The Middle Ages have always moved under a halo of obscurantism. The period began with a decline that extended over centuries, and then gave way to a time of flourishing that led to the modern era. Luckily, the Spanish geography keeps many memories of the Middle Ages with its towns. These stand out for their impressive castles, the great walled enclosures or their beautiful cathedrals and monasteries. An attraction that drinks from the past and that we gather in this review of some of the most beautiful medieval villages in Spain.
The cobbled streets, the stone buildings, the collegiate church of Santa Juliana… There are many elements to visit Santillana del Mar, one of the most beautiful medieval villages in Spain. The combination of a tight urban control and a great patrimonial preservation lets us transit by it like making a trip to the Middle Ages. Moreover, it is very well connected with interesting places such as Comillas or Santander. In addition, the Northern Way of Santiago runs through it and next to it are the Altamira Caves.
Besides being one of the most beautiful medieval villages in Spain, the place has one of the most recognizable silhouettes of Girona. This is its spectacular, fortified bridge over the River Fluvià. A landmark that later leads to the monastery of Sant Pere. It also highlights the Jewish legacy of the place through its old baths. Nearby is the also impressive Castellfollit de la Roca, in the Garrotxa Natural Park. This tiny village extends over a large cliff to complement your trip to Besalú.
The feeling that this town gives is that time has stood still in it. The exteriors of Pedraza allow you to enjoy a true getaway to the Middle Ages thanks to its excellent state of conservation. Watered by the Cega, San Miguel and Vadillo streams, this town of Segovia has an extraordinary medieval prison that is conveniently museumised. The once extraordinary castle was ruined, but the painter Ignacio Zuloaga rescued the keep. Later his descendants raised another one. The stony constructions add a very evocative aura to the enclave. Thus it is easy to imagine the duel between the Duke of Benavente and the Duke of Frías at the beginning of the 16th century for the possession of the place, with the latter winning.
It is difficult to deal with the Middle Ages without the appearance of military orders. In many cases its castles generated populations around it, as is the case of Miravet. The Arabic nucleus makes up the centre of the old town. This village survived until the Muslims were expelled in the 17th century by Ottoman pressure and uprisings such as those that occurred a century earlier in the Alpujarras. At the top of the site stands the medieval castle, a construction of Muslim origin that the Templars adapted to their needs. However, the fate awaiting the knights who defended this and other fortresses of the Order of the Temple was ultimately tragic. The stronghold where they made their last stand is known as the “Tower of Blood”.
In the mid-14th century, the Nazari Kingdom of Granada was forced to reinforce its border with Castile. The pressure was growing and several fortresses were emerging. In this way Yusuf I built a fortress that gave rise to what is now Montefrío. For about 150 years it managed to hold the pulse that the Christians were throwing from Jaén. In this period it was even the Court of the monarch of Granada
3Aben Ismail III. The remains of the fortifications that dominate the crag of the town saw, at the end of the fifteenth century, how the Great Captain took the place definitively. These remains and the chaotic layout of the streets make it one of the most outstanding medieval towns in Spain on this list.
Halfway between Castile and Aragon, the Señorío de Molina has been independent for much of its history. Its large castle served as a point of reference for this region in the far east of the province of Guadalajara. It is precisely its fortress that makes it one of the most beautiful medieval villages in Spain. The Arabs built a fortress on top of a fortification in the 10th century, which was taken over by Alfonso I of Aragon, the Batallador. Under Christian rule it took on its Romanesque aspect. A bridge and churches in the same style complement the Molina Castle, as well as the old Jewish and Moorish quarters. Finally, the town is a great base to discover the Upper Tagus or the south of Teruel.
Huesca is one of the country’s great paradises for lovers of the medieval. In addition to cities like Jaca and buildings like the monastery of San Juan de la Peña, the province has small and isolated nuclei as interesting as Torla. Its situation next to the border with France made the whole town a defensive framework. The best example is its fortified church of San Miguel. The Gallic attacks led to the ruin of its castle in the 14th century, although the crypt of San Jorge remains. The 13th century Plaza Mayor is also noteworthy. In addition, the nearby Ordesa Valley environment in autumn is one of the most outstanding in the country.
This is probably the most famous place in this review of the most famous medieval towns in Spain, as it seems to have been taken from a fairytale. The Royal Palace of Olite is its greatest landmark. It has two well differentiated parts. One, of a military nature, was built by Sancho VII over Roman remains in the 13th century. Later on, the second one was built by order of Charles III the Noble, known as the Palace of the Monarchs of Navarre. But, in addition to this architectural wonder, there are other medieval incentives to visit this town. For example, several galleries or the convent of San Francisco, which is believed to have been promoted by the saint himself when he was on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.
Urueña’s popularity has grown a lot in recent years as it has become the “town with more bookstores than bars”. But, apart from being one of the Villas del Libros, it is also one of the most beautiful medieval towns in Spain. Two unfortunate ladies of the Middle Ages lived here: Doña Urraca de León and María de Padilla. The complete set of walls with round cubes, as well as its castle, makes it look like a sort of model from a distance. The masonry houses accompany this effect once you enter the town. The beautiful hermitage of Nuestra Señora de la Anunciada is located on the moor that is guarded by the defences. This temple is in the Romanesque Lombard style.
It is time to look at Zaragoza to continue with this review of the most beautiful medieval villages in Spain. Part of the complex known as the “Cinco Villas”, it is considered one of the best preserved fortified towns in the country. The highest point of the village, the Peña Feliciana, still shows the homage tower of the Zaragoza medieval fortress that gave rise to the present town. Its mission was to guard the nearby border with Navarre. Next to the Jewish quarter is the Sada Palace, where Ferdinand II of Aragon, better known as Ferdinand the Catholic, was born. Also, the church of San Esteban is another obligatory stop. Getting lost in the streets and walking along the remains of the walls is the best way to get to know Sos.
It is not necessary to leave Aragon to reach the next town in this review. The peculiar composition of Albarracín has made it a great tourist destination. The river Guadalaviar bathes the lower part of the town, where the Cathedral of El Salvador stands out. Showing the local architectural style of ochre, the large houses and buildings create a great atmosphere.
However, the most recognizable landmark of the place is its walls. They are complemented by the Albarracín Castle, an old citadel; the Andador Tower, which predates the walls, and the Doña Blanca Tower. It is said that this unfortunate Aragonese princess died there, exiled by the envy of her sister-in-law. Legend has it that she appears with the full moons of the summer. An esoteric touch that adds attraction to the place that Azorín considered the most beautiful town in Spain.
In the Middle Ages the Church was one of the most powerful estates. A graphic witness is Sigüenza. Dominating the civil from the imposing castle and controlling the ecclesiastical from the cathedral of Santa Maria, the Seguntinian prelates were a reference figure in the Alcarria for centuries. Today the town shows a very well preserved medieval aspect. The fortress is a parador; while the cathedral impresses with its huge dimensions and the two big towers of its main entrance. Its many temples and chapels, the figure of the Doncel and its steep streets end up making up the postcard of one of the most beautiful medieval villages in Spain.
Despite its small size, Frías had the honor of being the smallest city in Spain. Its past splendour and strategic importance caused it to hold such a title. At present it appears as a beautiful set perched on a cliff called “La Muela”. Its church of San Vicente and the castle stand out from the rest. Especially striking is a tower that rises unusually high on the rock that closes the fortress. Going down to the river Ebro you can see a great bridge from the 13th century.
The Maestrazgo of Castellón is the area where Morella is located. It is perhaps the most complete of the medieval towns in Spain that appear on this list. As usual, it extends over a hill crowned by a castle. The power of this was already huge in Arab times. During its time in the service of the Taifa of Zaragoza, El Cid Campeador devastated its surroundings on several occasions, but the fortress remained safe. Although the Christians reformed the enclosure, they respected the main lines of it. It should be noted that the cistern is Roman.
At the foot of Morella castle there is a large walled perimeter. It contains a good number of medieval temples. For example, the convent of San Francisco, the church of Santa María or the hermitage of Santa Llúcia i Sant Llacer. Finally, one of its most extraordinary elements is the aqueduct of Santa Lucia. It is Gothic and dates from the 14th century.
Above the surrounding farmland; on a hill, stands this imposing town of Cáceres. Its entire perimeter is surrounded by an exceptionally well-preserved 13th century Almohad wall. In fact, the centre cannot be accessed except through one of the three access gates. The pillory, the tower of homage of the old fortress, allows you to see the town from miles around. The church, in which the Mudejar apse from the same century as the defensive walls survives, completes the complex. Its position was key to defending this stretch of the Jerte and the goods of the nearby Silver Way, the main road to Santiago that comes from the south.
The isolation that Patones de Arriba has experienced throughout history means that today it is one of the most beautiful medieval villages in Spain. It is a great example of black architecture outside of Guadalajara. This type of construction stands out for its use of slate and is very common in the surroundings of the Sierra de Ayllón. Another element of the Middle Ages that is essential is the Hermitage of Virgen de la Oliva. Less than half an hour away is Buitrago de Lozoya, another of the most outstanding medieval towns in Madrid.
To close this list, it is time to return to Galicia, also to a Jacobean place. Shortly before the Northern Way to Santiago links with the French one, the monastery of Santa María de Sobrado dos Monxes appears. It is the absolute protagonist of this town in A Coruña. In Cistercian style, it has managed to recover after the abandonment caused by the Disentailment of Mendizabal. Unlike its sibling, the monastery of Oseira, the enclosure appears naked. His works of art were totally plundered. The small community that inhabits it maintains a hostel and allows visits to an enclosure that evokes in a unique way the world of the Middle Ages.
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