Route of Castles and Battles in Jaen (Andalusia)
Closing your eyes and letting your mind drift back a thousand years to an earlier age can be pretty overwhelming for people of all ages. Nevertheless, humans are inquisitive by nature and they seem to insist on remembering and investigating the past trying to discover where they came from. The province of Jaen aims to satisfy that innate curiosity and make history tangible by creating the Route of Castles and Battles (Ruta de los Castillos y las Batallas). Jaen (Andalusia) has the highest density of castles, city walls and medieval ruins in the whole of Europe. Amongst the rubble, rock and ruins surrounded by olive groves, one can discover and learn about the history of Spain.
Seventeen towns and villages throughout Jaen, from Santa Elena to Alcalá La Real, take us back to the Middle Ages by bringing it to life through festivales, fiestas, fairs and cultural activities: a time in which the fate of Spain and of Europe was decided by battles and both Christian and Muslim blood was shed in the process. However, the events shy away from victorious readings of history preferring to reflect on the past. Ana Fernández Zamora, deputy director of the Tourist Department at the Provincial Council of Jaen, clarifies: “War is never heroic. This route aims to reflect on current affairs and to propose positive solutions in a time of conflict”.
Medieval food tastings, ancient music concerts, costumes sewn and worn by thousands of people for the fiestas, falconry workshops, the smell of bread baked using traditional methods… Visitors from home and abroad will find their senses invaded by the Middle Ages from every possible direction.
The route is also a way to shine a spotlight on towns and villages such as Torredelcampo, Lopera and Vilches. Besides promoting culture and education, the initiative has been created as a source of local revitalization. Each and every one of the pit stops on the route have thrown themselves into the venture. Town halls, local cultural associations and residents are taking the bull by the horns and taking part in this project that was founded in 2005 to promote the area as a destination for tourists from all over the world. “It’s been a motivating factor in the creation of businesses dedicated to tourism and culture including hotels, restaurants and theatre companies,” explains Fernández Zamora. Some areas have even found the events to be an inspiration for change. The time and effort invested into restoring monuments such as Fortaleza de la Mota in Alcalá La Real and creating interpretation centres in the area (the provincial and regional governments have invested over 15 million euros) are attracting travellers from near and far.
To all of these activities were added commemorative events in 2011 to celebrate the 8th centenary of the Battle of las Navas de Tolosa which ocurred in 1212. In 2009, Santa Elena (Jaén) inaugurated the new Museum of the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (Battle of Al-Uqab) near Despeñaperros, a gorge known as the gateway to Andalusia. From the terrace of the museum one can look out over the exact setting of the battle. In 2012 a lively events calendar is set to celebrate the 8th centenary of one of the most important battles in Spanish history in style. “People who don’t understand their history cannot possibly understand their present or construct a future,” is one of the most famous slogans spoken by ex-chancellor Helmut Kohl and with which the museum is synonymous.
The famed author and historian Juan Eslava Galán has been key in the development of the Route of Castles and Battles. In his book El paraíso disputado (2003) he follows the route and life on the frontier via two fictional characters. These days real people can set out in the province of Ciudad Real and follow the route all the way to Granada to discover an era that made the world what it is today.
Santa Elena, La Carolina, Vilches, Linares, Baños de la Encina, Bailén, Andújar, Arjonilla, Arjona, Lopera, Porcuna, Torredelcampo, Jaen, Torredonjimeno, Martos, Alcaudete and Alcalá La Real are just some of the places where children and adults can pretend to be heroes and soldiers, fighting for noble causes without inflicting injury or casualties. The way all wars should be.
- • Official website for the Route of Castles and Battles
- • Programme of events for the Route of Castle and Battles in 2011
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