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Exploring the Colossal Jimena Castle-Fortress Complex

Rosario Pérez | Photos: ©Fran Montes, ReachExtra

Each weekend, the Área de Turismo (Tourism Area) hosts guided tours of the magnificent Jimena de la Frontera castle-fortress, which reached its greatest glory during the Almohad and Nasrid occupation.

Jimena de la frontera Castle Fortress Spain Campo de Gibraltar History

Recognised as a Spanish National Monument in 1931, the vast castle-fortress complex and famous landmark of Jimena de la Frontera is awe-inspiring. You can’t miss the imposing silhouette of this medieval wonder as you approach this Campo de Gibraltar municipality. Inside its stone walls, Jimena is marked by its white houses and steep, sloping streets.

Guided tours are being carried out by the City Council of Jimena this Autumn. Tours must be pre-booked and are subject to Covid-19 hygiene safety measures and group size limits. This follows on from the successful “Under the Starts” tours which were carried out by the ‘Área de Turismo’ in the summer, which took visitors on a journey through history at night. Now that the cooler temperatures have set in, and so long as the health situation allows, the tours take place every Saturday and Sunday morning.

Strategically built upon the so-called San Cristóbal Hill (known as the ‘Cerro de San Cristóbal’), the Jimena de la Frontera Castle predates history itself and has been ruled by the Tartessians, Turdetans, Phoenicians, Romans, Muslims and Christians throughout its life. Each kingdom left their cultural, artistic and architectural legacy on the city. But it is the Almohad and Nasrid legacy which are most prominent as you stroll through the remarkable fortress.

According to the Jimena Tourism delegation, this location once served as passage control during the 5th and 8th centuries, when its walls were being “developed with an increasingly defensive character, with a double wall and foundations of a keep which was built during the Roman-Byzantine era, as well as a Byzantine garrison”.

Jimena de la frontera Castle Fortress Spain Campo de Gibraltar History

There is still no exact information as to the beginnings of the Muslim occupation, although it is know that “in the year 711, Musa ibn Nusayr’s army landed in the Strait of Gibraltar, pushing inland as they conquered whatever lay in their path.”

As explained by our guide during the tour, the first documentary evidence that refers to Islamic occupied Jimena dates back to 1293: “the Merinite Sultan Abu Yacub had handed over a series of territories to the Nasrid king of Granada”, and the name “Xemina” is mentioned; described as having a population that would go on to have “a significant role in the Castilian conquests”.

Jimena de la frontera Castle Fortress Spain Campo de Gibraltar History

There is also evidence pointing to Jimena becoming administratively dependant on the Taifa Kingdom of Seville in 1059. “At the end of the 12th century, the Castle underwent significant reformation under Sevillian-Almohad rule, which reinforced the keep, the Albarrana tower, the access gate and also saw the construction of cisterns. At this point in time, the kingdom became of major military importance”, the guide explained.

According to the chronicles of the time, Jimena fell at the hands of the Christians in 1431, after a successful assault led by the Marshal of Castile, Pedro García de Herrera. The town, which was previously underpopulated, recovered its purely strategic-military function, and although it was then reconquered by the Muslims in 1456, it would then be recaptured again by Christian forces. We are told that “later, after years of neglect, the townspeople began occupying the northern slope of the promontory”, and that the fortress would not regain its strategic use until 1811, centuries later, when it would be restored and refurbished during the height of the “War of Independence” against the French forces.

Jimena de la frontera Castle Fortress Spain Campo de Gibraltar History

“During the 19th Century, ‘El Castillo’, as it is called by locals, was transformed and used almost in its entirety for agriculture, which led to the disappearance and / or covering up of the remains of the ancient city, which has now been exposed to reveal military structures and water supply systems such as Roman cisterns”.

A Trek Through Centuries of Years of History

As stated in the tourist guide, the historical importance that this enclave had for hundreds of years can be better appreciated if you your tour at the Arco del Reloj gate, which was strategically positioned to control and defend the commercial routes into the castle (which was used mainly Nasrid occupation). Several resource stores can be found inside its walls, including wells which provided water to the entire fortress.

“There are architectural remains from the splendid and monumental Municipium Res Publica Obensis (OBA) Roman occupation, such as barrel vaults and the foundation of what once was a temple, located right next to the entrance of the gate-bastion”. The guide explains that, about 140 metres from the complex, you will find the so-called Tajo de la Reina Mora, interpreted in its time as an ancient Mozarabic church.

Jimena de la frontera Castle Fortress Spain Campo de Gibraltar History

As well as the “imposing and majestic Alcázar”; the last stronghold of the walled defences and the and the administrative-defensive centre of the fortress, the guidebook pays particular attention to something quite peculiar: A dry moat which was created within the defences; a strategic construction which is not commonly found within most fortresses of that time. The Torre del Homenaje (Tower of Homage) is also unusual because it is circular (a feature which has not been found in Islamic towers in the West).

Jimena de la frontera Castle Fortress Spain Campo de Gibraltar History

As many tourists have already discovered, the highest level of the Alcázar itself brings one last surprise: panoramic views so expansive and impressive that you can make out the great Rock of Gibraltar and the coast of Africa on a clear day.

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