The Castle of Sigüenza
Its history, its legens and its curiosities
Fortress with nine centuries of history
The scene of numerous events, the castle of Sigüenza has played host to many influential people -the Catholic Monarschs, the Cardenal Cisneros, Juana la loca, the Cardenal Mendoza, Doña Blanca de Borbón- whose influence goes hand in hand with that of this castle. It was ruled by Celtíberos, Romans and Visigoths and converted first into an Arabic citadel and then into a bishop´s palace. The fortress was the centre for military operations in the fight for the crown of Castile in the 13th Century, during the War of Spanish Succession, and also during the Peninsular and Carlists wars. Eventually it became the Headquarters for the Guardia Civil and a residence for the elderly.
The town of Sigüenza is 135 kilometres(100 milles)from Madrid. It is located on the left bank of the Henares River, not far from its original location. Initially, it was situated on the right bank of the river and was a very important town in the times of the Celtiberos. It was demolished by the Romans, as was Numancia. Sigüenza was formerly called Segoncia by the celtiberos, which signifies "that which dominates the valley".
In the fifth century, due to the Barbarian invasion and after the merging of the Goths and the Spanish-Romans people, the Visigoths built a small castle at top of the fortress.
The Arab invasion converted the town of Sigüenza into the little more than a village as all priority was given to the neighboring town of Medinaceli. Once the reconquest began, and fearing the Kings of Leon and of Castile, the Arabs built a true Alcazaba (fortress). Its ample walls formed a strong waled enclosure around the old castle. The town was thus formed around two small centers of population: those who lived in and around the castle (the Medina alta), and those who lived the valley below (the Medina baja). Those who lived in the valley were of Spanish-Roman descent and had been serfsto the Visigothic noblemen. In 1124, Bernardo de Agen took possesion of the castle and began the Christian repopulation. The queen of Castile, doña Urraca and her son, don Alfonso VII, El Emperador (The Emperor) lavished honours and priviledges on him.
At the beginning of the thirteenth century, Bishop Simon Giron de Cisneros, built an Episcopalian Palace inside the enclosure of the castle to hause the bishops and the town´s noblemen. The Torres Gemelas (Twin Towers) were also built during this time and form the entrance to the Parador.
At the end of thirteenth century with the Muslims already as far as Tajo, a long battle began between the royal brithers ofCastile, Prince Alfonso de la Cerda and King Fernando IV. The castle of Sigüenza was attacked by enemies of the King. During the attack, Bishop García, already a very old man, became terrified and literally fled in his nightdress to seek refuge in the Cathedral below. The next day, when the skirmish had ended, Bishop García wascarried back up to his palace residence within the castle in a very procession.
Doña Blanca de Borbón
Doña Blanca de Borbón. the extremely young queen the Castile, was married to Pedro I, El Cruel or El Justiciero (Pedro the Cruel or Pedro tha Just). On their third day of marriage. Pedro renounced Doña Blanca as his wife. There is some question as to whether it was due to the failure to pay her dowry, or because the King was in love with "la Padilla", with whom he had already had his first daughter. Tradition has it that Doña Blanca, confronted the King, and torn between the numerous civil fights of the fourteenth century, was imprisoned for deveral years in a small room inside the Castle of Sigüenza. It is more likely that she was banished to the Pontifical Court in Avignon. Later, Doña Blanca was moved to Jerez de la Frontera, and then on to Medinasidonia. She died there in the Alcazaba at the age of 24; it was suspected that she had been murdered. Today, her remains can be found in the church of the Franciscan convent of Jerez de la Frontera.
In the middle of the fifteenth century, the bishops of Sigüenza were to use their weapons more often than their bishop´s staffs. Christians fought against Christians continously. In the Battle of Olmedo, Castile fought against Aragón and Navarra. This fighting resulted in Sigüenza strengthening the defenses of the Alcazaba or Castle. The number of hospitals also increased. During this period, the nearby castles of Atienza, Riba de Santiuste, Pelegrina and Palazuelos, which belonged to the Diocese of Sigüenza, were subject to numerous assaults.
The aged Fernando de Lujan was bidhop when the Navarran seized the neighboring rocky castle of Santiuste and forced Sigüenza to pay a tribute to them. It was Lujan´s ambitious Vicar and Dean of the Cathedral Chapter of Sigüenza, Diego López de Madrid, who, armed to ehe teeth, fought at the front of the Sigüenza troops, and heroically retook the castle. He returned to Sigüenza and entered the city in a blaze of glory, mounted on his spirited horse and dressed in shining armour. Lujan was now dead so López named himself bishop of the city. This was contrry to the decision made by King Enrique IV and Pope Paulo II. They had chosen as sucessor Cardinal Juan Mella, but he died before being able to assume the title. Pedro González de Mendoza was chosen to succeed Cardinal Juan Mella and would later become one of Spanin´s most important future cardinals. He first had to attack the castle in order to become bishop once he successfully eliminated the Dean, who had already been excommunicated. Mendoza had the foresight to construct the barbacan that stands today at the castle, in orden to fortify the structure.
The great Cardinal Mendoza
Cardinal Mendoza converted the Alcazar into a truly luxurious Episcopal palace, although he himself was seldom there. This was due to his role as Chancellor to the Catholic Monarchs (los Reyes Católicos), and as "third King of Spain" as he came to the be known. Within the Castle´s walled enclosure he built military quarters large enough to house 1.000 men on foot and 400 men on horseback; these same forces participated in conquest of Granada. While he was bishop, Mendoza also held the posts of Archibishop of Sevile and Toledo. During this time the University of Sigüenza was founded beside the Cathedral, and water was brought in through the city walls via the "Arcos Viejos" (Old Archways). Today they no longer exit. The Castle, the Cathedral, the Plaza Mayor, all joined to give the city its special character.
The War of Succession
Up through the eighteenth century, our Alcazar frequently served as military quarters for troops of various warring bands during the War of Succession. In 1710, it sheltered the Archduke Carlos of Austria and his troops who were retreating from Catalonia. They were given protection because the dying Bishop Francisco Álvarez de Quiñones was a supporter of Felipe de Borboun, who was the Duke of Anjou, and who would be the future king, Felipe V.
The Castle during the Enlightenment and the War of Independence.
At the of the end eighteenth century, Bishop Juan Diaz de la Guerra, who was a bishop during the Enlightenment, completely changed the physical aspect of the castle from that of a military fortress to that of an Episcopal palace. He opened numerous windows, added wide iron balconies, and installed many civil buildings, such as tahonas (bakeries), granaries, stables, etc. But disaster only increased in the history of our fortress during Bishop Pedro Inocencio Vejarano´s tenure. In 1808, the inivading troops took over the castle and turned it into a warehouse for supplies and stolen goods. "El Empecinado", a Spanish war hero, repeatedly attacked the French convoys and the troops that accupied the castle. They were finally forced out, but not before destroying the castle, looting it, and totally stripping it of its riches.
The Carlist Wars
The Carlist Wars (1833-1839) also took their toll on the already deteriorated castle, known also at that time as "El Fuerte" (the Fortress). Its Episcopal palace, already in ruins, was further devastated by a terrible fire in its outer buildings, and had to be completely abandoned. The new Episcopal residence was located at the University of San Antonio de Portaceli, once it ceased to be a university.
The Parador has since beeb used as a residence for the elderly, and as head quarters for the Guardia Civil. Finally in 1972 with Sánchez Bella as Minister of Tourism, the Castle of Sigüenza was named a National Tourist Parador. The conversion from castle to Parador, was made under the direction of Jose Luis Picardo, Doctor of Architecture, and officially opened in July 1976. In 1978 the Parador received the royal visit of the King and Queen of Spain, which served as the official ceremony inaugurating this magnificent edifice.
Juan Antonio Martínez Gómez-Gordo
Cronista oficial de la Ciudad de Sigüenza