The historical heritage of the Sierra
There was a time in the Natural Park Sierra de Aracena and Picos de Aroche when the border lines used to change place depending on the disputes between the kingdoms of Castile and Portugal. In view of this situation, the Castilian king Sancho IV El Bravo erected the so-called Galician Band, a series of castles distributed along the region to defend it from Portuguese raids.
We start off our route in Zufre where we can see a fortified site which protected the town. Although there are only a few stretches left of the wall the outline can still be distinguished perfectly.
Its construction dates back to the 12th century during the Almohade age, although the building had to go through some restoration phases in later centuries for maintenance.
About 25 kilometres to the west of Zufre is Aracena. Portuguese and Castilians built their castle on the remains of an Andalusí fortification although the only part remaining of the old fortress are some stretches of the outside walls with square floor plan fortified towers, which gives an idea of its size. There are also remains of the governor’s tower and the low surrounding walls. The most outstanding building in Aracena is the Castle Priory Church (13th – 14th centuries) and the outside Mudéjar tower, decorated with sebke wall decoration, a true reflection of Almohade architecture.
Towards the west, we arrive at Almonaster la Real. Its castle is on top of the hill, overlooking the village. Nowadays the fortification only conserves a walled belt protected by towers.
As in other places in the Nature Park, the courtyard of the castle in Almonaster is now a bullring. But the most interesting element on this architectural site up on the hill is the mosque. This Almonester mosque, with a square floor plant, was erected over the remains of a Visigothic church using the original capitals and Roman shafts for the arches which hold up the ceiling.
Near Almonaster la Real, Cortegana emerges among the craggy rocky landscape with its castle at the top. When the traveller arrives at Cortegana from any direction, the first thing he sees and wonders at is the majestic Sancho IV fortress.
After several phases of restoration work and improvement during the last century, the Cortegana castle and the museum inside can now be visited. The fortress is made of masonry and has brick on the towers and in the inside halls, with a Toledo type construction.
Our route continues in Aroche. Its castle was part of the front defence line of the Galician Band. Built in the 12th century during the Moslem rule, it has a polygonal triangular shape with outside walls and a perimeter of nearly 300 metres with ten mud wall towers.
Its most outstanding element is the Queen’s Door with an equilateral horseshoe arch which is out of use today. Since 1802 the Aroche bullring can be found inside the courtyard with the seating held up by the old walls.
To the north of the region is the medieval castle of Encinasola (13th century). The geographical situation of this bordering town with Portugal made it a vital place for the Seville Council. The fortress is in the very heart of the town, partially hidden by houses which were built against its walls after it had lost its military function.
Continuing our visit to Encinasola, we can also find two forts built at the end of the 17th century. The San Felipe and San Juan forts were dedicated to king Felipe II and his brother Juan de Austria respectively and are now a symbol of the prolific local village history.
This route also visits other fortresses located in the northern area of the Nature Park. Cumbres de San Bartolomé takes pride in its two castles: one now fitted out for cultural use and the other, Torres castle, situated about fifteen kilometres from the previous one. Built on a hill to control the Múrtigas valley, there are only a few remains left to bear witness of its previous existence.
Towards the east, San Miguel fortress (1293) in Cumbres Mayores holds centuries of history and identification within its walls and towers. The castle has an impressive door called Puerta de San Miguel, the main entrance inscribed between two towers with an equilateral arch and also the popular Sun and Moon Gate which shows a marble relief with both these elements.
In Cala, the castle is situated on a hill close to the town centre. Its walls are built with lime and stones between masonry walls. Its origin could be from the beginning of the 14th century and it has a polygonal floor plant with seven solid towers.
Our route ends in Santa Olalla del Cala which has one of the larges castles in the mountain region. A series of restoration work has brought it partially back to its old splendour.