Oska, resident dachshund at Cortijo Opazo and in charge of hospitality, wants to tell you of his recent cultural visit to the castle of Almuñecar.
Spain has a lot of castles, almost one in every town - and occasionally one to spare. Some are noble, some fanciful and some elegant, but they are almost all very prominent. When driving along any motorway, mesmerised by white lines and passing scenery, the early warning that you are approaching the next town is often the sight of a sandy coloured construction merging from the horizon. Castles, not surprisingly, are usually built on high ground where they can see and be seen.
We decided to have a day out recently to the castle at Almuñecar, or as it was formerly known, the Sexi castle. It sits on a raised rocky outcrop and has a full view of the two main beaches of this Spanish seaside town. Whilst obvious to see it is not at all clear how to access this proud building - maybe this was part of its first defensive phase, you can see me but you can’t reach me. With the help of Google maps - something unavailable to more ancient civilisations when planning their strategies - we meandered through the endearing streets of the old town and finally stumbled upon the Castillo de San Miguel. Open until 14.00, we arrived a little before 12.30, giving ourselves plenty of time to take in this forbidding Moorish statement. We asked for tickets, and the woman looked apologetically and tried to suggest that we come back another day. Accustomed as we are to the natural reluctance of public bodies to actually sell anything in Spain, we repeated our request. We were told that whilst the castle is usually open until 14.00, this being a Sunday - and therefore the day when people might have more time to spare for such cultural visits - the castle would be closing in 30 minutes, at 13.00, so why didn’t we come back another day? Having driven over an hour to be here we decided to take the plunge and embark on a whistle stop tour of the place.
It was a clear and warm winter’s day, and the views from the castle turrets were magnificent. The castle has recently undergone considerable restoration and presents itself well to visitors. It was uncrowded - presumably the ticket office had managed to deter anyone else - and we felt free to ramble and scramble where we wished - and some parts were indeed a bit of a scramble. In its heyday as a Moorish stronghold the castle had forty towers and three defensive gates, being more of a walled enclave than a single castle. It has ramparts and a castle keep, a dungeon and a canon or two. There is a turret with a narrow and very dark descending staircase that leads to a room from which there is no other exit. The interior is completely dark, the only light entering from slitted windows in the walls, presumably where the inhabitants used to hurl their weaponry or tip their boiling oil. There is also an old Roman pavilion, with a relatively intact hypocaust demonstrating clearly how the Romans enjoyed underfloor central heating even when living in southern Spain - something few mountain houses enjoy to this day. And there is a museum that has a collection of relief models showing how the castle and the area would have looked at various significant dates throughout history. It didn’t however, show how the castle was bombarded almost into rubble by the innocently named British ship HMS Hyacinth in 1812. For more information about the history of the castle please follow this link.
So, the castle of San Miguel in Almuñecar makes an interesting day’s excursion from Cortijo Opazo, especially if, having explored its rocky recesses you then wander down to the beach and find a restaurant that will serve a glass of cool beer named after the saint of the castle, and then sample some freshly cooked fish to be eaten whilst sitting on the beach, toes buried in sand. Gaze out to sea and ponder on how formidable the coastline of Andalucia would have been in years gone by with this and many other castle structures.
Yours, in defence of his realm.