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Castillo de Santa Bárbara, Alicante

The dramatic castle, which recently was reported to be cracking, looks over Alicante Bay

The Castillo de Santa Bárbara, looking out over the Bay of Alicante from its position atop Mount Benacantil, is so named for the historic day of 4th December 1248, when the Infante Alfonso of Castilla, who would later become King Alfonso X the Wise, took Alicante from the Moorish occupiers. He named the city’s castle after the saint who is honoured on that date: Santa Bárbara.

Photo - https://www.alicante.es/

One of the largest mediaeval fortresses in Europe, it’s an impressive sight, taking up the entire summit of Benacantil, which itself rises up more than 160 metres above sea level. This rocky outcrop was given its original name, Banu IQatil, by Muhammad al-Idrisi, the Arab geographer and cartographer famed for his 12th century map of the world made for King Roger of Sicily. It’s believed to derive from bena, the Arabic transcription of the Latin word for crag (pinna), and the Arabic word, Laqant, which means ‘from Alicante.’

There’s evidence that the Romans and the Iberian peoples took advantage of this strategic position: archaeological artefacts dating as far back as the Bronze Age have even been found on the slopes of Benacantil. The original fortress was, however, built by the Moors during the 9th century, and the first stage of reconstruction came after Jaime II took the castle for the Kingdom of Aragón in 1296. Extensive repairs were carried out on the castle walls a century later after they were damaged by bombardment in the mid 14th century, and further reconstructions took place during the 1400s. New areas typical of a mediaeval castle were built during this time, and the castle and the city were fortified on the orders of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V – Charles I of Aragón and Castilla - in the early 16th century.

The most significant reconstruction came during the reign of Felipe II, over a period of almost 20 years starting in the early 1560s, and it is from this period of the sixteenth century which most of the castle we can see today dates.
It suffered serious damage in bombardment by the French Navy in 1691 and, again, during the War of the Spanish Succession in the early 18th century, when it was taken by the British. The castle was also bombarded by a rebel frigate in 1873, in the turmoil of the 1868 revolution and the brief First Spanish Republic.
It was used as a prison and also a hospital, but fell into disuse until it was opened up to the public in 1963, when lifts were also installed inside the mountain. They are accessed via a tunnel opposite Postiguet Beach, on Avenida Jovellanos. Admission to the castle itself is free, but there is a charge for using the lifts.

Santa Bárbara Castle has three main areas from three separate periods in its history. The highest part of the castle is also its oldest: La Torreta, which includes the old keep and vaults dating from the 11th to the 13th centuries. Of particular note here is the ‘Baluarte de los Ingleses’ – ‘The Rampart of the English,’ and the former hospital, known as the Hall of Nobles.
Constructions from the reign of Felipe II are found in the intermediate section – the Baluarte de la Reina (The Queen’s Rampart) and the patio de armas (the garrison courtyard). The newest part of the castle, is in the lower section, dating from the 18th century, and includes a statue of Félix Berenguer de Marquina, a soldier from Alicante who became Captain General of the Philippines and Viceroy of New Mexico.

The castle also exhibits 250 pieces from the Fundación Capa Sculpture Collection, which includes work by Dalí, Pérez Comendador, Hugué, and other noted sculptors.

There are two routes up to the castle for the energetic: from the eastern side through the Parque de la Ereta, or pay a visit to the MARQ, Alicante’s Provincial Archaeological Museum, in the Plaza Gómez Ulla, and then walk up to the castle from its northerly side. The charge for the lift is 2.40 € (free to pensioners).

Alicante City Hall gives the opening hours for the Castillo de Santa Bárbara as: Winter, from October to March, 9am – 7pm; and Summer, from April to September, 10am – 8pm. It is open daily.