The medieval town of Morella and its impregnable fortress

The medieval town of Morella is located in the northern end of the Valencian Community, in Castellón, 173 kilometres from the capital of Valencia. Morella is of great historical, cultural and artistic importance, not only because of its robust castle and century-old walls, but also because of the prehistoric finds in the area. Morella also, as a town belonging to the Els Ports district, is close to a variety of interesting towns to visit such as Sant Mateu, Peñíscola or Catí, as well as being an easy getaway to enjoy the landscapes of the Els Ports Natural Park.

History of the fortress of Morella

The town of Morella has had an important strategic value since the beginning of time due to its location between the Ebro Valley and the Mediterranean. The outstanding hill that serves as the centre and fortress of the town has been an enclave prized by Iberians, Romans, Muslims and Christians. On this high hill we can still find the castle of Morella, a fortification that has had great historical importance during the Middle Ages and the Modern Age.

Aerial view of the entire fortress of Morella | Shutterstock
Aerial view of the entire fortress of Morella | Shutterstock

The military fortress, built using natural rock, was built by the Umayyad Caliphate around the tenth century, but has undergone significant modifications over the centuries. Characters like Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, el Cid Campeador, have fought in it, serving different Muslim and Christian kings during the Reconquest. Due to its strategic importance, although Blasco de Alagón conquered the medieval town of Morella in 1232, the Catalan King Jaume I forced him to hand it over, granting Blasco de Alagón control of the town, but reserving ownership of the castle for himself. This fortress also witnessed the War of Succession (1701-1715) and the War of Independence (1808-1814).

Statue in honor of Ramón Cabrera Griñó, Tiger of the Maestrazgo | Shutterstock

But it was during the first of the Carlist Wars (1833-1840) that the castle was of vital importance to the suitor for the crown, Carlos María Isidro de Borbón. Carlist general Ramón Cabrera Griñó, known as the Tiger of the Maestrazgo, appointed Morella as the capital of the Carlist military command of Valencia, Aragon and the Maestrazgo area. Ramón Cabrera sent Carlist lieutenant Pau Alió Anguera to control the area, who managed to take the castle with only 20 men. Carlists managed to resist in the fortress for more than two years the attacks of the troops loyal to Queen Isabella II, who only managed to surrender it, after bombarding it with more than 19,000 projectiles.

The architecture of the Castle of Morella

The entire architectural complex of Morella Castle can be visited in a pleasant walk of about 45 minutes. Before starting the route to the castle, visitors will be greeted by the equestrian sculpture of the Carlist general Ramón Cabrera, the Tiger of the Maestrazgo, which is strongly linked to the history of the city. The visit to the castle begins at the Convent of San Francisco, made up of the church, the cloister and the refectory, and will continue through the different levels of the fortification.

Cloister of the Convent of San Francisco on the access to the Castle of Morella | Shutterstock
Cloister of the Convent of San Francisco on the access to the Castle of Morella | Shutterstock

Morella Castle is structured on three levels that climb to the top of the hill at an altitude of over 1,000 metres in the form of rings. As for the lower level, located at the base of the mola, is made up of a round of a purely defensive, round-shaped wall. The second level is made up of wall canvases, semi-circular towers and guard bodies, and is the area where most of the castle’s rooms are located and which also houses the main entrance gate. The third level is the parade ground with the homage tower, being the most impregnable place and therefore where the official and command rooms were located. In addition, between the fortress and the medieval city of Morella there is an albacara, an open space that was used to store livestock in the event of an attack.

Castle of Morella
Route along the walls of the Castle of Morella | Shutterstock

The main construction technique used is brick-reinforced masonry, although there are several different materials depending on the reforms that were made over the centuries. In addition, the construction was adapted to the terrain, dividing the caves of the hill and making them rooms for different uses, as is the case of the prison of Cacho, which can be visited. The total construction contains 16 towers, six gates and almost two kilometres of wall. Among the rooms that the visitor can visit are the parade ground on the upper level, the governor’s palace or the Cadró Lair, currently a space in memory of the Tigre del Maestrazgo.

Morella and Els Ports in Prehistoric times

Morella and the region of Els Ports have a great importance for the knowledge of the prehistoric times. During its formation in the Upper Jurassic and Lower Cretaceous, approximately between 146 and 98 million years ago, these lands were covered with water. Thanks to its configuration by clayey materials, the region has been able to preserve important remains of calcareous algae, marine fauna and dinosaur bones of great paleontological richness.

Due to the many findings, the municipality of Morella has created the Temps de Dinosaures Museum. A place where visitors can enjoy a large collection of fossils, dinosaur bones and other prehistoric species, including species of carnivorous theropods, enormous herbivores, ornithopods and battleships. The museum offers a didactic visit where adults and children can learn about the world of geology and paleontology through the collection of fossils from the Cretaceous period, also enjoying a full-scale reproduction of the dinosaur Iguanodon, the main specimen that inhabited this region.

Castle of Morella
Rocks of Morella la Vella that host the Levantine cave paintings | Photo:

But, in addition, centuries after the disappearance of these species, the first humans made the region of Morella their home. Next to the country house of Morella la Vella, six kilometres from the town of the same name, a series of cave paintings dating from between 9,000 and 5,000 years ago were discovered in various shelters on the mountain range. These schematic paintings are part of the Levantine cave art and have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. With an important predominance of red, these paintings show hunting scenes where both human and animal figures can be clearly differentiated. Nowadays it is possible to visit some of these representations by appointment while enjoying the landscape and nature of the area.

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