A frontier territory, the Rioja Alta saw the rise of numerous castles. These fortresses are located in strategic places and have survived wars and the passage of centuries to reach our days in generally very good condition.
We’re going to start our tour in Davalillo. Its location has made it one of the references of the landscape of the Rioja Alta. From its height, it overlooks a natural ford of the Ebro; it is also an excellent point in order to control the whole valley.
On the slope of the hill where the fortress is located there was a village of the same name whose first documentary reference can be found in the 11th century. It is likely that the castle was built at the end of the 12th century, during the reign of Alfonso VIII, at a time of conflict between Navarre and Castile. In the following centuries, Davalillo was gradually depopulated in favour of San Asensio, also losing its strategic importance. It is likely that in the 15th century the town was already abandoned.
The fortress has an irregular polyhedron-shaped floor plan on seven sides. The main door faces north, towards the face of the hill where the ancient settlement was located, and is defended by two towers. The homage tower is square and in its lower part there was a chapel still easily identifiable. The complex is in an acceptable state of conservation. From the hill where it is located you can enjoy excellent views. In the lower part of the castle we find the Davalillo chapel where a traditional pilgrimage is held twice a year.
The second stop on our route will be San Vicente de la Sonsierra. Here we find an impressive fortress that dominates the town and protects the bridge over the river. A place of high strategic value.
The castle was probably built at the end of the 12th century. The solidity of its construction and the characteristics made the enclave an impregnable place. The primitive castle was located on the upper part of the hill, with the Homage Tower standing out. Nowadays, a spiral staircase allows us to access the upper part of it from where we can enjoy a magnificent view.
Surrounding the castle is a walled enclosure that gave shelter to many of the houses in the town from the fourteenth century, a situation that was maintained well into the nineteenth century. Among the residential remains found there is an old wine cellar and a press similar to the ones found in the area with sediments dating from the 12th century.
Our next stage takes us to Cuzcurrita del Río Tirón. This is a 14th century fortress, although the castle has undergone some modifications over time. The Homage Tower stands out from it. It is a solid square building with defensive reinforcements in the form of small towers in its upper corners. The tower is located in the centre of a walled space, also square in shape, with defensive cubes at each of its corners. Outside this wall there is a second enclosure formed by another that will serve as the first line of defence. The castle is now private property.
Sajazarra is our last stop. The current castle was built in the 15th century on top of an earlier defensive tower. It has a rectangular-shaped outer wall with defensive cubes at the corners. The main door is also protected by two other cubes. The keep occupies a large part of the courtyard. It is also rectangular in shape. The corners have octagonal-shaped towers. As in the previous case it is now private property.
These are not the only castles in the region. There are remains of Briones Castle, a walled town of unquestionable interest. Today we can see the remains of the homage tower. Torremontalbo and Anguciana both have strong towers in a very good state of conservation (today private properties). Haro also had a fortress of which some remains have been preserved.
To visit the castles in the area is to take a trip to a past of war and frontier. And it is to enjoy a heritage that gives us the possibility of discovering a past that is presented to us today thanks to these testimonies.