Roman, Arab and Christian

The town of Alhambra is almost entirely located on top of a thousand-year-old hill situated on the northern half of the Campo de Montiel.  It has one of the largest municipal boundaries in the country, with 580.2 square-kilometres.  Its terrain is flat in the meadow, undulating over towards the east, and mountainous towards the southwest; at 1,086 metres, the so-called “Juego de Bolos” reaches its highest point in the Sierra de Alhambra.  Its city limits are crossed by the Alhambra stream and the Tortillo, Cañamares, and Azuer rivers.  Within its territory we can also find the Pozo de la Serna district.

Alhambra has vestiges of the Paleolithic era, and of Bronze and Iron Age settlements vestigios del Paleolítico, poblamiento en la Edad de Bronce y en la Edad del Hierro.  The Iberians settled on the hill and established what would be an important walled settlement within the countryside of the Oretani.  Alhambra, “Laminium” in Roman times, became and important city, transformed in to a commercial centre from its very beginning.  It was situated in between two important lines of communication. It also possessed attractive resources for the capital, Rome, like excellent stones used to sharpen tools and weapons that were found in the important quarries of the area, as described by Roman historian Pliny the Elder in his accounts about the cities in Roman Hispania. With the fall of the Roman Empire, first came the Visigoths and later the Arabs, who erected the town’s magnificent castle and changed the name from Laminium to Alhamrah, currently Alhambra, meaning “Red” due to the soil’s reddish colour.

It was because of them that the castle was built, as for the town’s layout, in a peculiar  Arab outline, although influenced in part by the topography on which it was founded.

Alhambra’s splendour continued on through the Middle Ages, especially at the beginning of the Christian conquest and domination by the Military Order of Santiago.  It was the master of said Order who extended Alhambra’s domain to what are today its municipal boundaries.

Alhambra went on to have 4,000 inhabitants in the 14th centuray, but started to lose its power and influence with the Catholic Kings and the end of the Reconquest.

Alhambra has one of the largest municipal boundaries in Spain, with over 580 square-kilometres.

The Arab Castle of the Umayyads

With its peculiar Arab outline that is conditioned also by the geographic structure on which it sits, it has reduced dimensions and an oval shape and adapts to the rocky crest of the summit.  It was built entirely of stone. Inside we can see the loopholes, the built-in supports of the old beams, and the lancet arch of the main entrance, all of which resembles a type of a very well preserved citadel.  It comes from the Umayyad time period.  Although it was first constructed by Arabs, it appears that the final polygonal shape, which can now be appreciated, is due to the count Álvaro Núñez de Lara.

Church of  Saint Bartholomew

Located in the heart of the town, it dates back to the 13th century.  According to Portuonto, it appears that it was erected over the remains of a Roman temple.  The most prevalent style is baroque.

Its space is a single nave, in the form of a Latin Cross. Its main façade is of the Renaissance era, with two bodies, and flanked with pilasters and a semi-circular arch. Inside one can appreciate two beautiful altarpieces and a 15th century sanctuary; the images of Saint Bartholomew, Saint Anthony the Abbot, Saint Peter and Saint Paul; as well as two portraits inspired by Saint Thomas of Villanova and Saint Augustine, all of which is of considerable historical and artistic value.

Within the church there is a room used to conserve the cultural assets, as a type of museum-archives for the parish.

Robed Officials and Roman Inscriptions

In what is today the Plaza de España, we can see a statue of a Roman offical wearing a toga, standing on top of white marble alter.  There also is an incomplete statue of a woman as well as three alters with inscriptions in Latin, located around the Church of Saint Bartholomew, built on top of the remains of a Roman temple.

The Visigoth Necropolis

Phillip II’s Topographical Descriptions of the Towns of Spain refers to the discovery of human remains and necklace beads on the Alhambra hillside.  This seems to indicate the first mention of this necropolis.  In 1914, a funerary stele was discovered, beside the Las Eras necropolis, currently in the vaults of the National Archeological Museum.

In 1956 over 30 tombs of different characteristics were found at the bottom of the hill.  They were organized in ten rows with an ordinary contour.  This cave necropolis’ overall extension (some 3,000 square-metres) highlights the high population density.  Through the vicinity runs the Cañada (“ravine”) of Andalusia.  Furthermore, in Antiquity, this land was crossed by a number of Roman roads.

The Lookouts of Alhambra

Alhambra has a number of lookout points from which one can take in impressive views of the Campo de Montiel.  From the “Gorgotija” lookout we can make out the Visigoth necropolis; from the Calvary Park lookout, we can see the Alhambra mountains and remains of the Roman road that linked the cities of Toletum and Laminium.

The Huelma Caves

This trail starts at a country estate called “Huelma” and runs through a man-made canal that provided the mill with water for energy production.  Next, we enter a mountain pass with exuberant vegetation and large limestone walls that open up to form some peculiar caves.

Hiking through La Lagunilla

This is a trail, practically untouched, that can be done on foot or by bike along an enormous waterbed that is protected by two chains of hills on the right and left of the river. On our hike we can observe the contrast of colours:  the dark-reds of the cork oaks and the gall-oaks; the greens of the holm oaks, the rosemary, the flax-leaved daphnes, and the savin juniper trees; the reds of the rosehips, berries and wild rosebushes.  We will encounter streams and damp areas that form shallow ponds.  The archeological bronze deposits located at the beginning of Lagunilla on the hill to our right, are also worth mentioning.

The Alhambra Archeological Museum

It is possibly one of the most complete museums in the province.  Within its display cases, it possesses a diverse collection of very valuable archeological remains and pieces from each of the important stages in the pre-history and history of Alhambra and its surrounding areas.  It even has fossils and pieces that date back to the Paleolithic era and the Bronze Age.  Ibero-Roman, Roman, Visigoth and Middle Age artifacts are also on display.


Fiestas and traditions

The most popular holidays in Alhambra are those celebrated in honor of its patron, Saint Bartholomew, from the 23rd to the 27th of August; the Day of Saint Isidore the Labourer, on the 15th of May, with decorated floats in a procession and parade for the saint; the Day of Saint Anthony the Abbot, on 17th of January, on the eve of which people light bonfires on different streets and above all in the Plaza Mayor (“main square”); the Cruces (“crosses”), on the 2nd and 3rd of May, which consist of decorating a homemade altar with a cross and a number of folkloric and rural objects, as well as a feast at the home where the altar is made; the Corpus Christi Day Procession, which runs through the streets of the town, which have been accordingly decorated; The Romería (“pilgrimage”) of Our Lady of Fátima, on the second Saturday in May, where people carry the Virgin to her sanctuary and celebrate the occasion with different types of dances and food, especially the exquisite lamb as prepared in the region.

A walk through Alhambra