The Castle of Espluga Calba: an advanced Arab fortress, of the Siurana emirate

The Castle of Espluga Calba (cat. El Castell de l’Espluga Calba) is a building located in Espluga Calba documented in 1148, Lleida province, CataloniaSpain. Its name comes from the Latin spelunca, which refers to the caves excavated in rocks in various parts of the town. The castle belonged to the Order of the Hospitallers through 4 centuries. It is a building declared a cultural asset of national interest.

The current building dates from the reform carried out by the hospitallers in the 15th century. The courtyard was reformed in the 18th century when they introduced a plastered chapel. In the 19th century the chapter house was transformed into a chapel by the commander Espluga Calba of the Order of Saint John, and later, the building was adapted to become a school.

The site of the Espluga Calba was an advanced Arab fortress, of the Siurana emirate, and its church of Santa Maria was a mosque during the Muslim domination. Ramon Berenguer IV granted the municipal charter to the town on December 22, 1148, during the siege of Tortosa, when LLeida was still in the hands of the Saracens. This fact gave impetus to the repopulation and donation of the castle and the town to five families: those of Batlle Porcell of Cervera, Vives of Cruzillada, Guillem Bertran, Arnau Bosquet and Mir of Fluvià.

In the 13th century, under Christian rule, the town passed to the vegueria of Montblanc. In 1251 James I donated the castle to Eldiarda d’Anglesola, abbess of the monastery of Santa Maria de Vallbona de les Monges. It belonged to the monastery until 1350, when it was sold for 115,000 barcelonian sous to Pere de Carcassonne. Pere and his wife Constanza sold it in 1368 to Jaume Conesa, counselor and royal protonotary. It went through several hands until it was acquired by Antoni de Maçanet, deputy of Catalonia in 1375. His descendant, Nicolau de Maçanet, left it in inheritance to his nephew, Antoni de Montsuar, lord of Torregrossa.

In the year 1405 the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, also known as the Order of the Hospitallers or Knights of Malta, bought Espluga and its castle from Antoni de Montsuar and his brother Vicenç for an amount of 140,000 sous. Later Pope Benedict XIII established there the order of Espluga Calba, which included the municipalities of Sidamon, Palau de Anglesola, Portell and Torrelavit. The Hospitallers rebuilt the castle. The order lasted until the year 1797 and the Hospitallers abandoned the castle in 1836 as a result of the spanish confiscation. Since the Hospitallers abandoned the castle, a community of Dominican tertiary monks settled there and founded a school that lasted until 1963.

The apothecary Joan Cendra bought the castle. Later the castle was restored and opened to visitors. It has a room dedicated to the Order of Hospitallers and a museum of the peasantry.

The castle, a gothic building with a quadrangular floor plan, built or completely restored when the hospitalists settled in Espluga, has a ground floor, first floor and attic, and is made up of several buildings around a central courtyard that served as a place-of-arms, with the stairs to access the first floor.

On the main façade there are two doorways with semicircular arches on the ground floor. On the first floor there are geminate windows on all facades and on the attic a gallery of semicircular arches made with unworked stone tiles. The facade next to it is crowned with battlements. It has two entry portals: one gives access directly to the rooms, and the other communicates with the chapel.

The place-of-arms courtyard is rectangular and has some large corbels that possibly supported galleries. The aula magna is there, and in the middle of the courtyard there is a large stone sink that was used to store oil. The first floor of the back of the castle was completely renovated when the schools were installed.

Read more: Castles and fortresses of Spain and France with Mathew Kristes ...