15th October 2021: Torija & Brihuega (Spain)

The castle of Torija is another of those things I’ve regularly driven by and thought ‘I have to visit one day’. Even though I had been warned that it might be disappointing as it had nothing inside but some touristic promo. Boy, was I in for a ride.

I arrived in Torija at around 10:30 in the morning and upon entrance I saw the demand that a reservation had to be made using a QR – the thing was free but it did not allow for 10:00 or 10:30 reservations – you had to pick it up for 11:00.

The castle Castillo de Torija was built in the 14th century, during a time of strife among all the factions and kingdoms of Spain. Later, in the 19th century, it was taken over by the French during the so-called Peninsular War against Napoleon’s troops, after basically the king Ferdinand VII gave Napoleon Spain wrapped in a bow. Napoleon made the king abdicate and installed his brother on the Spanish throne. There was a popular uprising in 1808 to fight off “the French”, who did not like this new attitude. During the war, the castle was occupied and then blown up. The current reconstruction dates back from 1962.

So there I was. The castle was empty – literally – but nobody was allowed before the reservation time because of ‘capacity rules’. So everybody in the castle was in the hall – yours truly, two other tourists, and four employees. All in the hall. Rules are rules again, but in the times of Covid, it feels utterly stupid to do this to ‘control capacity’ – since the rest of the castle was empty.

There was nothing really worthwhile to see in the castle – none of the interiors were even interesting and some of them were almost embarrassingly bad. Just a few pictures and models and mentions of the famous regional honey. I had been warned that it was going to be ‘disappointing’ but this was utterly ridiculous.

Thus, I continued off on my drive and I reached the village of Brihuega, which aside the lavender fields has a number of historical buildings and curiosities and was declared historical site in 1973. I had left the visit to this village for Friday because there were online tickets for the castle on sale, and therefore I had gathered that it was visitable that day. Right? Wrong, but that comes later.

After being unable to find the spot I wanted my Sat-Nav to take me due to blocked streets, I dropped the car at a public parking lot at the edge of the village, then I walked towards the medieval core of the city. The first item I came across was one of the gates to the medieval wall Puerta de la Cadena.

I strolled towards the centre but after a block or so I saw an archway that drew my attention. Upon turning towards it I found myself in front of the church of Saint Philip, Iglesia de San Felipe, which I had seen in my previous flash-trip. The church dates back from the 13th century, and it is a ‘transition’ church from the Romanesque to the Gothic building styles.

I backtracked towards the main street and reached the main square where the tourist information office stands. Here I learnt that there was going to be a popular festival the following day and that explained why some of the streets were blocked. After a quick stop at the tourist information office, where I got a map and a pamphlet, then I check about the process I had read for visiting the Arab caves – Cuevas Árabes. What the Internet told me was that I had to go to the butcher’s and ask the owner to let me in.

It was true – it turns out that the caves are private property and only he has decided to open up his. The Cuevas Árabes are a number of tunnels excavated into the rocky bed in the 10th and 11th centuries. They run around 8 km underneath the village, but only around 700 metres can be visited. The temperature is constant throughout the year at around 12ºC, so it is thought that they were used for food storage, and several sites say for wine. There are a number of large earthenware jars that are indeed used by winegrowers, but Arabs historical Arabs wouldn’t be drinking wine? I’d put my money on oil, but I really don’t have information to make more than a guess.

The butcher asked me what I wanted, I answered that I wanted to visit the caves. Then he proceeded to ask if I wouldn’t be scared – I paid (2.50€) and I went in after reassuring the guy I would be okay and he explained that I would also find some Visigoth archways, older than the Arab caves themselves and probably a starting point for them. The caves were the highlight of the day, really cool and mystifying, although I kept half-expeciting the owner to jump at me and try to scare me.

After the caves I headed out to the castle area, for which I had to cross another of the wall gates Arco de la Guía.

I found myself in a small square with the castle Castillo de la Peña Bermeja to my left. The castle is mixed with the graveyard in a very strange organisation. Unfortunately, it was closed (despite the fact that the website was selling tickets for the day – so glad I did not want to pay almost double in advance!). The castle is of Arab origin, built between the first and third centuries, and it gathers its name from the reddish colour of the mountain it stands on (Peña Bermeja means Vermillion Crag).

I also got to visit the inside of the church of Saint Mary, Iglesia de Santa María de la Peña by pure chance. The church was built during the 13th century, and it hosts the image of the patron virgin of the village.

Then I walked back towards the car, passing by the corridor they were building for the running of the bulls, I saw some more buildings, such as the convent of Saint Joseph, and the traditional fountains. Then I deviated towards the medieval walls Murallas de Brihuega, which was the last spot for my three-day on-and-off adventure.

Driving distance: Around 68 km (without counting the Sat-Nav merry-go-round)
Walking distance: 7.33 km