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The Alcazaba

The Alcazaba of Almeria © Michelle Chaplow
The Alcazba of Almeria © Michelle Chaplow

Alcazaba de Almeria

During the golden age of Almería in the 11th century, there was a popular saying at the time, "When Almería was Almería, Granada was but its farmhouse, Malaga its gateway, and Murcia its garden." This is in contrast as to how later it would become part of the important Nasrid Kingdom of Granada.

The Alcazaba of Almería is considered the largest Andalusian fortress on the Iberian Peninsula, and yet it was actually a fortified citadel where the military and political powers of the time resided. The Alcazaba, along with the La Hoya ravine wall (muralla de Jayrán) and the Cerro de San Cristóbal (St. Christopher Hill), is one of the most impressive medieval defensive structures of Al-Andalus, making it the second most visited monumental site in Andalusia (2018).

The Monumental Complex of the Alcazaba of Almería is an impregnable fortress which rests high up on a hill overlooking the sea and the city of Almería. Given its geostrategic location, it is able to control the four cardinal directions, with special particular interest looking south, toward the sea, the very same sea that would bring not only conflict to the fortress but also provide an abundance of riches from Mediterranean trade.

History of the Alcazaba

Archaeological excavations in recent years have verified the Roman Empire’s presence both inside and outside of the Alcazaba’s walls, and yet its current silhouette can be traced back to its founder, Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Rahman III (who also built Medina Azahara). According to an inscription found on marble which is now housed in the (Archeological) Museum of Almería, he ordered it to be built in the latter half of the 10th century. Archaeologists found even further evidence specifically an old fortification dating back to the 9th and 10th century which was located in the second and third enclosures and provided a place for the population to find refuge in the case of an attack. Al-Mariyya, as it is known in certain historical references, was originally an anchorage for Bayyana, the important city which we know today as Pechina. Over time, Almería would become one of the most prosperous main commercial ports in the West, displacing the old city of Sierra Alhamilla.    More about the history of the Alcazaba>

VISIT TO THE ALCAZABA ALMERIA

“Ascending cannot be possible if it is not with fatigue, and it cannot be climbed with no sorrow; it is solid in its roughness, extraordinary in its inaccessibility,” writes the poet, al-Udri (Dalias, 1003/Almeria, 1083), about the unassailable Alcazaba de Almería. 

Visitors to the Alcazaba will have to climb a steep ramp and enter through the Torre de la Guardia (Guard Tower), the current main entrance of the monument. As you zig zag your way up, it’s a good idea to stop and rest so as not to get too tired. Take a break either near the imposing Torre de los Espejos (Tower of Mirrors), which offers impressive views over the Bay of Almería, or in front of the Puerta de la Justicia (Justice Gate), an entrance way which has been through many transformations throughout history. During the Nasrid Period it was the actual entrance to the fortress. At this point you find yourself at the beginning of five different areas that the monument offers. One of them is outside the northern wall and has not been excavated thereby making it unavailable at this time.

Just after passing through the Puerta de la Justicia, to your left you'll find the restrooms and to your right you’ll find the Visitor Reception Center where you can inquire about different routes or ask specific questions. The first enclosure is currently landscaped, although it is documented to originally have consisted of two residential neighborhoods and a cemetery. The only construction still visible today is of the aljibe (cistern) and the well of a water wheel. 

Towards the far east of the structure, you’ll find the Baluarte del Saliente, a perfect place to stop and contemplate the immense wall which crosses the La Hoya ravine toward the Cerro de San Cristóbal. From here you can follow the steps to your left up along the northern wall and you’ll find yourself at the esplanade in front of the Muro de la Vela (Wall of the Sail). Here you can find your way through the doors of the Muro de la Vela which will take you into the second enclosure - and yet don’t forget to look up and appreciate the belfry and 18th  century bell above. If you have some time, pause and inquire about this peculiar bell as it has had an important role in history. 

From here what stands out is the 10th century Caliphal cistern and the 16th  century Mudejar hermitage - or shrine - of San Juan, which is not a mosque despite what some authors continue to claim. In front of the hermitage you’ll see two Muslim houses which were rebuilt in the 1960s and currently hold a small permanent museum exhibition inside. Attached to the northern wall you will find the Baños de la Tropa (troop baths), built in the 11th  century and was used until the 17th century. 

The idealized Casa del Alcaide (Warden’s House) is now before you, so take advantage of this gorgeous spot to rest and admire the cinematic space around you, as many films have been shot here. You’ll now enter into the palatial space which is separated from the other buildings by a thick wall. Here the Andalusian king lived among his luxuries and comforts. Don’t forget to admire the Torre de la Odalisca (Odalisque Tower) and the private palace baths, or hamman. 

You’ve been eyeing the castle since entering the southern tower in the second enclosure. You’ve now arrived at the third enclosure and what you see before you is probably one of the last medieval castles built on the Iberian Peninsula between the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th. The interior part of the castle surrounds the parade ground (Patio de Armas), which in the center has a cistern and a silo which was at times used as an underground dungeon. To the right, the Torre del Homenaje (Homage Tower) demands your attention as you continue on to see the towers of the Noria (waterwheel) and Pólvera (gunpowder), both excellent vistas overlooking the port. Ancient artillery pieces are displayed around, some of which are from Adra - information that was recently unearthed from the archives of Fernando Ochotorena, the first director of the Alcazaba. Finally, don’t let the subtle surrounding signs escape your attention of the numerous and infamous earthquakes that have taken place here. 

Arturo del Pino Ruiz, @Arturodelp is a conservationist of Andalusian Historical Heritage and an archaeologist. He was former director of the Alcazaba of Almería from 2016 to 2020 and previous to that at the Museum of Almeria from 2013 to 2016.

Practical Recommendations before visiting the Alcazaba

When visiting the Alcazaba of Almería, there are a few important suggestions to consider so that you’re not taken by surprise when you arrive at the main entrance. Keep in mind that the monument is 25,000m² and there are quite a few very steep inclines. Also, even though there has been some effort to adapt the route for people seeking accessibility, much remains to be done.  Call the ticket office in advance to make arrangements to access the third enclosure via the moat entrance. Tel 950 801 008.

The easy accessible route is undertaken by exploring the third enclosure (Patio de Armas) first, then descending toward the second enclosure, and then to the remainder of the site. In the second enclosure there are accessible restroom facilities for people with mobility issues. 

Consult the main web page of the Alcazaba of Almería, or contact them via their social media. Tweets by Alcazabaalmeria. There you will find the basic information about opening and closing hours, which tend to change according to the seasons, holidays, etc. You’ll also be able to find some basic information on their archaeological investigations, their brochures online in various languages, their official guidebook which can be bought online, and the many cultural activities taking place in the institution throughout the year. Some activities include: the Day of Andalusia (28 February), the Day of Monuments and Sites (18 April), and Museum Day (18 May), and also notable are the Alcazaba Nights during the summer, the European Heritage Days in the months of October and November, and finally their Christmas related events.

Address

Calle Almanzor, 04002 Almeria. Tel 950 801 008

Opening hours

Tuesday to Saturday 09.00 to 18.00 hrs
Sunday and holidays 09.00 to 15.00 hrs
Monday Closed (except public holidays)

In Spring from 1 April to 15th June Tue to Sat opening is extended to 20.00hrs.

In Summer from 16 June to 15th September Tue to Sat opening is to 15.00hrs plus 19.00 to 22.00 hrs with special cultural activities on many evenings.    

Open most holidays. Closed on 1, 6 Jan, 1 May, 24, 25, 31 December. 

ADMISSION

Entrance: Free to European citizens, 1.50 € to others, although in practice they don't charge anyone.

Summer Guided Tours

In the Summer there are free group guided tours called Conoce tu Alcazaba (know your Alcazaba) on Saturdays and Sundays at 10.00hrs (from 17th June to 17th July) 

Disabled Access

The Alcazaba de Almeria has parcial Access for those with reduced mobility. 

Call the ticket office in advance to make arrangements to access the ‘Third Enclosure' via the moat entrance. Tel 950 801 008.

Leaflet

Download PDF Leaflet in English.

Destinations