The Castle of Belmonte stands on a small hill in Castilla-La Mancha, 60 miles south-west from the city of Cuenca. Its stout, warlike appearance conceals sumptuous interiors, with towers that offer grand panoramic views of the town of Belmonte and the plains of La Mancha which stretch far into the distance.
The castle was built in 1456 by Don Juan Pachecho, the first Marqués de Villena. Part defensive fortress and part palace, it has a curious pentagonal shape with a large, triangular patio at its centre. The castle grounds once extended all the way to the foot of hill, and two of the original perimeter walls still stand today. Both are over 300 metres long and lead down to the town of Belmonte.
This video gives an fantastic view of castle from the air.Video by Milsolesdrone
During the 15th century, the castle was briefly home to Princess Juana – the daughter of King Henry IV of Castille. Juana was the apparent heir to Castillian throne, but there were doubts over her true parentage. Many believed her to be the illegitimate daughter of a court nobleman, a favourite of her mother named Beltrán de la Cueva, while her father was widely rumoured to be impotent.
These uncertainities about Juana’s bloodline would eventually lead to crisis and the War of Castillian Succession. For long periods she was held hostage, in constant fear for her life. Legend has it that she was imprisoned for a while at Belmonte, but managed to escaped by knotting together her bed sheets and climbing out of the window.*
Between the 17th and 18th centuries the castle saw a long period of decline and deterioration. It could easily have fallen into the state of total ruin, but its salvation came in the form of Empress Eugenia de Montijo – the widow of Napolean III of France. A direct descendent of the Pacheco family, she retired to the castle after her husband’s death, and in 1857 set about returning it to former glories. The result combined the castle’s original Gothic and Mudéjar styles with a distinctively French flavour.
Some of the biggest changes were made to the patio, where the 15th century stone was replaced with a more elegant, fashionable red brick.
Also striking are th pine wood coffered ceilings that can be found throughout the castle interior. A few are original, but the majority date from Eugenia’s restorations.
The whole of the castle’s upper floor is opulently furnished in the 19th century style – where attempts have been made to recreate Eugenia’s study, dining room and bedchamber down to the last detail.
For a few decades after Eugenia’s death, the castle was used as a monastery for Benedictine monks. Later, during the civil war, it was used as rebel stronghold and prison, before falling again into disrepair. Despite being declared a national monument in 1931, it was only after another series of restorations in recent years that the castle was brought into into its current, pristine state.
Today, the castle is used for private functions and weddings. It also houses an excellent visitors’ centre and museum complete with audio-guides. The dungeon area contains a collection of medieval arms and armour.
Famously, the castle has featured in a number of films, most notably El Cid (1982) starring Charlton Heston and Sofia Loren. Here’s a great still from the shooting of the movie:
Since 2014 the castle has been home to the World Championship of Medieval Combat. Every spring the grounds reverberate to the crack of sword against shield, halberd against helmet.
*Juana never became queen of Castille – in the end that honour fell to her half aunt – Isabel, who would go on to be one of the greatest monarchs in Spanish history. Meanwhile Juana was forced to take holy orders in a convent in Portugal It’s said that to her dying day she signed letters “la reina” (“the queen”).
Where: Castillo de Belmonte, Calle Eugenia de Montijo, s/n, 16640 Belmonte, Cuenca.
Price of entry: 9,00 €. Children aged 5-12: 5,00€.
Opening hours: Changeable, depending on the time of year. Check official website for the most up to date information.
belmonte castle: location map