Conflicts in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance sowed the hills, crags and fords with castles, enclosures, towers and fortresses that were decisive in upholding rights or shoring up possessions. Today, the buildings that remain are yet another element of the rich cultural, historical and scenic heritage of La Rioja.
In their day they sheltered infantry troops, crossbowmen or restless cavalry mounts. Their stones are silent witnesses to skirmishes, sieges, battles and oaths. Today they mark the orography of La Rioja with their noble silhouettes watching over the vineyards. Although it may seem incredible given the small size of the region, there are references to up to 73 castles and fortified towers in La Rioja. Castile, Navarre and the kingdom of Nájera clashed here and it was necessary to protect the Pilgrim's Way to Santiago, the passages over the Ebro and the gorges.
On the memory of those heroic and uncertain times. La Rioja has set up a route of castles. It begins in Agoncillo, where you can visit the castle of Aguas Mansas, also known as the castle of Aguas Muertas, which was built in ashlar between the 13th and 14th centuries; it has a rectangular floor plan with towers at the four corners and a Calatrava Cross marking the main entrance gate. Agoncillo developed around the castle, which today, now restored, is used as the town hall.
Clavijo Castle is one of the best known castles in La Rioja. On top of a hill, it dominates the surrounding terrain. It was built by the Arabs before the 10th century; its ground plan is adapted to the elongated site on which it stands. The 85-metre wall is reinforced by towers that act as buttresses. Also in the Rioja Alta region is the Torremontalbo fortress tower, a point where there was a Roman construction to defend the Najerilla river crossing. The tower, with ashlar masonry and a square floor plan, has been inhabited since it was built. Nearby, you can enjoy the scenery at the viewpoint of San Asensio Castle, which offers a wide panoramic view over the Ebro valley with the silhouettes of the castles of Davalillo, San Vicente de la Sonsierra and Briones in sight.
Fortresses of Sonsierra
The castle of Davalillo stands on a hill surrounded by the Ebro half a dozen kilometres from the aforementioned town of San Asensio. Its location makes it a magnificent watchtower over the lands of Sonsierra and La Rioja Alta. Together with the nearby fortress of Briones, it guarded the Castilian Rioja against attacks from the Navarrese, who came from the fortified bridge of San Vicente de la Sonsierra. The fortress of San Vicente de la Sonsierra was the largest defensive fortification on the Ebro, forming part of the defensive line of Laguardia and Labastida.
Shaped like an irregular semicircle, it fits in with the topography of the terrain. Three lines of stepped walls form three enclosures: the albacar, the farmhouse and the castle at the top. Cuzcurrita of Tirón River is one of the best-preserved castles in La Rioja and remains inhabited. Its keep boasts fine masonry. It is worth visiting the nearby polygonal towers of the castle of Leiva, which date from the 15th century.
The jewel of Sajazarra
The Sajazarra castle was also built in the 15th century, with its rectangular ground plan and circular cubes at the corners, around its powerful keep. The cornice of machicolations and battlements deserve special attention. This castle is considered one of the artistic wonders of La Rioja. In Baños de Rioja, its medieval tower, which dates back to the 13th century, has been restored as a country house.
In addition, a good number of towns and villages conserve unique remains of fortifications. This is the case of Arnedo, Quel, Enciso, Arnedillo, Préjano, Cervera, Muro de Aguas and, above all, Cornago. The castle of Cornago dominates the village from above. It is a construction in ashlar masonry of severe grey limestone, with a rectangular ground plan and the usual four towers; but each one of them is different: three of them are circular of different sizes and the remaining one is square. The history of the castle of Cornago is linked to the Luna family, a lineage of Aragonese origin with very well-known members. The fortress has been restored, can be visited and is used as an exhibition hall.
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