporated into the Crown of Castile in 1512, this was one of the most luxurious medieval palaces in Europe. In the 1940s it was restored based on the designs of French architect Viollet le Duc and today part of it is a hotel belonging to the state-run Parador chain.
  • The best-known medieval fortress in Catalonia, this blends Romanesque and gothic styles and also belongs to the Parador chain. Among its best features are the Minyona tower, which dates back to the 11th century, the Romanesque church of San Vicente de Cardona, and the Dorada and Entresols rooms.
    15A deluxe castle stay (Cardona, Barcelona) The best-known medieval fortress in Catalonia, this blends Romanesque and gothic styles and also belongs to the Parador chain. Among its best features are the Minyona tower, which dates back to the 11th century, the Romanesque church of San Vicente de Cardona, and the Dorada and Entresols rooms.