The medieval castle
Although its origins remain unclear, some surveys suggest that a small Moorish fortress stood on the site of the present medieval castle in the mid-10th century when the Middle March of the Taifa of Toledo was moved to Medinaceli. There is evidence, however, of a stronghold in this area in the late 10th century according to the mention of Berlanga in the sources that document the constant raids in the zone. Most scholars that refer to this theory disagree on the specific area for this fortress to stand or suggest that the remains are completely missing.
There is solid evidence of a fortress in the next century when Ferdinand I, king of León and Castile, captured Gormaz in 1059, Vadorrey and then Berlanga during his brisk military campaign through the upland valley of the eastern Douro. There are constant documentary records of both, Berlanga and the castle, throughout the late Middle Ages. In the 13th century, the castle was the base for the Infante Henry of Castile’s rebellion against his brother Alfonso X, king of Castile and León. In the early 15th century, Juan de Tovar refers to the castle as part of his estate and his son, Luis de Tovar, remodelled the keep by adding several bartizans and two round bastions in its upper part.
The gatehouse comprised a ramp, a drawbridge and a fortified gateway. The ramp ran against the front wall of the castle being its outer part protected by a low barrier. It extended until the fortified gateway where it left an empty area before it that acted as a moat. Different surveys have allowed us to know that that empty area was covered in the 15th century by a small drawbridge which could be raised against the keep east wall forming, thus, an additional defensive barrier.
The gateway had a square plan and was fortified to protect, not only the entrance to the castle, but also the only access to the keep.
The keep is a complex five-storey building that comprises two different sections; one has a square plan, whereas the other has a trapezoidal plan. The keep was entered directly from the second floor via a narrow door protected by the fortified gateway. This area is now completely restored. In its upper part, the keep has bartizans at the rear corners and at the middle part of the walls whereas it has base to top round bastions at the front corners which act almost as buttresses. The keep four walls are topped by a battlemented parapet with inverted keyhole embrasures alternately disposed. These bartizans and bastions are heavily influenced by the Valladolid School of Spanish castle design. There are eight coats of arms on the corners and walls of the keep which depict the coat arms of each of the grandparents of the lord and lady of Berlanga at that time - Luis de Tovar and María de Guzmán.
The medieval castle has a rectangular plane divided in two baileys. The east bailey was a courtyard surrounded by a gothic colonnade forming a porch with a quartzite cobbled paving. In the east side was a well that caught and stored rainwater. There are two subterranean structures still remaining; a whitewashed cistern and an aisle that connect it to the drain.
The west bailey has a square plan and acted as a parade ground. Recent archaeological excavations in its eastern part found five stone cannon balls which demonstrate that there was an arsenal against the wall in its northern part. These excavations also discovered different stratigraphic levels for the curtain walls which gave the archaeologists a better understanding of the structural evolution of the castle throughout the time.
The artillery fortress
In 1482 María de Tovar, Lady of Berlanga, married Íñigo Fernández de Velasco who, after his brother’s death in 1512, inherited the titles of Duke of Frías and Condestable of Castile. The couple played a decisive role in the defence of the king’s interests during the Castilian War of the Communities (1520-22). Íñigo led the royalist army to victory at different battles, whereas María informed the king, Charles I of Castile and Aragón and later Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, about the development of the war. This major role brought serious consequences for the Dukes, who had, for example, to withstand a two-day siege and artillery attack at the Condestables of Castile Palace in Burgos. This experience is thought to be behind their decision to build a new fortress in Berlanga which would be able to withstand artillery fire in case a new civil war broke out.
The building works started in 1523-24 totally enclosing the old medieval castle. Renowned experts, such as the master builder Lope de Isturizaga, were brought to work in its construction. Unfortunately the name of the designer remains unknown. Some scholars have suggested different engineers: Diego de Vera, Antonio de Malpaso, Tadino di Martinengo or even the very same Master Lope de Isturizaga who, thanks to its wide experience in building this kind of fortress, could have been in charge of its design as well.
On María de Tovar’s death in 1527 her son Juan de Tovar decided to promote other building works in Berlanga, leaving, thus, the new defences of the fortress incomplete.
The artillery fortress has four cylinder-shaped bastions. The ones at the front have a casemate which divides them in two storeys. This casemate -located in the bastion lower level- has a hole in its upper part that allowed the cannon smoke to escape as well as helps to illuminate the bastion. The upper level was covered with a wooden roof with small drains designed to discharge the water used in the cooling of the cannons.
The rear bastions, instead of having a vault, were divided in three levels made of timber and were covered by a roof. The four of them, however, have embrasures of different shapes to protect the flanks of the castle.
Gun ports and parapets
The bastions at Berlanga Castle have gun ports that are quadrangular-shaped in their inner part. This has the advantage of preventing the canon to protrude from the walls.
The bastion walls are topped by a parapet which is also crowned by a curved cover of the same thickness as the wall. Its function is to avoid the vulnerabilities of the medieval merlons as well as to allow many lines of fire for the cannons.