Hike: Abandoned City and Castle

The last serious hike we took was up El Pico and it ended up being one of the most grueling hikes we had ever taken. And this hike was a close second.

It was late August, and the average temperature was 94F (35C). If we get a heat wave (which we did), the temperature goes into the 100’s (+37C). As you can imagine, we’ve been apprehensive about taking ANY kind of hike.

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Besides the temperature the other reason we’d been avoiding this hike is because it required a 30 minute bus ride to even get within 10 miles of our final destination. But our time in Martos is coming to an end, and we really want to make sure we see everything we can before we leave. So heat exhaustion be damned, we packed 10 liters (5 each) and took the stinky bus to the village of Torredelcampo.

Our first stop was the abandoned village of El Castil.

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This stop was the reason we wanted to take this hike in the first place. Sure, we’ve visited an abandoned farm house and even an abandoned spa, but who doesn’t want to see an abandoned village?

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The entire village consisted of about 15 small houses and apartments all crammed together. With one large house (more like a mansion) built on/with the ruins of a medieval watch tower. When we went inside of a few of the smaller houses we learned that they were actually all interconnected so that they formed a sort of multi-story labyrinth.

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So why is this entire village abandoned? As we try to do some research about this place, we keep stumbling on paranormal ghost hunter stuff. It turns out that (in certain circles) El Castil is known as La Aldea Maldita (The Damned/Cursed Village).

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According to ghost hunter folk there were 100 people living in El Castil in the 1930s. Then, during the Spanish Civil War there was a plague that killed almost half of the people living there. The survivors figured that the place was cursed, so they moved away while the spirits of the dead remained.

A slightly less crazy source for information (the Spanish government) shows me that the village was abandoned in 1949, as were many others, because of a new law the fascist government put in place. The law is called EL DECRETO DE 22 DE ABRIL DE 1949 SOBRE PROTECCIÓN DE LOS CASTILLOS ESPAÑOLES, and it’s purpose was to protect and catalog the castles of Spain. It said that any medieval defensive structure, in any state of conservation, was to be placed under the control of the Spanish government in order to protect them from collapse or further alteration. Since that one mansion in the city of El Castil was built on top of a medieval watch tower, and since the watch tower now belonged to the government, the people had to go.

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Half of the population of a village dying sounds crazy, but that part kind of makes sense seeing as how the civil war was happening at that time. Illness, famine, and war time casualties explain the deaths better than a curse (in my opinion). Also fascist governments telling people to just leave makes sense, too. It was probably a bit of both. Maybe it even is damned – we didn’t see any ghosts, though.

Next up was La Torre de la Muña.

In the middle of rural Andalusia there is a dirt road. There are many, many dirt roads but this one is special. Today, the primary purpose of this dirt road is to link Torredelcampo (the tiny village we went to by bus) to Fuerte del Rey (an even tinier village).

But 750 years ago this road went right through one of the most contested borders in the world-at-that-time (besides, maybe, Jerusalem). It’s hard to know exactly where the lines were, but we know they were generally here. Our hike along this route would take us through this history.

There was the watchtower that El Castil was built on. Then about a mile away is another watch tower. While EL DECRETO DE 22 DE ABRIL DE 1949 SOBRE PROTECCIÓN DE LOS CASTILLOS ESPAÑOLES wanted to preserve all these things, there are just too many to keep track of and keep preserved. So we don’t know anything about this watch tower.

It’s named after the stream, El Muna, that runs just down the hill from it. The tower sat on a small hill, and next to it were the remains of more farmhouses. One of the farmhouses looked to be inhabited (rare), so in order to respect the privacy of anyone living there we kept our distance, and moved right on to the next thing.

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El Castillo del Berrueco.

Built in the 1100s by the Moors, and conquered in the 1200’s by the Knights of Calatrava, the Castle of the Berrueco (the name means “boulder” or something) was the most significant rural fortification in Jaen.

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In front of the castle were more farm house ruins, probably abandoned around the same time as El Castil. We took advantage of the shade inside of a ruined church and had a nice break watching lizards climbing on the walls.

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The ruined and abandoned church

The castle has two levels, the upper level was where the governor and the knights stayed, and the bottom was where the animals were kept safe.

We also learned about a cool legend concerning this castle and queen Isabella I, the most important queen/monarch in Spanish history.

The legend goes that the grand master of the Calatrava Knights was getting a little too big for his britches. The various Christian kingdoms that made up Spain were fighting a civil war to figure out who would be the next king. The grand master of the knights of Calatrava offered his loyalty (and his knights) to whichever king would give him the better marriage deal. (These knights were supposed to be celibate, and to stay out of politics, but whatever). King Enrique offered his sister, Isabella, to the jackass. On his way to finalize the marriage deal, he was followed by a flock of storks. He stopped in Berrueco castle, and the storks circled the castle for a while. When the storks finally flew off, he continued his journey, only to die a few days later. The storks were considered to have been an warning, and his death was considered punishment for breaking so many of his holy vows. Isabella remained single, until she married King Ferdinand. This marriage bound the kingdoms of Spain together, ended the Reconquista, and sent Columbus on his voyage of “discovery”. 

If any part of this is true – then Spain’s entire history would be different. Isabelle’s marriage to Ferdinand was critical to ending the 700-1000 year war between the Muslims and Christians. If she hadn’t married Ferdinand their kingdoms (and thus armies) would never have worked together to end the war.

This old castle was probably one of the more interesting things we’ve seen in Spain, no joke. Yes, we’ve seen the Alhambra, and the various Alcazars of Jerez, Seville, Cordoba, etc. But this one just felt so real.

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It’s old and abandoned. No one cares about it anymore and it is quietly dissolving in the sun.

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But it was on the front-lines for ages.

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It was also just fun to wander around int. The entire castle was totally open for exploration, no guard rails, no signs, nothing.

After enjoying this castle we realized that maybe, just maybe, we had gone a bit too far. Back in Torredelcampo (our starting point) there was about to be a huge gap in the bus schedule. So if we didn’t catch the next bus we would be trapped in the village (with nothing to do) for 3+ hours. So we did the reasonable thing and power walked in the 95 degree heat-of-the-day for 9 whole miles, taking breaks in whatever shade we could find.

Along the way we were going to stop at La Torre Olvidada (the forgotten tower) but it was sitting on the top of a major hill, and we just didn’t have the time nor the energy to make that climb.

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We waved at the Tower of the Forgotten as we whooshed by

Apparently it’s the only tower in this area that is 100% Moorish, which means it is the oldest.

We limped back into Torredelcampo with 15 minutes to spare before our bus arrived. In classic Jaen-bus fashion, the bus that showed up didn’t stop for us until we yelled at it, then it was the wrong bus. But then it was alright because the “correct” bus had magically appeared behind it without either of us seeing it. It passed us and almost left us behind but the original bus driver we had shouted at flagged it down. Sheesh.

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We thought this panorama was really neat. On the right hand side you can see La Peña. The tallest mountain in the center is El Pico (from our hike), and in the center left is Jaen. If the photo had more pixels you would be able to see the castle above Jaen.


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