It’s worth steering away from typical routes to discover a castle with a difference.
Spanish city planners have often revealed a genius for blending tradition and modernity to produce a totally new creation. The city of Lorca, following an ambitious plan known as El Taller del Tiempo or Time’s Workshop, has turned its castle into a unique theme park making it well worth any extra effort it might take to pay a visit.
Lorca sprawls down along the lower slope of a promontory whose oblong ridge is crowned by its extensive and imposing castle. The castle is much larger than the average Spanish castle; it is really a citadel. In times of danger the space within its walls could offer refuge to some 3,000 people along with livestock.
Ongoing archaeological investigations make the castle site a veritable showcase of the history of the Iberian Peninsula. Excavations on the mount revealed human remains and an abundance of artefacts from the Middle and Late Stone Ages, underscored when construction on the building of a parador within the castle confines was suspended for several months because the remains of a synagogue were unearthed.
During the Roman Empire, Lorca was known as Eliocroca. Although lightly fortified under the Romans and Visigoths, beginning in the eighth century, Muslim rulers laid the major foundations of an impregnable fortress or alcázar. They dubbed the city Lurqa.
In the year 1243, while still a prince, the future Alfonso X, The Learned took possession of the castle after negotiating terms of surrender. The castle’s main tower, the Alfonsina, is named after him. For more than two centuries afterwards Lorca was the bastion of the Mediterranean flank of the Castilian frontier with the Muslim kingdom of Granada.
The discovery just three years ago of the synagogue, which was in use from the 14th through the end of 15th centuries, led to the realization that there was a walled ghetto next to a Christian neighbourhood within the wider walls of the fortification. Scholars were astonished. There was a Jewish quarter in the lower city but no one knew that Jews had inhabited the citadel above.
Work on the parador has resumed, and the National Institute of Tourism is in the process of approving a design that will allow the synagogue as well as the archaeological remains of a Moorish palace and a Christian church to be accessible to public view. Remnants of the three cultures which flourished in medieval Spain will be yet another attractive feature of Lorca’s extraordinarily interactive castle.
The first major attraction is in the reception centre and is called the Time Machine. Here, centuries of the history of the castle and surrounding region are audio-visually compressed into minutes. Next is the Espolon Tower anchoring the far western end of the fortress. An elevator whisks visitors to a chamber where they are invited to sit and watch an audiovisual presentation of the centuries of frontier strife between Christians and Muslims. From the top a sweeping view of the surrounding countryside and mountains reaches all the way to the sea and demonstrates the strategic value of the fortress’s location.
Essential for the castle’s functioning in the past was a regular supply of water. This was provided by enormous covered cisterns known as aljibes constructed by the Arab rulers to collect rain water. These have been converted into interactive exhibition halls. The smaller one tells the story of how water was collected, stored, and distributed while the larger one is dedicated to an exhibition contrasting Christian and Muslim civilizations. Another important feature is the castle bakery. Archaeologists have uncovered two huge ovens which used to supply bread for the castle’s inhabitants. One has been completely restored to its original dimensions while the other has been left as is.
All in all, Lorca’s castle offers a day full of fun and educational experiences, an offering that will be rounded off when its parador is completed some time next year.