Anyone driving between Valencia and Barcelona has probably glanced up from the AP7 and seen the castle occupying the long hilltop of Sagunto. If that’s you, make sure you leave a few hours to stop off next time you pass by. You can also get there quite easily on a day trip from Valencia. Of course, you could extend the trip with a night stop in nearby Puerto Sagunto, like we did!
Make sure you have some good shoes on before thinking about visiting. Starting in the old town you can wander around the narrow cobbled streets taking in the medieval feel of the place. There are a fair number of tiny but picturesque side streets running off the main drag. Your last stop on the way up should be the Taverna de la Serp for a bit of refreshment. Their tapas are lovely!
A modern monstrosity sits at the base of the castle. This is the outside of the restored amphitheatre. You can go inside and explore the corridors and the many rows of concrete seats. It may feel a little over-restored but look at the video below and you’ll see why it needed to be done to such a standard. Every year the town hosts Sagunt a Escena where you can see high class performances in ancient surroundings.
At the top of the amphitheatre a path leads off to an old Jewish cemetery. Unfortunately during my visit all of the gates were locked. It’s a shame as it looks very interesting and there are several information boards inside the padlocked gates suggesting that visitors are supposed to be allowed inside. Nearby you may be lucky and see some playful squirrels jumping in the trees.
A concrete road then leads up to the castle entrance. Surprisingly it is free to get in, although you will need to pick up a ticket from the entrance booth. Once inside, you can wander all over the place and little imagination is needed to see what it must have been like. There is quite a bit of restoration in progress, but there are still plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. It is a popular school excursion though, so don’t expect to have the place to yourself. The castle is sometimes wrongly referred to as a Roman remain. Hilltop fortifications existed here in the pre-Roman Iberian era and it has been used by all settlers, conquerors and invaders ever since.
Also within the castle walls is an interesting museum. The staff in there are keen to talk in English, Spanish or Valenciano. Inside you’ll find lots of information about the history of Sagunto. The stone engravings are of particular interest with their latin inscriptions translated for ease of reading – and educated guesses have been made to fill any gaps!
In nearby Canet d’en Berenguer I had spotted a boat called “Arse” which was quite amusing for an English speaker. The museum provided the answer to the question of why someone would name their boat after their backside. It turns out there is no anatomical reason at all. Arse was the Iberian name for the town which the Romans called Sagunt (the name Valenciano speakers still use today) and the Spanish turned into Sagunto.
Back down in the town I would recommend finding the Ferrocarril 1870 cafe bar. As the name suggests, it is crammed full of railway memorabilia from bygone days. The food is pretty good too!
If you would like to read more about Sagunto Castle, Wikipedia has a rather in depth history for you to devour.