The Costa del Azahar, a part of the Spanish Coast where we are staying, has a vivid history of pirates.
Costa del Azahar is also romantically called the Orange Blossom Coast because of the acres and acres of orange orchards that perfume the air.
Located on a small bay on the Mediterranean, Oropesa del Mar is a historic town in the province of Castellón.
The Spanish coastline is divided into 10 main coasts or ‘costas’ and we have visited 5 of them. Last summer we spent time in Málaga on the Costa del Sol, Granada near Costa Tropical and Cádiz on the Costa de la Luz. Earlier this year we visited Alicante on the Costa Blanca and Tarragona on the Costa Daurada. Each Coastal region is comprised of multiple towns and communities and each offers unique attractions.
The Paleolithic Period lasted from 40,000-8,000 BCE and the earliest evidence of humans found on the Azahar Coast and Oropesa del Mar are from the Paleolithic Period. Early Iberians, Romans, Visigoths and Arabs chose to live in this amenable climate creating an important trade base and location. The first written records are from the Roman period, referring to large groups of Iberians on the Mediterranean coast. In 1103, there are written references to the area by the ruling Arab population.
A relevant piece of local history was the reconquista; the conquering of the Arabs in Oropesa del Mar and reinstating of Catholic rule, which happened in 1233, by James I the Conqueror, King of Aragon.
During the Middle Ages, the town was brutalized by frequent Barbary Pirate attacks. Some of these attacks were by the well-known ‘Barbarossa’, a pirate who was greatly feared in the Middle Ages. To defend the town, the king ordered the construction of the robust La Torre del Rey, which remains an important monument and symbol of Oropesa del Mar today. In 1811, the War of Independence between Spain and Napoleon’s army, found Oropesa del Mar as the battle scene. The local army was able to block the French invasion, forcing them to detour south to battle in Valencia.
Today this small town of ~8,800 people make their living from fishing, raising livestock and farming, although tourism has recently become the largest source of income.
Castillo de Oropesa del Mar
The castle was built by the Moors between the 12th and 13th centuries on top of an earlier ancient Roman fortress however the ‘newer’ parts of the castle were built in the 15th century by the Counts of Oropesa.
In its prime the quite castle was impressive with six towers opening in a fan shape, with a dominating main tower in the center. This structure was in a magnificent position to catch sight of invaders and berberiscos. The monitoring system of the multiple towers, placed along the coastline, assisted with surveillance efforts and provided early detection and increased control over the coast. At least two towers still stand as a reminder of their defensive roles: the Torre del Rei and Torre Sant Julià.
The 1811 War of Independence destroyed much of the castle and left it in ruins. Today you will need to use your imagination to see its past grandeur.
Torre del Rey
In 1413, the King of Aragon had the tower built to defend against the numerous raids by the Saracens and Barbary pirates. In 1534 the tower was expanded and the walls were increased to be 13 feet (4 metres) thick, providing a sense of security for the growing town of Oropesa del Mar. In 1568, the tower was purchased from the town by Felipe II and from then on it became known as the King’s Tower.
Iglesia de Nuestra Señora la Virgen de la Paciencia
(Church of Our Lady the Virgin of Patience)
On September 25, 1619 barbary pirates from North Africa attacked the town of Oropesa del Mar. The town was devastated and many were kidnapped or lost their lives. The church was destroyed, altars were broken and the Virgin of the Rosary was shattered. There is a story that afterwards every tiny piece of the broken Virgin statue was collected and taken to a convent in Valencia to see if it could be repaired.
The statue was originally known as the Virgin of the Rosary, however after a long and painstaking repair and an even longer, patient negotiation for it’s return, the renamed ‘Virgin of Patience’, 345 years later, was finally returned to Oropesa del Mar.
Museo de Oropesa del Mar
Located in the heart of La Vella (Old Town) this small museum was a good stop to delve into the town’s history and heritage. There were models, audiovisual materials and archaeological displays to view, educate ourselves and acquire a sense of Oropesa del Mar’s origins, history and identity.
Open air sculpture museum
Although this town is small, there is a cultural tour through the streets of Oropesa del Mar visitors can take, to view the winning sculptures of an annual sculpture competition. We were able to find a half dozen or more scattered throughout the town even without the aid of a map.
The tour begins in Plaza Mallorca, where the sculpture entitled “Universal”, but commonly known as “el beso”, (the kiss), has been placed.
This “el beso” sculpture was the winner of the first competition, held in 1983. See photos in our links below. Our favorite however was the 2007 winner, the unnamed red sculpture.
The apartment we stayed in was about 1½ miles north of Oropesa del Mar in Marina D’Or, a vacation village of hotels and holiday apartments built specifically to attract vacationers and tourists. It markets itself as a family friendly vacation location. October is off-season so it was relatively quiet. Each weekend however the resorts would receive bus loads of weekend guests. A small vacation spot where we rarely heard any other language than Spanish spoken.
Marina D’or is quite a large development offering family activities throughout. There was a large park filled with water features, ponds and streams for various types of birds to inhabit.
A couple of the main streets were beautifully lit up each night and a small parade was held on weekend nights.
The beaches went on for miles, some covered with sand and others quite rocky. The beaches looked quite clean, but on closer inspection we were easily able to collect a bag full of plastic debris. We read a recommendation that everyone should pick up 3 pieces of plastic on any beach, each time you visit. We love this idea and decided to incorporate it. There are a number of organizations that arrange beach clean up days, but as travelers we rarely hear about them before the event. We nearly always have a backpack with a grocery bag inside, so we decided we would participate by picking up anywhere between a handful of plastic to filling our entire shopping bag from any beach we visit in the world.
The sunsets here are glorious and worth waiting for each evening. We usually have clear sunny days but by late afternoon, clouds begin to roll in just in time to reflect the sun as it sets. We took countless photos and this peaceful one took our breath away.
When planning a visit, note that Oropesa and Oropesa del Mar are two different towns in Spain. Oropesa is closer to the Portugal-Spanish border, 1400 feet above sea level and cooler. Oropesa del Mar is 50-75 feet above sea level, with a dry and warm Mediterranean coastal climate and it is a 2-3 hour drive south of Barcelona.
As we say ‘hasta luego’ to this Orange Blossom Coastal town, the words to the song, Moon River, came to mind:
“Two drifters, off to see the world, there’s such a lot of world to see…”
Salut from these Oropesina,
Ted and Julia