Estepona - Castillo del Nicio

Castillo de Nicio


Situated on a hilltop called Cerro del Castor, between the deep valleys of Rios Padrón & Castor, are extensive ruins dating mainly from the late Moorish and Christian periods. They have been called the least visited, least studied and least well known of the major archaeological sites in the province of Málaga. The recorded history of the site is limited and so theories as to its true origins are largely speculation, but the discovery of Roman, Arabic and Christian items suggest that it may have begun as a settlement sometime in the late Bronze Age and survived for a considerable time. The name Nicio appears only in the 19th century and is no the original one, which is lost in antiquity. The ruins are badly decayed and this has been accelerated over the last hundred years by the continuing activities of treasure hunters.

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To reach the site, first drive into the Forest Hills urbanisation, pass the less than picturesque cement works, and rejoin the road and follow the Forest Hills signs. 

Here you will lose the tarmac road, and although a conventional car would continue the journey if the driver and passengers have a cavalier attitude to the health of its suspension and are confident of the solidity of their own teeth, a four-wheel drive is preferable. The rough road is very steep, but mercifully free of potholes. There eventually comes a point, however, where even the most optimistic conventional vehicle driver show the white flag and move forward on foot.

The hill on which Castillo del Nicio stands is in direct line of view to the one which is the site of the impressive castle of Montemayor. As you walk up the slope towards and through the gap in the ruined walls which marks the castle's entrance, your attention will be drawn to the immense amount of rubble with which the hillside is strewn. It is as though the castle was struck by a might hammer-blow from some cosmic giant, which shattered it to shards in an instant. We are used to the idea of Moorish structures being deliberately destroyed by the conquering Christians of the 15th century, but it is difficult to stand or walk amid the silent ruins of Castille del Nicio and not feel that something peculiarly cataclysmic happened there.

To the right of the entrance are the remains of a wall whose survival, even in such a dilapidated state, is remarkable in view of the total devastation that surrounds. Follow the line of the old walls up the hill to the summit and you will find the ruins of the central hall, or keep. Much of it has been demolished or has toppled drunkenly under the weight of the weather and the years. Ceramics and roof tiles litter the site, suggesting that houses were built within the confines of the walls. In addition, beads and other household effects have been unearthed. They are widely differing in styles and dates, from which we may conclude that although the site has been occupied many times over the centuries, the occupation has not been continuous. Leading from the summit there is a spur of land surrounded by a curtain wall, and it is probably here that the population sheltered with their livestock in time of refuge. There is also a large defensive tower at the eastern extremity of the site, which would have prevented any secret approach from this side.

From the ruins of the one remaining tower, the sight of the distant hills and the valley below is truly awe-inspiring. Even in the inferno of high Andalucían summer the gentle sound of running water floats up from the valley and mingles with the buzzing of insects and the occasional cry of a bird or the bark of a distant dog. It is difficult to imagine the castle churning with life as it once did, and even more difficult to imagine the apparent violence of its destruction. 

Since the history of Castillo del Nicio is largely unrecorded, we find ourselves in a maze of speculation. There is, for example, no conclusive evidence of occupation during the Bronze Age, but its position and layout does at least suggest that it may have originally been built as a hill fort.

Roman occupation is more certain. The discovery of coins dating from the reign of Emperor Honorio (393-423) indicates that it was used during the latter days of the Roman Empire, and this may have been as a result of the disintegration of the empire and the quest for any available defence. Others have suggested that the Roman population moved inland after the 4th century seaquake which destroyed their town near San Pedro.

In 1485 the area around Estepona was invaded by Christian forces and fleeing Moors are said to have moved to the site and re-fortified it. This idea is supported by the discovery of four Moorish coins from that period, as well as 13th and 14th century pottery. This attempt to stem the tide of the Christian advance was unsuccessful and the site was quickly taken. The received wisdom is that the Christians subsequently `built` the structure which (barely) survives today. Written records exist which detail the castle's ´reconstruction´. If true, its virtual obliteration becomes even more puzzling. The most careless or indifferent treasure hunter or stone looter could not wreak havoc on such a scale, and Nature reclaims her own in a much more gentle manner. Castillo del Nicio has not been left to crumble quietly down the years - it has been smashed to pieces. Its true story lies in its scattered stones, but we have long since forgotten how to read it.