Today’s guest post takes us to sunny Alicante, Spain.

Although many tourists may immediately associate the region of Alicante in Spain with bespoke boutiques lining the tranquil city streets and sun-beached facades, the unique and even turbulent history of this unforgettable region cannot be ignored.  As many visitors will utilise a car hire service after arriving at the nearby airport, they will find themselves in the enviable position to witness the emerging grandeur of Mount Benacantil as they approach the city limits.  One is immediately taken aback by the impression of both longevity and even a sense of humility.  Indeed, this mountain boasts much more than geologic history.


Natural History

One of the most striking features of this 500-foot tall monolithic giant is the unique geologic structure on its southwestern slope.  Millions of years of weathering have carved out what appears to be a face on the slope; this feature is known as la cara del moro which can be roughly translated as the Moor’s Head.  It only makes sense, for this profile seems to be a silent sentient incessantly peering out to the horizon; the stunning panoramic vistas offering an undeniable attraction for the intrepid hiker.  

While on the leeward side of this mountain many pine trees and other small shrubbery can be found, the windward side to the south is sparsely vegetated due to the constant salt-water breezes.  Still, numerous birds have made their homes within this windswept mountain.


Human Habitation

Most humans choose to locate their communities on high location for protection, and Mount Benacantil proves to be no different.  Although it is thought that this area has been inhabited for millennia, it was first mentioned in text during the 12th century by Arabic historian Al-Idrisi.  During the Moorish occupation, many towns and villages were perched at the foot of this hill.  The modern-day cities of Santa Cruz and San Anton are actually known to have been constructed upon ancient ruins dating back for centuries.  These locations are now well known for their relaxing coffee shops and local Spanish pubs, but the main attraction for many visitors and locals alike is the 9th century castle of Santa Barbara.


Santa Barbara Castle

Known in Spanish as El Castillo de Santa Barbara, many artifacts from Roman and Bronze Age eras have been found nearby.  The castle itself was built nearly 1100 years ago as a Muslim fortification designed to reinforce control of the budding town of Alicante and nearby regions.  Although the castle remained in Moorish hands for centuries, in 1248 the Castillian army under the command of Alfonso of Castille finally defeated the retreating Muslim owners and renamed the castle after the patron saint of the day when the fortification fell; Santa Barbara.


Although the castle remained in Castillian hands, it was nonetheless involved in numerous conflicts in the years that followed.  During the years of French expansion this location played a pivotal strategic role and thus the castle found itself under siege by French warships in 1691 and English soldiers occupied this location for a period of no less than three years during the War of Spanish Succession.  The 18th and 19th centuries saw El Castillo de Santa Barbara wane in importance; mainly due to advances in artillery and stronger fortifications that offered better protection.  Like many ancient relics, the structure fell into disrepair and it was not until 1963 when it was finally opened to the public after years of renovations.


The 21st Century Castle

Visitors are now privy to gain a first-hand appreciation of the important role that this castle has played in regional history.  The Museum of Alicante is located within the structure’s walls and visitors can enter through lifts that were actually carved directly into the underlying mountain itself.  There are numerous guided tours that offer unique glimpses into the culture and lifestyle of ancient times and on a characteristically hot summer day, refreshing sea breezes can be enjoyed by relaxing at Park Ereta which is located only a stone’s throw from the castle walls.  In fact, a local beach known as El Postiguet can also be frequented, as it lies directly at the foot of the mountain.


Mount Benacantil and the Castle of Santa Barbara are two of the most undeniably powerful attractions of Alicante.  The synergy of unique history, an agreeable climate and a truly unforgettable landscape continue to draw countless travellers to this location each and every year.