Fortaleza de la Mota

Fortress in Jaén Province

From a distance the Fortaleza de la Mota looks more like a city than a mere fort, with its high church tower and doughty keep rising above the surrounding walls. And in a sense that's what it was, for back in the Middle Ages this fortified hill now looming over the town of Alcalá la Real was Alcalá la Real. It's a marvellous stop if you're heading along the Granada–Córdoba road across southwestern Jaén province, and well worth a detour even if you're not.

The modern town below only came into being in the 17th century, when fortified towns on hills had passed their use-by date. Today the fortress is as much archaeological site as monument, for what were houses, palaces, stables and streets are now lines of low ruins. The fortress was founded around AD 1000 then largely rebuilt after being wrested from Nasrid Granada by Castilla's Alfonso XI in 1341. One of the most remarkable features is the inside of the church, where the floor has been removed to lay bare dozens of graves carved out of the rock beneath.

If you're here on a Saturday, Sunday or public holiday, budget an extra half-hour and €2 per person for a tour of the Ciudad Oculta (Hidden City), a system of tunnels cut inside the rock for access to an all-important well. The story goes that the fortress only fell to Alfonso XI after the besieging Christians found the way to this well and poisoned it with animal carcasses.

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