Medieval Castles – Castle de la Mota – The Evolution of a Spanish Fortress

medieval castles, medieval spain

The Castle La Mota now occupies an area that during the Roman period was an important stop on a trade route that ran through what is now the Spanish Province of Valladolid. It was most probably fortified and walled to some degree at that time to protect a settlement that easily dates back to the iron age. Indeed, archeologists have found evidence of an ancient Celtic fortification existing here during the 4th century BC.

Construction of what eventually became the formidable Spanish castle of La Mota probably had relatively humble beginnings as a 12th century villa for a wealthy Muslim merchant. I’ve also read that construction began in 1080 as a fortress to defend against Moorish attacks. In any event you have a fortified position that seems to change hands many times in it’s defensive evolution.

The word, “La Mota”, actually means “mountain” or in this case, an “artificial mountain” on which to build a fortress. It’s no surprise that a walled village, (now the Medina del Campo), would exist along so ancient a trade route. The fortress at once protecting and exerting control over the surrounding area would have a symbiotic relationship with the town.

This combination ultimately boasted a remarkable marketplace during the 16th century in which we find some of the first evidence of actual bills being used for exchange. This could be considered a truly international marketplace for it’s time, with merchants from France, Italy, and even North Africa crowding it’s stalls. It’s fairs were famous being held for 50 days each Spring and Fall.

medieval castles, la mota, inner wardThe most ancient of what I’d actually consider a medieval style fortification dates from the early 13th century monarch, Alfonzo VIII, with the construction of a modest sized castle with square towers. These now form what now makes up the inner ward.

Some confusion I have is that one reference has it that the imposing keep, which stands over 40 meters in height, (the highest in Castile), was ordered built by Juan II of Castile of the Fonseca family. Still another reference states that the Catholic monarch Isabel would order the the outer walls and the keep, built later on in 15th century. Another reference states that Henry IV saw to the construction of the outer towers and walls during the 14th century.

There seems to be some ambiguity as to which monarchs were responsible for various castle fortifications over the centuries, and I would be very pleased to hear from readers about these apparent discrepancies.

castle la mota, medieval castles, castles of spain

What I can discern by just examining photos of the castle is that the outer precinct that forms the barbican completely surrounding the castle and protected by round towers, has to be late 14th to 15th century handiwork. The outer curtain with it’s round towers would have to be a latter addition due to advances in engineering and their greater impregnability to projectile weapons. Note the two-story plinth, (quite a common feature in european castles after the 13th century), that surrounds the outer walls must also be an advanced addition having protected the castle from mining or sapping and lending great strength to the wall. Also, the arrow loops that are present in the inner ward have given way to hand gun loops in the outer.

La Mota is said to have withstood a ten month siege in the mid 15th century.

medieval castles, la motaLa Mota is definitely a model built on the Valladolid School of castle construction ordered by Enrique IV for the construction of royal castles of Medina del Campo, Portillo, and Segovia. It is built on a trapezoidal plan consisting of a large keep, or Tower of Homage. The school of Valladolid castle construction maintain that the walls be half the length of one side of the square. The keep itself would be twice as high as the surrounding walls. La Mota’s keep is fitted with machicoulis and doubled bartizan in each corner not unlike the Alcazar in Segovia. The keep consisted of three levels, the lowest of which would have access to the galleries below. Note the pigeon holes for scaffolding all over the structure as it was repeatably remodeled for two and a half centuries.

Castle La Mota is also an excellent example of a fortification that was not always held by those who controlled the town. During the the 15th century the castle and town changed hands in the bitter rivalry that existed between the kings of Castile and Aragon. In 1439 the Castilian king was effectively imprisoned within the castle when the prince of Aragon, having gained control of the town, locked the gates.

Castles often served as prisons and La Mota was no exception. It was here the Juana la Loca was kept during the 15th century. In the 16th century the castle housed such infamous prisoners as Hernando Pizarro, (brother of the conquistador Francisco Pizarro), and Cesare Borgia, who actually managed to escape from La Mota in 1506 with the help of the Count of Benavente by means of a rope.

The castle was actually reconstructed by the Falange government under Franco in the early 1900’s to preserve it as an important Spanish cultural site with links the the Catholic Monarchs.

Lego Fans: You’ve just gotta: Check out the Lego La Mota at: (Now that’s cool..)

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  1. […] Medieval Castles – Castle de la Mota – The Evolution of a Spanish …Sep 1, 2010 … The Castle La Mota now occupies an area that during the Roman period was an important stop on a trade route that ran through what is now the … […]

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