History of Berlanga

Early history

Evidence for early human activity on the site is provided by different archaeological finds dating to the Chalcolithic and the Bronze Age. Archaeological excavation demonstrates that there was a settlement dating to the high Roman Empire. This might have been known as Valeránica, at least this was claimed by the Archbishop of Toledo -Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada- in his history of Iberian Peninsula: De Rebus Hispaniae.

Middle Ages

Borderland

The first documentary records of a small settlement under the name of Berlanga date to the 10th century. This was likely an unfortified settlement with, perhaps, a small fortress. It was located in a buffer zone between the Moors and Christian Kingdoms during the Reconquista and Repoblación of the easternmost lands of the Douro River.  It is at this time of clashes and raids when the Berlanga Castle has its origin.

Despite the military efforts of the Kingdom of León and the County of Castile, Berlanga remained in the power of the Moors until 1060 when Ferdinand I, king of León and Castile, captured different towns -with Berlanga among them- during his military campaign against one momentarily weakened Taifa of Zaragoza.

 

Berlanga: Comunidad de Villa y Tierra

The Christian Kingdoms carried out the repopulation of the area conquered in the 11th and 12th centuries, known as Extremadura Castellana, which covered the lands between the Douro and the Tagus Rivers. New laws and privileges, called fueros, were granted to these lands to encourage its repopulation. Gradually, Berlanga grew in population until it became the economic hub of the surrounding area in what it is known in the Spanish-speaking world as Comunidad de Villa y Tierra. This comunidad comprised 33 villages. Thanks to this prominent role, different suburbs were formed around several parish churches creating, thus, the characteristic layout of Berlanga.

 

Berlanga, from a Crown town to a Manorial estate

The Extremadura Castellana remained a conflict zone in the high Middle Ages due, on one hand, to its location as a border zone and to the internal strife between the different Christian kingdoms, on the other. The situation worsened in the late 13th century when the crown power grew weak. This was used by Alfonso de la Cerda to become pretender to the Castilian-Leonese crown supported by Aragón and France. Berlanga became, thus, the scene of most of the events of this period due to its location near the border and along the route to the Crown of Aragón.

In the 14th century, Berlanga become part of the estates of Tello Alfonso of Castile -illegitimate child of Alfonso XI of Castile. He had many illegitimate children too, among them Leonor Téllez de Castilla who inherited the towns of Berlanga, Peñaranda de Duero y Aranda. Leonor married Juan Fernández de Tovar - Admiral of Castile.

Thus, a small noble family, the Tovar, became the lords of Berlanga and since 1380 until the 19th century the town will remain as part of their household estates.

The family increased its power during the 15th century. Juan de Tovar, 3rd Lord of Berlanga, marked a turning point in the history of the town in 1430 when he decided to create a majorat that comprised The House of Tovar and the towns of Berlanga, Gelves and Astudillo. After his death in 1468, his oldest son, Luis, inherit everything. However, Luis died childless passing, thus, the majorat to Juan’s only daughter, María de Tovar.

Town architectural renovation

In 1482 María married Íñigo Fernández de Velasco, second child of the Condestable of Castile. Under the couple rule, Berlanga achieved its greatest splendour. The new lords commissioned an architectural renovation plan that included the building of a collegiate, a new palace, an artillery fortress and other decorative elements such as gardens and fountains.

In 1522, the building works of the new fortress started. The fortress enclosed the old medieval castle and was intended for withstanding artillery fire. In 1526, demolition works for the 10 mediaeval churches began. The lords’ intention was to build a single place of worship, the collegiate. This work involved both a huge spending and time-cost, being this the reason why the south tower was never finished or the cloister was not even started.

The new Palace of the Tovar was planned to be built next to the collegiate, creating, thus, a big monumental complex in the central Saint Andrew Square where an impressive fountain was also built for this purpose. On María’s death his son Juan decided to build the palace at the foot of the castle hill where it can be admired today.

 

Juan de Tovar continued with his parent’s renovation plan of Berlanga although he adjusted it to his own needs, for example, by leaving unfinished some works but starting others such as the St Anthony of Padua Hospital. This hospital was located outside the town walls opposite the Gate of Aguilera. Next to it was built the chapel of our Lady de las Torres which acted de facto as the hospital chapel.  Juana Enriquez founded the convent of the Concepcionists in 1547.

During this period, Tomás Martínez, better known as Fray Tomás de Berlanga, came back to his home town after having been the fourth bishop of Panama and having discovered the Galápagos Islands. He settled in Berlanga to spend his last years and commissioned the works for the monastery of St Domingo next to Plaza del Mercado Square. He also acquired the Chapel of los Cristos in the Collegiate where he would be buried in 1551.

The Marquis of Berlanga, Íñigo Tovar y Velasco, continued with the palace works started by his father. He remodelled the building and improved its appearance by creating a terraced garden. He also commissioned new building works such as the Gate of el Campo from which people can still access the castle hill nowadays.

Last centuries

 

The marquises of Berlanga settled in Madrid in the early 17th century which implied the decay of several of their properties in Berlanga although they remained attached to the town. In 1633 Bernardino Fernández de Velasco founded a Franciscan monastery near the old chapel of Paredes Albas whose apse was used in the building of the monastery church.

The lacking of spending in its other properties, for instance, the castle, led to its progressive decay. This situation worsened after a fire occurred in 1660 which affected all the castle area and the subsequent plundering to use its building material in the new constructions or in the remodelling works of the palace. Gradually the castle structures disappeared until the late 18th century when only remained its stone skeleton.

In the early 19th century the collegiate and other buildings were plundered by the French troops during the Peninsular War. They also destroyed most of the noble houses in Berlanga and set fire to the Renaissance Palace of which only the façade remains today.

In the early 2000s the Town Council of Berlanga purchased the entire monumental complex - castle, walls, palace and gardens- starting, thus, an ambitious plan focused on its protection, conservation and restoration.