The Muslims occupied and lived in a large part of the peninsular area between the 8th and 15th centuries. It is therefore, indisputable, that in their stay they left an enormous legacy in many aspects, many of which still survive today. The Nasrid architectural heritage in the Pueblos Blancos is reflected in many buildings and sites scattered among different municipalities.
With the aim of bringing visitors closer to the Muslim legacy located throughout the hill region, we present this Nasrid Route; made up of 8 localities.
Our starting point will be Torre Alháquime, a small town located in the heart of the Sierra de Cadiz. The town preserves the remains of the old fortress, which dates back to the 13th century. Although the Christian influence is evident, the architectural features and the layout of the enormous construction date it to between the 10th and 11th centuries, making it one of the oldest in the region. Remains of the walls surrounding the castle and a large turret are also preserved.
The second stop on our itinerary is in Olvera, just over 6 km from Torre Alháquime. This municipality, located in the northeast of the Sierra de Cádiz, has several points of interest on our route. On the one hand, we can visit the Olvera castle, built at the end of the 12th century. The fort formed part of the defence system of the Nasrid Kingdom and thanks to its strategic position it allowed to see the border of castles that separated the Muslim and Christian areas.
Half an hour from Olvera is our next destination, Zahara de la Sierra. The small hill village preserves its castle and keep, the last remnants of the fort that surrounded the village, built between the 13th and 15th centuries. The watchtower was part of the castle complex, but at the same time it was independent, as its function was as a refuge in case the rest of the town fell.
The third stop on the Nasrid Route is Puerto Serrano, which is less than 30 km from the town of Zahara. At the foot of the Vía Verde, Puerto Serrano was a muslim village of rural occupation, where farming was the main activity. Our next visit is to the Fuente de Ramos necropolis. Consisting of burials from different periods, we can distinguish two burial areas: one from the Bronze Age and the other from the Nasrid period. The Muslim necropolis is located along the slope of the enclosure and is mostly made up of graves oriented north-south. The bodies were placed in the right lateral decubitus position, facing east towards Mecca. The burials were made in simple pits, carved out of rock and generally narrow.
Only 15 minutes separate Puerto Serrano from our next destination, Villamartín. This small town, located in the lower part of the Baetic Mountain Ranges, is home to the remains of one of the buildings of muslim origin in the region. The Matrera Castle, declared a Bien de Interés Cultural (Asset of Cultural Interest), belonged to the defensive architecture of the town. The fortress that can be visited is a Christian rebuilding, which was built over the arab fortress, although the original construction dates from the 9th century and was ordered to be built by Omar Ben Hafsun.
The next stop on our route is Espera, a municipality situated on the slopes of the Cerro de Fatetar and which preserves the remains of a castle of the same name. The origins of Fatetar Castle are unclear, but legend has it that it was ordered to be built by King Hespero as an observatory. During the muslim occupation, the fortress was erected by order of Abderraman III in 914. In 1755 it was partially destroyed by the Lisbon earthquake, but was restored in 1810 by the French. After the departure of the French troops, the fort fell into disrepair and over time it turned into ruins. It was not until 1985 that it was partially restored. The Torre del Homenaje (keep) is the best-preserved construction from the period of Muslim rule.
The next-to-last municipality we will visit is Arcos de la Frontera, 18 minutes from Espera. It was not until the Muslim invasion that the municipality began to prosper, becoming a small Taifa kingdom. Following the objective of our Nasrid Route, in Arcos we can visit the Ducal Castle; a military fortress during the Muslim occupation, composed of four towers in its corners. The state of conservation of the fortress is due to the reforms carried out in the 14th and 15th centuries. According to documents found, a large horseshoe arch still remains from the Nasrid period at the old west entrance and a wall in the southwest.
It is also interesting to visit the remains of the old Moorish wall, vestiges of which have been preserved to the present day and which were built in tabiya. The enclosure had three main entrances, the Jerez Gate, the Carmona Gate and the Matrera Gate, which is the only one that has survived to the present day.
We cannot end this historical tour of the region’s Muslim architecture without stopping at Benaocaz, our last stop. The town, located in the Sierra of Grazalema Natural Park, was founded by the Arabs in 715, who remained there until the Christian reconquest in 1845.
As an architectural legacy of the Nasrid stay in Benaocaz, we find the remains of the Castle of Aznalmara or Tavizna. Built between the 13th and 14th centuries, it served as a military construction in the highest part of the hill overlooking the banks of the river Tavizna. The site where the fort was built is no coincidence, as it was a strategic place of access to the mountains through the municipality itself.
It is also of great interest to visit the Barrio Nazarí, in the oldest part of the town and considered to be one of the best-preserved historical remnants of that period in the whole region. Nowadays it is made up of ruins of old dwellings that are characterised by the fact that they conserve the urban layout of the streets typical of the Muslims.