The Alcazabar de Almería is a giant fortress standing guard over the city of Almería. It’s really an unmissable sight if you are in the area, but the reality is that it’s taken me three or four visits to get round to climbing up to this amazing monument!
Construction began under the reign of Abd al-Rahman III, the first caliph of the Kingdom of Al-Andalus, in 955BC. Subsequent caliphs enlarged the project and it became the largest moorish fortification in Spain and possibly Europe. At the time Almería was considered to be one of the most important trading centres in the Mediterranean, and indeed traders came by sea from far and wide. It is testament to the building skills of the moors that this fortress has stood the test of time through both reconquest and earthquakes. Yes, there has been damage and reconstruction has been necessary, but it has not lost any of its atmosphere and it is not difficult to close your eyes and be whisked back a thousand years once inside.
Entering the main gate a cheery official asked where we were from. On hearing we were English he quipped that as we were still part of the European community entrance was free! Whether that was a joke or non-Europeans have to pay we were unable to ascertain, but some websites suggest there is a fee of €1.50. The moorish Gates of Justice lead to a series of gardens that felt a little like Granada’s Alhambra Palace, but without the crowds. Water trickles in all directions giving a tranquil feel to the place and you can easily view the old cisterns which still hold water today.
On the next level you can visit the north tower with its magnificent views from the battlements. There are some old arab houses which have been restored. Inside you can get a glimpse of what it was like to live there thanks to some dioramas. There is a lovely pond and a cafe too.
Across the active archaeological dig, you can visit the south tower. Although you can’t climb up to the very top any more, the views from the walls are still stunning. The design is quite unusual with a big square tower protected by smaller circular towers. There is also the so-called Gunpowder Tower across the large parade square. It’s a great place to see some cannons – but don’t climb on them. We saw a Spanish family being very strictly admonished for taking some selfies with the kids!
Across the gorge from the castle the walls continue up to the Cerro de Cristobal hill where a statue of Christ the Redeemer looks out over Almería. Look down to the left though and you’ll see the extraordinary sight of an animal sanctuary. It’s actually a captive breeding programme for endangered Saharan gazelles.
Opening hours of the Alcazabar change depending on the time of year but it is always closed on Mondays. Allow a few hours for your visit otherwise you might just feel a little rushed.