Driving through Castellón Province there were days we passed as many dust covered tractors as we did cars.
Spain is the second largest country in Western Europe after France. It is a wondrous country to explore. We have, to date, traveled through approximately a half to two thirds of this beautiful country and each community, province, city or village offers a unique perspective and is as interesting as the previous stop. We feel as we travel and gather knowledge about each region, we are slowly putting our Spanish puzzle together.
Spain is divided into 17 regions, called autonomous communities. Autonomous means that each of these communities has its own executive, legislative and judicial powers, similar to states in the USA. Within these autonomous communities are 50 provinces.
The Valencian Community is one of the 17 autonomous communities in Spain and consists of three provinces: Castellón, Valencia and Alicante. We have previously spent months exploring parts of Valencia and Alicante and on this road trip we drove primarily through the province of Castellón, although we did detour into the Province of Guadalajara for one incredible site. The yellow stars on the map of the Province of Castellón show where we stopped.
Spanish is the official language in every autonomous community, however in 6 northern Spanish communities there are two official languages – Spanish as well as either Catalan, Galican or Basque depending on the autonomous community. Spain also has two “autonomous cities” on the north coast of Africa: Ceuta and Melilla that would be fun to see.
The first stop of our car trip was in the historic village of Onda, specifically to visit the Castle of Onda. Known as the 300 Towers Castle, this Moorish fortress was built in the 10th century. We visited the on-site local history museum where we saw samples of Moorish plaster work from the 13th century. The castle is primarily in ruins today but an English speaking staff member in the information center was so helpful, friendly and full of local knowledge she made our experience most enjoyable.
Last August on our first car trip in Spain we visited a sleepy Andalusian town called Genalguacil that is nicknamed ‘the museum town’. To read about that town, click here: (https://ourtapestry.blog/2018/09/15/touring-andalusia/ )
We were delighted to discover that the town of Fanzara has a similar concept. The streets of this adorable mountainside town proudly exhibit brightly colored graffiti and mural art. Described as an ‘unfinished’ museum because new art is continually being added, this lively stop had us smiling. We saw murals of robots, aliens, cats and much more, amusing installations like the rubber tire tracks of a car along a narrow street, around a corner and up a wall and topped with a flattened car. There was something interesting to view around every corner.
Each year a number of villagers will host an artist, offering room and board, while the artist creates his or her masterpiece on the outside walls of their home. The residents of Fanzara take part in assisting the artists and maintaining the art afterwards. The town not only benefits from the futuristic art installations but also from the interactions with the artists who come from around the world with various backgrounds and experiences.
We passed 3 or 4 very senior residents who voluntarily and enthusiastically pointed out additional streets we should walk down to view more art. The local residents seemed to be open minded and more willing to engage with visitors than in other small towns we have been in and it was a pleasure to witness the evident pride they have for their town.
For our next stop we went in search of Fuente de Los Baños, the hot springs, near the town of Montanejos.
Until the early 1600’s this was a Moorish farming community but today it is known as an outdoor recreational area. The hot spring is located in a mountainous region with deep gorges and beautiful scenery. The sparkling aquamarine waters of the lagoon reminded us of the color of glacier runoff, except that the hot springs are a temperate 80°F (25°C) year round. We chatted with a young family who had snorkels and were going for a swim to explore the lagoon and hidden caves.
We learned that the fish we were able to see in the clear water were called madrilla (mah-dree-ya), are native to Spain, grow up to 11 inches long (28 cm) and feed on the algae that grows on the rocky river bed. It is a rare species found in only two rivers in the region.
Life has thrived in this part of the world for a very long time. Evidence has been found that dinosaurs roamed here 60 million years ago. Prehistoric cave paintings have been found dating from 4000 years ago. There are traces of settlements of the Iberians, the Greeks, Romans, Visigoths and the Moors. The castle itself, was built on former ruins in the 11th century by El Cid, the famous Castilian knight and warlord in medieval Spain, and rebuilt by Jaime 1st during the reconquista and is considered one of the first castles built in the Valencian Community.
Morella is an ancient and magnificent walled city. We walked past a dozen or more tempting artisan shops, strolled up and down the historical cobblestone streets and eventually made our way up the steep climb and many steps to the top of Castillo de Morella, built higher up on any mountain top we have visited to date. The Castle is 3200+ feet (984 meters) above sea level and dominates the town below it. The icy north east Mistral wind up at the castle was relentless during our early November visit. Back in the center of town we began to thaw back out each with a ‘cafe con Baileys’ and one of the local sweet pastries called a flaó (singular) or flaons (plural), made in a semicircular shape with a filling of a smooth mild cheese, sweetened with honey and cinnamon. With all the activity, history, churches, museums, hotels, restaurants and artisan shops we were surprised to learn that Morella’s population is less than 2500.
In addition to strolling and exploring the town, some of our favorite sights we visited were Morella Castle and the views it offered and the beautiful Gothic Acueducto de Morella, built in the 13th-14th century and last repaired in the 19th century. Although no longer in use it stands as a stunning reminder of the past. We thought the Basilica of Santa María la Mayor is one of Spain’s more beautiful churches we have been in.
As we wove our way back and forth across the Province of Castellón we saw an endless variation of rock formations on the steep hills and mountains. Oftentimes the layers of rocks were quite colorful and one could imagine the cataclysmic event that occurred in our planet’s history to push these layers of rock up from the depths into the angled positions they lay in today.
We also noticed that quite a number of fields, although they may have been farmed for decades or even centuries, still looked like they were growing more rocks than edible crops. It was difficult to envision what type of crop could possibly grow well in the midst of the fist-sized and larger rocks.
This region of Spain has so many rocks of all sizes. Hidden amongst the boulders and sheer cliffs of rock are thousands of caves and within these caves there are more than 725 recorded sites that have examples of Late Palaeolithic art.
We have always loved seeing documentaries about early man’s cave art so when we discovered this region contained mankind’s earliest known form of art, we arranged a visit. The site we visited, the Cova dels Cavalls near the town of Tirig is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and to visit you must make an appointment with a guide through the Museum of Valltorta. The Museum was well worth walking through and was an excellent precursor of what we would be seeing at the Coa Dels Caballos.
The tour was fascinating and to be able to see prehistoric man’s painted hunting scenes on the wall and hear the stories provided by our guide was an experience not seen forgotten The setting was impressive as well. We were high up on an indented rocky ledge of a cliff face. The paintings were in this covered indentation, not really a cave. Sheer canyon walls wrapped themselves around a small valley and a river ran through the valley floor (the river was dry during our visit). There were a number of painted scenes at the site and the tour guide suggested this would have been used only as a hunting site not a place to live. It was easy to imagine early man quietly resting and watching in the shelter, listening to the gurgling river below, waiting for a herd of deer to arrive for a drink at the water.
Unfortunately when the cave art was initially discovered, before it was properly appreciated and protected, parts of it were damaged either by people trying to chip off pieces to take for themselves or defacing parts with graffiti by adding initials etc. The cave art sites in Spain span a long period: from the upper Paleolithic, 26,000 years ago, until the Bronze Age, 3500 years ago and this particular site is fairly open to the weather elements so the art has faded. Most cave art includes engravings and rock paintings. Animals are the primary and almost exclusive subject matter in Paleolithic art and human figures are apparently rare. There are only half a dozen sites in this region of Spain so for us to see a painting with 6 human hunters with bows and arrows, a herd of deer including a fawn with spots and a big buck with antlers made our visit remarkable and unforgettable
We stopped in the small town of Tirig afterwards for a quick cup of coffee. It was clearly olive harvesting season as we walked past a number of pickup trucks full of black olives that were parked outside the same cafe. The town of Tirig has adopted this cave art hunter as their symbol and we spotted it in a number of places.
The Arch of Cabanes is a beautiful 19 feet tall x 23 feet wide (5.8 x 6.92 metres) Roman arch built in the 2nd century CE. It is located approximately a mile outside the village of Cabanes on the ancient route of the former Via Augusta.
The Via Augusta was the most important Roman road crossing the ancient Roman territory of Hispania (Spain). It led from Rome and crossed the Iberian Peninsula all the way to the southeast corner of Spain, to Cadiz.
A number of years ago we visited Avignon, France and learned part of the fascinating history of the Avignon Papacy and the Western Schism. Driving through Spain we found yet another piece of information to this amazing time.
As briefly as possible: The term “Avignon Papacy” refers to the years 1309-1377 when the Catholic Popes lived in and operated out of Avignon, France, instead of Rome. It began when a Frenchman, Clement V was elected Pope. He was extremely unpopular and soon chose to move the papal capital away from Rome to another property owned by the church in Avignon, France.
During the 68 years the Popes were in France, 111 or the 134 cardinals created were French and all 7 of the Popes elected during those years were French. Both Catherine of Siena and St. Bridget of Sweden are credited with persuading Pope Gregory XI to return the See to Rome and he did so in January 1377. When he died in Rome the following spring in 1378, that ended the Avignon Papacy. Unfortunately the newly elected Italian Pope Urban VI was extremely hostile and suspicious of the cardinals and prone to violence. The french cardinals who elected him quickly regretted their decision, removed themselves from Rome and within 6 months elected Clement VII as a rival Pope claiming that the election of Urban was invalid because it had been done for fear of the rioting crowds.
However based on the rules of the church, Clement VII could not replace Pope Urban VI. Instead Clement VII returned to Avignon where he stood in opposition of Urban VI, thus creating the Western Schism. A single group of leaders within the Church had created both the pope and the antipope. The church was in complete turmoil. Two popes would exist at the same time for another 40 years. The conflict that divided the church quickly escalated into a crisis that divided Europe.
Efforts to end the Schism began within the church but we’re unsuccessful. A church council met in Pisa in 1409. The cardinals attempted to depose both the pope and antipope by electing a second antipope. This too failed to heal the rift and now there were 3 figureheads claiming to be Pope. Finally Pope Gregory XII endorsed a council meeting, which was necessary to ensure the legitimacy of any election. Pope Gregory XII and the antipope John XXIII resigned but the second antipope Benedict XIII refused to resign and he was therefore excommunicated. Benedict XIII who became fondly known as Papa Luna lived out his final days at the beautiful castle we visited last year in Peñíscola, Spain.
The council elected Pope Martin V in 1417, effectively ending the Schism although it would be another dozen years before the pope – antipope issue was well and truly over both within the church and before Pope Martin V would be unanimously recognized by all European countries.
At deep dusk we drove through the little town of Sant Mateu and peeked into the Archpriestal Church of San Mateu windows. This was the location where the final antipope signed his resignation to completely end the Western Schism in 1429.
As mentioned at the start, we visited two of Spain’s autonomous communities on this car trip. The first was Castellón and the second albeit brief, was an incredible stop in the Castile-La Mancha Region in Central Spain. The provinces within the autonomous community of Castile-La Mancha Region are: Ciudad Real, Cuenca, Toledo and Guadalajara. Earlier this year we took a day trip into the beautiful city of Toledo, in Toledo Province. This car trip included a stop in the Province of Guadalajara, located in eastern-central Spain and in the northeastern part of Castile-La Mancha. Although only a brief detour into this province we loved what we found.
Campillo de Dueñas
The Castillo de Zafra is a 12th-century castle that was built on top of a former Roman, Visigothic and Moorish fortification. The setting is almost unbelievable. The castle proudly perches 4,600 feet above sea level, (1400 metres) on a sandstone outcropping in a mountain range called the Sierra de Caldereros.
Zafra Castle is privately owned and they have apparently been slowly restoring it for the past 50 years. The public is able to visit the site and view the outside of the Castle, but to see inside you will need to make arrangements with the owner. We turned off the paved road and drove a few miles on a single car width gravel road before the Castle began to emerge in front of us. We were entirely alone. There were no sounds of freeway traffic or airplanes above; all was quiet except for the sound of the wind. What an astonishing discovery and memory.
If our photos look familiar, The Game of Thrones filmed outdoor scenes of Zafra Castle. It is known as the Tower of Joy in three episodes of season six.
Spain continues to surprise us. Known for its fantastic weather, personal safety and quality of life there is so much more here to discover. We can’t decide what we love more between the mountains and scenery, the beaches, the historic cities, the vibrant villages or the fabulous food. Spain is easy to love.
Salud from these roamers,
Ted and Julia
View our Carefree Car Trip in Castellón photo galleries here:
Province of Castellón #1
The open air museum of Fanzara
The Museo de la Valltorta (Valltorta Museum)
Province of Castellón #2
The town of Morella
The Cathedral of Santa Maria de Morella
The Morella Castle
Province of Castellón #3
The Arch of Cabanes
The Castle of Zafra
Montanejos Hot Spring
The Castle of Onda