Spicy yellows and greens flood the rugged slopes of Monte Vernissa in warm, afternoon sunlight, just outside the town of Xàtiva (Játiva in Spanish). During the Al-Andalus, the Arab conquerers turned the city into a paper manufacturing centre. The introduction of this technology brought prosperity, leading to the creation of high-quality schools and educational institutes with the castle arriving in the 11th century. Due to a terrible siege orchestrated by Philip V of Spain (punishment for Xàtiva’s resistance to his claim to power) that led to the town’s destruction, to this day Philip’s portrait hangs upside-down in the local museum. History aside, the La Costera region envelops the scraggy, weather-beat valley steppes of Montesa and Xàtiva, bordered by the Enguera and Grossa Mountains in the south. Xàtiva and its fortified castle remain the heart of the region. La Costera is a region beautiful for both its cultural and natural riches, and well worth the trek into its dry valleys. Though perhaps past its golden age in terms of affluence, Xàtiva remains a place of intense beauty and intrigue, and gold is still the best way to describe the city’s surrounding sea of sunburnt landscapes gently reminiscent of the American Wild West.
Climbing up the ancient Roman roadway of Via Augusta in the small Spanish town of Xàtiva, the weary traveller beholds the ancient castle of Xàtiva. Clinging to the top of a mountain that overlooks rooftops, orange groves and cactus fields is this castle, a rambling stone structure over a kilometre long. The castle is over a 1,000 years old, yet, visitors are permitted the freedoms of exploring every inch of the castle without the guards, warnings or barriers installed at other such monuments. For a time, the castle was held by the Almoravid dynasty – and for almost 150 years, Moors occupied the fortress. Then King James I of Aragon charged the castle in 1239, in a desperate crusade to recapture Xàtiva – which, after 5 months, he did. The Moors gave him the small castle while keeping the larger, though eventually, the Christian residents pushed them out. It is amazing that in Spain, when tour guides speak of war and destruction damaging the architecture and the local heritage, they often refer to wars 800 years old, the complete opposite of ancient ruins in Poland or other Soviet-held nations.
An impressive, kilometre-long castle presides over this hill along the ancient roadway, Via Augusta (leading from Rome to Cádiz) as it has for over a 1,000 years. Over the centuries, the castle has passed through the hands of the Iberians who constructed it, the Romans who expanded it, both the Almoravid and Almohad Dynasties of Morocco who gave it a pronounced Mudajar atmosphere, and King James of Aragon, who eventually turned it into a prison. Damages from the War of Succession (1701-14) left the castle to fall into ruin, giving it the rugged, rough appearance we love about it today!
Buildings such as this one were created by the Moors who remained in Spain after the Reconquista and the eventual rise of Christianity. The Moors dramatically changed the previously-dominant Iberian art and architecture. New buildings were often influenced by Islamic art, making tiles and mosaics and patterns became more popular, and creating a new style called Mudéjar architecture. From 760-1300, the Moors, originally from northern Africa, slowly gained then lost a foothold in Spain. The last of them were driven out, killed or converted by the Spanish Inquisition in the late 1400s. However, even though the Moors themselves have gone, many of the beautiful buildings they left behind still exist today in the Communidad Valencia, centred around the town of Teruel.