Seventeen locations in southern Spain were visited in January 2006. Over a
two week period I travelled from Murcia in western Spain to Seville in southern
Spain. The seventeen locations have been further split into individual sites
which range from whole castle complexes through individual to individual walls
or parts of city walls.
Jaquin, P.A., Augarde, C. E. and Gerrard, C.M. Historic Rammed Earth
Structures in Spain. International Symposium on Earthen Structures,
Bangalore, August 2007
Rammed Earth Structures in Spain
For more information about the structures mentioned on this page, see my thesis
Rammed earth sites in southern Spain View
Alcalá de Guadaira
The site at Alcalá de Guadaira, to the east of Seville was surveyed in the
rain. This provided an opportunity to see rammed earth behaviour during a severe
rainstorm. The Almohad dynasty constructed a fortress on the site in the 12th
century, of which only a single courtyard and baths remain. In 1247 the fortress
was conquered by the Christiain King Ferdinand III who built two octagonal towers
sometime after this. Between 1312 and 1350, during the reign of Alfonso XI,
the Royal Alcazar was built. In 1471 the castle passed to the Marquis of Cadiz,
who built the rammed earth curtain walls and added a moat. By 1530 the complex
was owned by the Ribera family, who added the Mudejar quarters to house those
Muslims living under Christian rule.
Baños de la Encina
The castle at Baños de la Encina was constructed in 967, as described by a plaque fixed next to the door. The castle was given over through treaty by the
Muslims to the Christians in 1225. It was used continually until the middle of the 17th century. The site was redundant until 1850 when it began to be used
as the village cemetery. This practice continued until 1928, and as a result the internal level is much higher than the external (Ramos Vazquez 2003).
Cement repairs are evident to the bottom of the walls and an archaeological dig in 2007 aims to reduce the internal ground level to bedrock. There are 14
rammed earth towers, and stone keep at the north of the site. Pigeons are nesting
in the towers. There are two main cracks, in the wall between towers 2 and 3
and on tower 8.
The date of construction of Biar castle is unknown, but the treaty of Cazorla
in 1179 denotes Biar castle as being part of a dividing line between the kingdoms
of Aragon to the north and Castille to the south.
In 1244 the castle was surrendered to Aragon and in 1265 was used by the Muslims
as a base for an unsuccessful rebellion against Castille. In 1276 a further
unsuccessful Muslim revolt led to their expulsion from the town of Biar.
The final military use of the castle was as a base in 1808 during the Spanish
war of Independence. There are stone protrusions at the top of the building
which would have been used to support a temporary timber structure.
Internal access was not possible, but each external face of the tower was observed
and photographed. The tower is 20 lifts high and assuming each lift is 85cm,
the tower is 17m tall. On the north facing sides of the structure, which are
always in shadow there appears to be lichen surrounding each putlog hole. A
concrete beam has been placed around the top of the tower, and a water spout
protrudes in the centre of each face.
The site at Carmona consists of a curtain wall and a number of towers. Part
of the structure has been converted into a hotel. A chronology of the site is
given in Table C.3.
While a fortification has existed on the site since Neolithic times, the majority
of the current structure dates from 1502 (García 2006). The castle appears to
have been abandoned following an earthquake in 1504. There is evidence of recent
Carmona was unique amongst sites surveyed in southern Spain because a great
deal of pottery was used in the rammed earth mix.
Cordoba is a major city in southern Spain, and has played a large part in the
history of Iberia since Roman times. Cordoba was taken by the Muslims in 711,
and retaken by Christians in 1236. The city was under the control of Napoleon
for a short time in 1806, and is now a thriving tourist and business centre
(Reed 2006). A condensed history of the city is given in Table C.4.
Six sites (shown in Figure C.28) were investigated in various parts of the
city. The perimeter wall of the Christian castle (Alcazar) (Co1, Calle de la
Trasera a San Basilio) is a highly eroded section of wall which has been heavily
repaired using concrete.
A timber walkway exists at one side of the site, making it impossible for the
public to touch the wall. A further section (Co2, Calle Martin de Rosa) is in
a good state of repair with only a few cracks to the face.
Two curved towers (Co3, Ronda de Isasa) were also part of the perimeter wall
of the Christian castle. There was erosion at the base of these towers, and
repairs were being carried out to the section of wall between the towers.
A crenellated section of the castle wall (Co4, Avendia de Corregidor) has a
brick top and rammed earth below, with some erosion at the base of the wall.
A section of the Muslim city wall (La Axerquia, Co5, Avenida de las Ollerias)
is on a main road through the city, and now vehicles are parked in front, along
most of its length (Figure C.33). There are many different failures of the wall
along this length, and many repair techniques have been attempted.
Behind the wall is a park (Figure C.34) where clear erosion is visible up to
shoulder level. A final section of this wall (Co6, Plasa de Colon) is heavily
eroded on one side and repaired on the other.
The castle at Cox was first constructed as a Muslim farm house, and also goes
by the names of Castillo de Santa Bárbara, Castillo de Ayala and Castillo de
Cox. A history of the building is given below. The building was originally constructed
as a Muslim farmhouse, but was conquered by Alfonso X, who reigned between 1252
and 1284. In 1304 the castle was incorporporated into the Christian Kingdom
of Valencia, but in 1320 was returned to the Muslims.
Castillo Cox, rammed earth repaired with concrete
The town of Elche (also know as Elx) contains three rammed earth sites. The
Altamira castle is now an archaeological museum, but was unfortunately closed
for refurbishment at the time of visit.
The mosque, now attached to the current church now operates as the town hall,
and a small section of wall between the two sites has been extensively repaired
The Alhambra of Granada is a world famous UNESCO heritage site. The complex
is 700m long and 200m at its widest point. The oldest part is the Alcazar (castle)
at the western end of the site where a fortification has existed since Roman
times. In 1348 the current site was defined by encircling walls.
Granada was an important city throughout the Muslim Caliphate, and was the
last bastion of Islam in Spain prior to its falls in 1492. After 1492 the site
continued to be used, but the heights of Islamic architecture were not bettered
in Christian times, and the site stands as a tribute to medieval Muslim architecture.
The Alhambra is now a popular tourist destination (Gallego Roca and Valverde
Espinosa 1993; Valverde Espinosa, Lopez Osorio et al. 1993; Acedo 2006).
A fortification has long existed at the site and foundation stones in Plaza
de las Armas (The Arms square) are thought to be Roman. The first reference
to a structure on the site is during a civil war when the Arabs were defeated
in battle and forced to take refuge in a primitive ‘red earth’ castle in Granada.
The documents record that the castle was quite small and not capable of deterring
an army intent on conquering. Those sheltering in the castle rebuilt it in 889,
and the site was again renovated around 935.
The current structure was built in 1238 by Muhammad I the founder of the Nasrid
dynasty, who came to Granada following persecution by Ferdinand III of Castille.
Muhammad I moved to the old castle at Granada, but laid out foundations for
a new castle which is the basis of the Alcazar.
The Alcazar consists of the Keep (Torre Homenaje) and the ‘Cracked Tower’ ;
and the Bell tower (Torre de la Vela). The Bell tower was the feudal residence
of Muhammad I and is 16m square and 27m high, with a solid base but four floors
above. It remained in use following the Christian conquest but since then had
a troubled history. In 1522 it was hit by an earthquake, in 1590 a gunpowder
factory directly below the tower exploded, and in 1882 the tower was struck
The current Alhambra site was encircled with rammed earth walls in 1348 by
Yusuf I, giving the Alhambra its final outline as shown in Figure C.44. There
are 15 towers, the most significant of which are mentioned here.
The Justice Gate carries an inscription explaining it was completed in June
1348, and during this period was the main entrance to the Alcazar from the city.
The Tower and Gate of Seven Floors at the south end of the Alhambra is similar
in construction to the Justice Gate, but was significantly damaged in 1813 when
Napoleon withdrew from the city .
The Water tower (Torre Agua) protected the royal waterway which carried water
to the city of Granada. The tower of Balthasar of the Cross and the Spiked tower
(named for its pyramid shaped merlons on the ramparts) were also constructed
The tower of the Captive Princesses is a romanticised name and is a actually
a small palace astride the battlements. It was constructed in the 15th century
before the fall of Granada and is one of the last Muslim constructions in the
Jaen was a major Celtic-Iberian settlement centre, and was then occupied by
the Carthaginians. It was captured by the Romans following the 2nd Punic War
(218- 201BC) and flourished under Emperor Flavian (69-96AD).
The city developed as a trade centre during the Muslim Caliphate which led
to the construction of a castle on hilltop site outside of the town. It is possible
that this castle was constructed with rammed earth walls.
In 1246 the city was conquered by Ferdinand III of Castille who built the
castle of St Catherine in stone masonry on the site of the previous castle.
Rammed earth walls extend down the hill from the castle towards the town and
are a mix of rammed earth and other building materials.
The town of La Rambla has two rammed earth sites, a tower in the centre of
the town and a wall which historically encircled the town. The only remaining
section of wall is now in a park adjoining the tower.
The tower is now a pottery museum, but unfortunately internal access was not
possible. An information board outside provided a history of the building. The
tower is rectangular in plan (15.3m x 12.8m) and is 17.3m high. There are brick
reinforcements at the corners of the tower which are 2.7m thick. The tower is
three stories high, and is very similar to the towers at Carpio, constructed
1325 (not visited) and Villena.
La Rambla Tower
The castle at Lorca is an extensive site, built on a hill overlooking the town.
The only rammed earth sections are the bases of two towers at the western extremity
of the castle, which appear to have been constructed at different times due
to their different mix design and slight physical separation. Construction of
a road tunnel beneath the west end of the site began in 2006.
The castle at Malaga is on two sites, an earlier Muslim castle (called Gibralfaro)
at the bottom of the hill, and a newer Christian site at the top. They are joined
by a wall which has a stone base and rammed earth above. The name refers to
a Phoenician lighthouse and significant Roman structures have been found at
The Cordoban Emir Abderraham I (756-788) built the castle by adding to structures
already present. In 1065 the castle came under the kingdom of Granada. In 1487
the castle was besieged and surrendered to the Christian Monarchs. In 1624 the
castle was inhabited by King Philip VI of Spain, and in the mid 18th century
Carlos III ordered the destruction of some of the castle walls for the construction
In the 19th century the castle was used as a home for the destitute and in
1931 was declared a national monument. A large amount of restoration was carried
out in the 1930s, such as facing much of the rammed earth with a brick and stone
skin (Ma2, Figure C.69). The castle is now a fully fledged tourist attraction,
housing an interpretative centre and extensive grounds.
The hilltop site of Novelda castle (Castillo de la Mola) is shared with a famous
19th century church, and as a result the castle is frequented by tourists intent
on visiting the church.
The site is encircled by a rammed earth curtain wall. Inside are a triangular
stone tower and rectangular rammed earth tower. There is a tower in the wall
at the north west of the site. Part of the south curtain wall has been extensively
repaired with concrete while the north part of the wall is heavily eroded.
Concrete repair to upper section of wall, Novelda
Palma del Rio
The town of Palma del Rio (literally Bend in the River) has a large, ruined
Almohad castle, which is now used as municipal parking. A rammed earth wall
extends from the castle into the present town, and is of original height.
The castle was constructed during the Almohad period (after 1121) but was conquered
by Christians in 1231, who repaired part of the curtain wall. An octagonal tower,
now part of a private residence, is built in rammed earth and brick. Concrete
repairs to the rammed earth town wall were observed.
The castle at Salobreña was constructed by the Muslims as a retirement place
and a prison, and it is known that in 1408 the Muslim king Yusuf I lived at
site. In 1489 it was conquered by the Christians, and from 1849 the site was
used by Spanish customs officials as a signal place because of its position
on the coast. Internal access to the castle of Salobrena was not possible.
Seville is a major city in Spain, but in the past was overshadowed by both
Granada and Cordoba. The Alcazar in the centre of the city contains a single
rammed earth wall which is heavily eroded. In 1023 the king Abud-Qasim Muhammad
ordered the reconstruction of the city wall to stop the advance of the Christian
troops. These walls are around 6km long and have approximately 150 towers. In
1222 the walls were reinforced with a smaller wall and a ditch, but in 1248
the city was taken by Ferdinand III of Castille. In 1861 parts of the wall were
demolished due to repeated flooding and movement of the Guadalquivir river which
runs through the city.
It is probable that a Roman fortification existed at Tabernas, but the date
of construction of the remaining castle is uncertain due to the lack of evidence.
Rammed earth points to Muslim construction. In 1489 the castle was integrated
in the Catholic Kingdom of Isabel and Ferdinand, and in 1560 was partially destroyed
by Royal decree. The Spanish war of Independence (1808-1814), led to many of
the structures at the site destroyed. Much of the site is ruined but the base
of two small towers remain.
The main tower, which overlooks the town, has recently been reconstructed in
concrete. A rammed earth wall is acting as a retaining wall on the north of
the site, and this wall has been faced in two difference layers of masonry.
One wall of one of the towers has been removed to provide access to the site,
leaving evidence of internal beams lined with lime and straw embedded within
The tower has a hole for an octagonal roof beam with a wall plate and has cut
stone male layers. One wall with large putlog holes was found. The main tower
of the castle was rebuilt recently in concrete, and is visible from the town.
It is the symbol of the town and the local olive oil press.
The castle of Villena is open as a tourist attraction. The tower has a Muslim
rammed earth base with later brick above. Rammed earth walls on the approach
to the castle have been extensively repaired, but the rammed earth section of
the tower is original.
The tower has three stories with an open roof. The thickness of the walls decreases
from 3.6m at the base to 3.13m at the top of the rammed earth where it is flush
with masonry. At the top of the masonry the walls are 1.5m thick.
The rammed earth tower is surrounded by two masonry curtain walls , and it
is likely that the original rammed earth tower was increased in height when
the curtain walls were added.