Alicante boasts many treasures and one of the most prominent has to be the castle of Santa Barbara, which stands on Mount Benacantil and overlooks the city.
This fortress hewn from millenary stone has been a witness to centuries of history in this ancient city. In several chapters of history, the castle even played a leading role.
In 1961 Santa Barbara castle was officially declared a Historical–Artistic Monument and Asset of Cultural Interest. It is one of the most well known and most visited landmarks in Alicante.
Perched 166 metres above the city you can obtain some of the most stunning views of Alicante, its bay and the vast Mediterranean stretched out at the castle’s feet.
However, it would be the history of the castle that would captivate the most. A lot can happen in 1200 years.
The castle is shrouded in legends and stories. You can hear many of these stories if you take the theatrical tour of Santa Barbara castle. For an hour guided by several characters you will be transported back in time back through the centuries of splendour, battles, wars, love affairs as well as exiles.
The adventure gets started next to the car park, in the largest of six cisterns that once supplied the castle and at one point 1400 soldiers with water. The construction dates back to the 16th century. The high ceilings have been hewn out of the rock in a way to provide a kind of natural air conditioning which keeps the cistern at a consistent, pleasant temperature. Here you can learn some amazing facts, like how limestone was rubbed on the walls to keep them waterproof and to keep it clean, carp were released into the water.
A recent chapter in the castles history was the 1950’s. Back then Santa Barbara was abandoned and became a refuge for the poor people of the city. Tales of what these unusual inhabitants would get up to and also tales of two of the legends that surround the castle. The first is the legend of La Cara de Moro or the Face of the Moor, the story of the star-crossed love between Ali and Princess Cantara. It’s not a happy ending as the princess can’t have the man she loves so she throws herself from the castle on top of Mount Benacantil. Left behind is the face of a Moorish man carved into the rock, visible from El Postiguet beach.
Fact meets popular legend in the tale of Nicolas Peris, the one-time Governor of Saint Barbara battled so hard to prevent the fortress from falling into the hands of Jaime II in 1256 that he actually died with the keys in his hand, clutching them so tight that the only way to recover them was to cut his hand off. To this day it is said on some nights you can heat the Governor’s wails, as he grieves the loss of his beloved castle.
In the dungeon is pretty much cold and gloomy. Here 50 prisoners were held during the Spanish Civil War. One by one each of the prisoners scratched their names into the stone, using a nail. The graffiti can be found set into the floor of one of the castle’s lookout points.
The castles chapel of Santa Barbara was blown up which claimed 70 lives including the current Governor. Nearby are also the ruins of La Tahoma, the old flour mill.
One of the most famous and most incredible events in the castles history, in which French troops placed 1500 hundredweight of gunpowder in the mine in order to force out the English troops who were stationed in the castle on the 28th Feb 1709 the fuse was lit, whilst the English were enjoying a Gala dinner right on top of the mine. A French Marshal threat to blow up the castles mine was scoffed at. The 72-hour ultimatum to leave the castle may not have been taken seriously by the English. However, they did construct a countermine which helped dampen the explosion which failed, however, to avert the resulting massacre. Nevertheless, the English managed to hold out against the French siege for 46 days.
Santa Barbara is a must see. Draped in history and aesthetically beautiful. Make sure it’s on your top places to visit.