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Castellar de la Frontera - A Fortified Mediaeval Town in Andalucia

Castellar literally means ‘site of the castle’ so the town is called, literally, ‘site of the castle on the frontier’ and that is exactly what it is. Sat on a hilltop at a height of 200 metres Castellar commands the valley of the river Guadaranque, now dammed to make an embalse, to the west and that of the Hozgarganta to the north as well as a great sweep of valley down to Algeciras in the south. Not surprisingly, given its strategic position, the hill has been populated continuously since prehistoric times.

The castle you see today though is Mediaeval. Its walls surround a Mediaeval town that is pretty well what you might expect. Once through the ‘Z’ shaped gateway in the walls, now designed to deter motor vehicles rather than knights on horseback, narrow cobbled streets lead you into a rabbit warren of lanes and blind alleys. White washed houses pack themselves into impossibly narrow spaces. Many, today, are rural cottages, converted into accommodation for those who enjoy a rustic sojourn. To book one you must find the only, highly recommended, restaurant in the town where you can also feast off the game and meats that are plentiful in this area. Items such as wild boar, venison, pheasant, grouse and suckling pig are rarely off the menu. You will also, probably, come across the only bodega in town. Set in a minute square, shaded by a rampant fig tree, the door is hardly inviting. Once inside however you will find a choice of wines and sherries that a top restaurant would be proud of, all served at exactly the right temperature, chilly to allow you to cool down after all your exertions. If nobody appears to be in attendance just ring the hand bell.

Built during the Moorish occupation the castle, though formidable, changed hands a number of times. Even after the reconquest its ownership was in dispute until 1650 when, following one of the interminable local quarrels it was taken and held by Teresa María Arias de Saavedra, the Countess of Castellar. It was later handed over to the Medinaceli family who held it until 1973 when the Rumasa development group bought it. Meanwhile, in 1971, the original inhabitants of the castle town were relocated to the new town of Nuevo Castellar and suddenly became, for the first time in their lives, proud customers of Sevillana and Aquahest. Some of the dilapidated houses at the original castle became abodes for Bohemian types, a few of whom still reside there. In 1983 the Spanish Government expropriated the castle and declared it a ‘Historical and Artistic Monument’ and invested in its restoration.

In the valley below the castle farming is the main industry. Huge amounts of cork are still taken from the cork oaks whilst in the fields you will see wheat, cotton and sunflowers. The area also has over 500 beehives and a thriving honey industry.