The town of Berlanga de Duero stands out by its impressive monumental complex…

The monumental castle complex of Berlanga de Duero comprises several buildings and archaeological remains located on a hill with the façade and tower of a Renaissance Palace at the lower part, the remains of San Juan Church a little above, and a medieval necropolis and an aqueduct above them. On top of the hill sits the breathtaking artillery fortress and the remains of the medieval castle. All these monuments are enclosed by a medieval defensive wall.

 

Palace of the Condestable of Castile

The Palace is situated at the foot of the castle hill. Unfortunately, the monumental and sober façade, with barely any decorative element, is all that remains of the magnificent Renaissance Palace of the Lords of Berlanga which was badly damaged in the Peninsular War by the French troop.  The three-storey façade is built throughout of ashlar stone. Its last storey has a roofed wall walk composed by several arches. 

The works for a new palace were begun by María and Íñigo de Tovar who decided to move the main family seat from the Berlanga castle to a new palace near the collegiate church. These works, however, remained unfinished after their deaths. Their son, Juan de Tovar, Lord of Berlanga since 1528, gave a new impetus to the palace works. His first decision was to change its location to its actual site, a more prominent siting at the foot of the castle hill, as a display of the family status.

The palace is a three-storey building with a roofed wall walk which was a characteristic of the 16th century palatial architecture. The decorative centrepiece of the façade is a big coat of arms above a jack arch that depict both Juan de Tovar’s arms and his wife’s, Juana Enriquez, along with the motto ‘Spaientia aedificabitur domus, et prudentia roborabitur’ (‘By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is establish’). It is clear that they intended this to be a reflection of the power and status of their household.

Thanks to different surveys, we know the palace had a big parapet in front of the façade forming, thus, an impressive access to a spacious entryway which led to a central courtyard. This courtyard was the core of the residence. It was surrounded by a low gallery supported on numerous stone columns forming semi-circular arches. The access to the next floor was via a monumental staircase which climbed over a lateral of the court. The columns supporting the roof and upper gallery had a big trapezoidal abacus, called Zapata, and stone lintels. The main floor was the entrance of the palace halls, where the Tovar household would have entertained theirs guests and held feasts, but also was the entrance of the private apartments where they would have dined. The main floor gave access as well to the magnificent five terraced garden decorated with fountains and statues. The garden was watered by an ingenious waterwheel.

The only remaining palace tower, which now houses the tourist information centre, can be visit. There, visitors can enjoy an exhibition on the palace and town history.

 

Berlanga Castle

Berlanga castle is one of the most dramatic ruins in the Soria landscape. It stands on a rocky summit surrounded by an impressive defensive wall. The castle consists of two fortified buildings, a medieval castle and a renaissance artillery fortress.

Although its origins remain unclear, latest archaeological excavations demonstrate that a Moorish fortress stood on the site of the present medieval castle around the 10th or 11th century. There is scarcely any visible trace left of this fortress but we now it played a prominent part on the border with the Christian kingdoms. In 1059, Ferdinand I, King of León and Castile, captured the fortress of Berlanga, among others, during his brisk military campaign through the upland valley of the eastern Douro, in the highlands around Soria, against the Taifa of Zaragoza. The king promoted the first repairing and remodelling works in the castle.

In 1370 Berlanga, until then a Crown town, become part of the estates of the Tovar. Juan Fernández de Tovar, first lord of Berlanga of this household and Admiral of Castile, carried out further works in the castle but there is no evidence of which parts were improved.

Luis de Tovar and his wife Isabel de Gúzman promoted the last remodelling works on the medieval castle in the mid-15th century. This works mainly affected the private areas and the keep where they added eight coats of arms reflecting the lineage of their ancestors.

María de Tovar, only surviving child of Luis de Tovar and Isabel de Guzmán, became the sole heiress of the estates of the Tovar household after his father’s death. Alongside with her husband, Íñigo Fernández de Velasco, she started a coherent renovation plan that radically transformed the whole town of Berlanga as well as the castle. In 1521-22 they decided to build a new fortress enclosing the old medieval castle which they had in mind to demolish. This fortress was intended for withstanding artillery fire. The best and most experienced engineers and master builders, such as Master Lope de Isturizaga, are thought to be responsible for the works.

In the event, the new lord of Berlanga after their parents’ death, Juan de Tovar, decided to bring the works of the artillery fortress to a halt saving, thus, the castle from later alterations. This was now enclosed by the unfinished fortress which gradually lost its military functions. During the 16th and early 17th centuries it became a prison, the Marquises of Berlanga records office and an armoury. In the 17th century starts its decline due to the constant plundering at the hands of the town habitants and the own Marquises that demolish part of its buildings. This situation worsened after a fire occurred in 1660 which affected all the castle area. In the late 18th century only the walls remained. The castle complex was purchased by the town council in the early 2000s which is now focused on its protection, conservation and restoration.

 

The medieval defensive wall

The impressive medieval defensive wall surrounding the castle hill was built during the 11-12th century when Berlanga grew in population and became the economic hub of the surrounding area.

There was a medieval settlement within the walls called ‘villa vieja’ (‘old town’). However, the population gradually found its place outside the walls at the foot of the castle hill and, in the 15th century, there were very few habitants living inside the walls.

Berlanga was repopulated between the 11th and 12th century following the definitive reconquest of the area by the Christian kingdoms and soon become the economic hub of the surrounding area. Thanks to this new prominent part, Berlanga was fortified with an imposing defensive wall - called ‘cerca vieja’ (‘old wall’) - built of masonry stone and reinforced with flanking towers.

There was a medieval settlement within the walls called ‘villa vieja’ (‘old town’). However, the population gradually found its place outside the walls at the foot of the castle hill and, in the 15th century, there were very few habitants living inside the walls.

A second defensive wall was built, bigger in extension than the old one, to protect the population that had gradually settled outside the boundaries of the old one. Although most of this new defensive wall is now missing, there is enough remaining evidence to confirm that it was made out of rammed earth rendered later with a thick layer of whitewashed plaster and that its foundations lay over a masonry stone socle. The access to the new settlement was via 4 gates - Gate of Aguilera, Gate of la Hoz, Gate of St Gil and Gate of St Peter - and a wicket gate. The Gate of Aguilera is the only surviving gate of these new walls. It was built throughout of ashlar stone with a 14th century pointed archway in its lower part. The existing embattled upper part is a 16th-century modification. It shows a coat of arms flanked at both sides by pilasters supporting a scallop shell, which might relate the town with the Way of St James.

 

The necropolis and aqueduct

A medieval necropolis stands on the upper part of the castle hill where several rock cut tombs can be seen. Beside the necropolis, although later in time, are the ruins of an aqueduct built of limestone and brick.

A medieval necropolis stands on the upper part of the castle hill where several rock cut tombs, each different in shape and size, can be seen. Although there is no archaeological evidence that allow experts to date these tombs accurately, it is likely that the necropolis was in use since the 11th century and served as the burial site linked to the old St Stephen Church, demolished in 1526 when the Collegiate Church works started.

Beside the necropolis, although later in time, are the ruins of an aqueduct built of limestone and brick. This water bridge was intended to convey the water from the Escalote River to the upper part of the castle hill to water the palace gardens. Its construction was commissioned to an Italian engineer by Juan Fernández de Velasco y Tovar, Condestable of Castile and 5th Duke of Frías.

 

St John Old Church

The town of Berlanga grew in population following the definitive reconquest of the area by the Christian kingdoms. This allowed the formation of different suburbs around ten parish churches built in different periods of time until the early 14th century:  St María del Mercado, St Tomé, St Giles, St Andrew, St Michael, St Nicholas, St Peter, St Facundus, St Stephen and St John.

The medieval churches were demolished in 1526 by the Lords of Berlanga. Their intention was to localise the worship in a church big enough for all the population and that this new church, the collegiate, became the architectural centrepiece of the town.

Luckily, there are some in situ architectural remains for four of these churches, being St John Church -located in the castle hill- the best preserved with a remaining masonry apse and an ashlar stone pointed arch. The tympanum of St Michael Church was relocated over the church main door at the Berlanga Conceptionists Covent.

Visitors can learn more about the Romanesque in Berlanga at St Baudelio Interpretation Centre that houses an exhibition with interpretation panels and several stone pieces such as voussoirs, steles, cymatiums or capitals from the old medieval churches. All these pieces were found in the town houses and in the collegiate church when this was remodelled. The reason is that most the elements of the medieval churches were reused in other buildings after they were demolished.