Originally part of a Roman citadel, the Alcazaba of Antequera has been an important fortress for and community centre for well over 8000 years as can be appreciated from the Dolmen structures situated just 2km away.
Excavations around the hill containing the fortress show several Roman ruins that are under investigation, including tombs and the Roman baths. During the Visigothic era some of the Roman walls were modified, but little of the Visigothic period remain that is visible to the eye. In the 11th century Antequera became a minor caliphate (taifa) and the beginnings of the current Alcazaba were started, including the overall geometry.
Look for hotels and apartments in Antequera here…By the 14th century however Christian advances from the North had reduced Al-Andalus to little more than a rump state with Antequera, Ronda, and Almeria defending her borders from encroachment. To this end Antequera assumed an importance beyond her economic value to the Kingdom of Granada, and the Alcazaba was rebuilt and strengthened, including the addition of towers and extensions to protect access to the river below the fortress.
Entering the Alcazaba today the visitor is struck by how large the complex is, though part of this is made up of a church and two small streets of houses with a plaza between them. From the city we pass through the Arco de los Gigantes, which was named after a huge statue of Hercules and two robed figures that supported him. These have since been removed for protection and are now housed in the Municipal Museum.
The ticket office to enter the Alcazaba proper is inside the arch and to the left, and is one of the two information offices in Antequera. After paying your 6 Euros to enter, make your way across the plaza to the right of the arch and enter a smaller gate from where you’ll climb some steps to the next level, which is the top of the wall above the arch, and from which photos down into the city and toward the church can be taken.
From here most visitors seem to be struck by how devoid the Alcazaba is of any structures within the walls. In fact most of the complex appears to be laid out in gardens with just a few ruined walls to remind that this once used to be one of the most important frontier castles of the Kingdom of Granada.
Only when we walk toward the far corner and the Torre de Homenaje do we see signs that within these walls there once existed an army to defend Moorish Spain from the onslaught of the Christian North. Of course the Torre de Homenaje can’t be missed, but it is the deep well with the steel grill that caught my attention.
Why? Quite simply this wasn’t a well. It was in fact the dungeon where prisoners were dumped. Six metres deep, and only three metres in diameter, and completely exposed to the elements probably made this a hell hole. Part of the bottom has been cut out, either to make room for more prisoners, or by prisoners themselves to give them shelter from the sun and rain. Perhaps we’ll never know.
The torre de homenaje (Homage Tower) stands proud behind the dungeon and is one of the largest keeps in Andalucia, and built in two main stages, the lower two thirds built as part of the original Moorish defences, and the upper third which contains a bell and steepled roof named El Papabellotas.
The keep is also known as the 5 cornered tower because it is actually built in an L shape, whilst the bell tower sitting above it is square. It was from the keep that Fernando I of Aragon celebrated his victory over the Moors and the surrender of Antequera to his forces on the 16th September 1410.
So significant was Fernando’s win at Antequera that part of his official titles became Don Fernando of Antequera after he was crowned King of Aragon in 112. To this day the main street in Antequera is still named Calle Infante Don Fernando.
The tower and bell were paid for when a cork forest was sold by the crown to raise the funds needed, hence the name El Papabellotas, and at the time the bell was one of the largest in the world. It was primarily used to mark the time, specifically to call the faithful to Mass, and to help farmers know when to irrigate their fields.
Also not to be missed within the Alcazaba complex are the Torre Blanca, the Roman tomb, and the views through the horseshoe shaped windows of the Torre Blanca.
As part of your ticket you may also have entry to the Collegiate Church (abandoned 1692) which is adjacent the Alcazaba, and for interest this is worth popping your head in, if only to see the float with the seven dragon heads on it, and the grave stone in the floor with the skull and cross bones engraved in it.