During our trips across Camp de Tarragona region we haven’t discovered only little authentic villages but in parallel many beautiful medieval castles too.
Gaia is one of the rivers running through the region of Tarragona, and in the 10th and 11th centuries played a strategic role, as it made a natural border between the County of Barcelona and Al-Andalus. For this reason, along its course, near fifty castles and some watchtowers were built to stop the Muslim invasion.
Unfortunately, most of these fortifications were abandoned by their owners, however, there are still some well-maintained, and in a very good condition – mainly those ones that are private and closed for the tourists. Others have been turned into recreational areas and can be visited, and among those ones as well we can find some in a surprisingly good condition.
In this article we focus on the first 5 castles:
1. Tamarit – Castell de Tamarit
The Castle of Tamarit looks like a dream. It’s located on a hill above a super picturesque, sandy beach with a little peninsula. It’s only 13 km from the city of Tarragona, but it’s also worth to combine with a visit to the neighboring village of beautiful Altafulla.
The first written records of the Castle of Tamarit date from the 11th century. The castle contains both defensive and residential elements, including a prison, watchtowers, and a Romanesque church, which is one of the purest and earliest examples of Romanesque architecture within the Tarragona municipal boundaries. From 1681 until the turn of the 20th century, when it was bought and restored by a private American collector, the castle belonged to the Archbishop of Tarragona and the Marquises of Tamarit. In the 19th century, the fishermen’s village that once surrounded the castle was decimated by malarial fevers spread from the nearby marshlands. Tarragona city limits were extended to include the compound in 1950.
Nowadays the castle can be visited in certain hours – unfortunately, when we were there it was closed due to the Alarm State period in Spain -, as well as the Romanesque church is normally open for religious ceremonies. Besides that, it’s a very common venue for weddings, where you can combine a beach ceremony with a traditional wedding celebration among the historical medieval walls.
2. Calafell – Castell de Calafell
The Castle of Calafell is offering magnificent views over the plains of the old village of Calafell and its church. You can reach this hilltop castle by walking up along narrow streets built completely out of rocks and stones.
The castle is officially called the Santa Creu Castle and is a medieval fortified complex, whose records date back to 1037. It was completed in the 12th century during the reconquest and repopulation of the territory against the Moors.
The castle underwent various transformations and had different uses over time, changing from being a Hispanic border castle into a Gothic style residential palace owned by different noble families. Years later, the site became a cemetery, a use that continued until 1938, and from 1982, the Patronato-Fundación del Castillo de Calafell promoted its archaeological excavation and restoration in order to open it to the public.
“The Castle and its surroundings form an open-air Archaeological Park, which explains episodes of the history of the town through a renovated museum. The visitor can enjoy a tour of the site that includes several outstanding points of the castle, such as the Romanesque church, the cistern or the refectory, places that harbor very interesting and curious stories of this Penedès town.”
3. Ferran – Castell de Ferran
Ferran is a tiny village shaped only out of a couple of narrow streets. It belongs to the municipality of Tarragona, and it is the last village in the east of the municipality, just before reaching Altafulla. And the most beautiful architectural piece in the village is definitely the historical Ferran Castle. Its origins date back to the 11th Century when it was just a watchtower belonging to the Castle of Tamarit. This tower has been documented since 1197.
Today the castle is a Gothic-Renaissance building modified in modern times with a historicist and romantic spirit. It is formed by different fortified bodies, between which it emphasizes a crenelated lateral tower, with an angular sentry box. There are several coronella windows of Gothic tradition and others of Renaissance, with the coat of arms of the Marquis of Tamarit, owners of the place from the seventeenth century. At present, the castle is a residential house of private property and it is not allowed to visit the interior.
4. Altafulla – Castell d’Altafulla
Castell d’Altafulla called also “Castell dels Montserrat” is a castle dating from 1059. The castle is an icon in town. It’s possible to spot it from many points at long distance and the views from the road that leads to Altafulla center, where you can admire the castle and part of the old town, are really impressive.
It’s located in a strategic point near Gaià River and was the southernmost defensive structure of the network of castles and fortifications which that time made the border between the Christian county of Barcelona and the territories that belonged to the Muslim territories of Al-Andalus. Dispute being under conflict many times and remodeled along with history this fortification has survived till nowadays.
The castle is private property and has been closed for visitors till the last year 2019 when the town hall finally reach an agreement with the owner, Marquis of Tamarit, to let people visit its inner part twice a month, every first Tuesday and every last Saturday for 4 euros entrance fee. July and August visits are not allowed because some members of the aristocratic family spend their vacations there. It’s possible to visit the renaissance period staircase and a historic patio with orange trees. I tried to find out who is getting those 4 euros and if they dedicate that money to help on the maintenance of a private property or they would dare to say that visitors are paying to maintain a historical heritage relevant for the whole society.
5. El Catllar – Castell Del Catllar
The Castle of El Catllar is situated upon the ruins of a fortified Iron Age settlement on a hill overlooking the meandering River Gaia. Although indications suggest that the castle dates from the beginning of the 11th century, when the river acted as the border between the Catalan counties and the Moorish kingdom of Al-Andalus, archaeological excavations point to the origins of the fort dating back to the period of Muslim occupation or even earlier.
This magnificent castle built upon natural rock left standing only on two rectangular towers and a wall that unites them. We can also see the church of San Juan Baptista, an ancient temple from the year 1776.
Guided tours of the castle are available at weekends. These allow you to see the interesting interior of the castle, which was excavated in 2006, uncovering a large number of remains of ceramic, glass, and metal objects that were once used by its residents. The moat is still visible outside, and also of interest is the group of archaeological remains known as the Era del Castell, which consists of the remains of the three settlements that once stood at the foot of the castle.
It’s always nice to travel back in time and imagine how the life could have been among those stone walls, how the society had functioned during the medieval times. And as well as to see that nowadays how the castles are maintained and being used by the current owners or supervisors.
The other 5 castles you can review in our second article: On the route of the castles in Camp de Tarragona region – part II.