Castle of Jimena de la Frontera
The castle of Jimena de la Frontera is the village’s most impressive and culturally significant monument, both for the amazing views from its grounds and the top of its keep, and for the rich history of the site. Declared a National Monument in 1931, the castle stands strategically on the “Cerro de San Cristobal” (the Hill of Saint Christopher), on the west side of the village.
Because of its size and strategic position, the castle is the most recognisable monument in Jimena and is the focal point from which the present village developed. The castle has been occupied by Phoenicians, Romans, Muslims and Christians, each of whom have left their own architectural and cultural mark on the fortification.
Visitors to the castle will pass the tourist office located near its entrance, in the old Iglesia de la Misericordia church. This used to be the main parish church for the village, before Iglesia Santa María La Coronada, the old church that stood in the current Plaza de la Constitución, of which only its bell tower remains. As well as general information on the village, the tourist office also serves as a local museum of Jimena de la Frontera, with information about the nature and wildlife surrounding the village, especially mushrooms (important for local gastronomy), as well as the history of Jimena.
Today, visitors enter the castle via the Puerta del Arco del Reloj (Clock Arch Gate), strategically important for controlling and defending commercial routes leading in and out of the old town. You can see some stones with Latin inscriptions used to build the archway, showing that the Moors reused building materials from structures and graves of the previous Roman occupants to construct another wall around this part of the castle. A glass panel above the gate arch protects some of the older stones from severe weathering.
Inside the castle, storage tanks and jars known as aljibes can be seen. These supplied the citizens with either water, or grain and other dry goods (in which case the facilities would be referred to as aljibes secos – dry storage tank).
One old water storage facility is the Almohad cistern built by the Moors in the 12th century and situated to the right as you enter the castle; it measures approximately 12m by 13m and 6mdeep, with capacity of 800m³ of water. The Almohad cistern can only be seen from above.
The dry cistern located near the cemetery can only be entered as part of a guided tour.
ROMAN STRONGHOLD GATE
Located down a steep path in the western part of the castle grounds is the remains of the entrance to the ancient Roman town which once stood on the hill, circa 1st century BC. You can also see the entrance to the city of Oba (3rd-4th century AD) built on top of it. Built strategically on the slope as a bastion, their location as defensive posts is clear. The remains of the double wall fortification can also be seen.
Adjacent to the old Roman entrance are the astonishingly well-preserved remains of Roman temple barrel vaults, dated around the first century BC. Their existence was documented when a stone column base and some other finely carved stones were found, which led researchers to believe it was a tetrastyle (containing four columns) and prostyle (a building with a row of columns at the front) temple.
The Roman Forum was located behind the temple in the castle precinct.
THE BATH OF QUEEN MORA (BAÑO DE LA REINA MORA)
Located about 140m from the castle’s complex is the Baño de la Reina Mora (The Bath of Queen Mora), so called because it has a pool carved into the sandstone at the rear of the structure. Originally, it is thought to have been a Mozarabic church, for Iberian Christians who lived under Moorish rule in Al-Andalus (Andalucía today). However the chronology of the structure is vague, since numerous constructions throughout the Alcornocales Natural Park appear to have similar architectural characteristics, including holes in the stone for horizontal wooden beams to support a roof. Other interpretations suggest that it was an outpost, making use of the carved-out pool to store water. The Bath of Queen Mora is reached by a narrow and steep path from the Roman Temple area.
At the south-west end of the castle precinct is the Alcazaba (Moorish stronghold). It was protected by double walls and a 7m deep trench, still existing today. This trench or moat was excavated as a dry moat, linked to a smaller channel inside the castle walls, which was used to divert waste and rainwater from inside the Alcazaba and keep, through small holes in the castle walls into the outer dry moat. The drainage of water through this moat meant that it didn’t have to be cleaned constantly.
The Alcazaba entrance footbridge over the moat was originally built as a retractable walkway between the 13th and 14th century to access the castle’s grounds. By the 16th century the walkway was changed and a permanent bridge was built, later reinforced by the French who occupied the fortress in the beginning of the 19th century during the Napoleonic invasion.
KEEP TOWER (TORRE DE HOMENAJE)
In the centre of the Alcazaba is the 13m-tall keep tower (Torre de Homenaje). With a circular floor plan, rare in Islamic towers dating from the Moorish occupation, it was built atop the remains of an older tower from the Roman era with a smaller polygonal floor plan. The tower, like the other parts of the Alcazaba, was rebuilt following the Christian Reconquest but kept its defensive elements intact, with the result that the tower is in relatively good condition today.
Note that the keep tower can only be entered with a guide. A spiral steel staircase leads to the upper floor; from there an original narrow stone staircase constructed within the walls takes visitors up to the roof.
At the top, you can enjoy stunning panoramas of Jimena de la Frontera and the surrounding countryside, as well as Gibraltar and the North African coast on a clear day.