Baños de la Encina is a town that already invites you to spend a weekend there. It has a reservoir with a beach, a perfect connection with the A-4, wonderful routes at a stone’s throw and all the excellence of the mountain cuisine of Jaén. But it is also home to the oldest castle in Spain that is still standing. Yes, the oldest. A gem with perfectly preserved walls. This weekend getaway takes you back to the distant and medieval 10th century.
The fact that this fortress is in a mountainous area does not mean that its immediate surroundings are abrupt. On the contrary, it is surrounded by green countryside. Something to take into account, because it has always been a trend to build forts on high ground. No need to think about it, they are easier to defend.
That is why the Celtiberians and Romans who inhabited what is now Baños de la Encina settled on the hill of the castle. Several excavations have shown this to be true. However, it was centuries later, in the year 967 when everything changed.
By then the Caliphate of Córdoba was the most powerful force in the peninsula. Its second supreme leader, Al-Hakam II, was the one who set up this millenary castle. He did it following the advice of Galib, his best general. Thus, it was part of a network of fortresses that overlooked the entire Sierra Morena. Bury al-Hamman, translated as castle of the baths, was its name. It is also believed that this is the origin of another of its names: Burgalimar. It was luckier than many of his companions, reaching the present day with its almost intact silhouette, after passing into Christian hands in the early thirteenth century.
This fortress has a lot of elements that make it very interesting, beyond its antiquity. For example, it is made of rammed earth. This was neither more nor less than a mass of mud, an adobe, Arabic. A less powerful material than stone, yes, but no one could beat the Muslims in ingenuity: they painted it to look like rock.
It also has 15 towers. All but one are original, with that characteristic square floor plan. Curiously, in Moorish times they were filled. It was the Christians who emptied them. One of them was reinforced. It is the keep, the highest tower that can be seen today. Accessible, it offers impressive views.
The area created by its 50 meters wide and 100 meters long barely preserves the remains of the interior. However, the exterior looks spectacular. Its location made it a perfect passing area on trips from the north, which is why it sheltered many kings in its Christian era. Hence some call it the castle of the seven kings. The fact that it can fly the flag of the European Union is an even greater honor. The reason? It is more than a thousand years old. Only another in Europe, that of Florence, can fly such an ensign.
As mentioned, this magnificent Weekend Getaway and its town are in a very interesting area. Although without leaving it is worth mentioning the church of San Mateo and several hermitages. Do not forget to treat yourself to local dishes such as migas serranas. Although a simple piece of bread with local oil is enough to have a nice experience.
If the weather is good, the Rumblar reservoir is a good option to complete a day trip. For example, a great option is to walk from the center to the viewpoint of Cerro Moyano. A quieter option is to go to the Tramujoso beach. Another alternative, for active tourism, is to rent a kayak to wander through the dammed waters.
Bailén, associated with the mythical battle of the War of Independence, or Andújar, with its varied monuments, are the choice for those who prefer to diversify by culture. Finally, in the natural area, the routes through the nearby Sierra de Andújar or the well-known Despeñaperros to the north stand out.
In this Weekend Getaway there are always places with aura. But we must recognize that the castle of Baños de la Encina is one of those that wins the prize. Being the oldest gives it a plus that is difficult to overlook. An environment of great beauty, perfect conservation and the added bonus of knowing that this piece of land has been active since the Copper Age do the rest.