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Monday, March 12, 2018

Zamora's Medieval Treasures: Romantic Ruined Castillo de Alba

A corner of Castillo de Alba's homage tower overlooks Ricobayo Reservoir
All photos in this post 2018 Jessica Knauss 
I'm pleased to report that I've seen more than ten castles since I arrived in Castilla y León in the middle of September 2017. Yes, there are so many castles here that it's hard to keep count! I've seen beautifully maintained Gothic masterpieces of defensive architecture and lovingly restored bulwarks of several different architectural schools. But the castles that give you the most immediate sense of the passage of time are those that have fallen into ruin.

In this post and the next, I present two ruined castles of Zamora province. Whether they provoke wistful nostalgia for what's gone, a Romantic remembrance of a brave past, or just seem like good places for a picnic, there's no denying that ruined castles present a unique pleasure when you get to climb around on them. In the case of Castillo de Alba, the climbing is literal.

Castillo de Alba is perched on a hill tucked into a valley. To get the full effect, you have to feel a cool breeze on your cheek and hear the shepherd calling gruffly as his sheep move along to the symphonic tones of their bells. I'm not exaggerating. That's what I experienced while taking this picture.

Every area of Castilla y León has a signature stone fence style. Looking at this one, there's no mistaking we're in Alba y Aliste.

The name Castillo de Alba (Alba Castle) might lead to some confusion, as a village that grew up in the castle's shadow is also called Castillo de Alba. The fertile hills and valleys of this area have been occupied by humans since pre-Roman times, and the current castle of Castillo de Alba was first constructed in the twelfth century as an important defense on the border with Portugal on the site of a Neolithic fort. In the thirteenth century, Alfonso IX of León granted the castle to the Knights Templar, and they held it until the crown took it back to grant it to a noble dynasty. Finally, Enrique IV of Castile and León created the County of Alba y Aliste and declared the castle its seat in 1489.

The town of Castillo de Alba seen from the castle 
You approach the castle via a steep and picturesque mountain trail.

At the top of the trail, you're confronted with the largest surviving chunk of the castle, which used to be one of the towers. Its imposing robustness gives the sense that the people who constructed this castle wanted you to stay away!

Looking closer, you see the modern caretakers want you to stay away, too! And with good reason. Rocks are falling off the castle structure at random moments and the approach is steep and inhospitable, such that if you aren't an experienced climber, you might get stuck on top of the castle and have to be rescued.

Luckily, I was with a Castilian who is apparently part mountain goat, and I made it to the top of the castle and back down again to show you these photos.

Inside the most intact tower, it's a Romantic tangle of overgrown nature.

The castle has an irregular floor plan that adapts to the hillside that protects it so well.

A lot of the outer walls remain. It's sometimes not easy to distinguish what is construction and what is natural rock formation.

This sliver of corner is all that remains of the homage tower.

The castle became neglected when the border with Portugal stabilized and noble and royal interests focused elsewhere. Rest assured, Romantic warriors! It was never defeated or destroyed by humans.

Next week, not just a castle, but an entire ghost town!