The Order of Montesa
I picked up a habit from my grandpa to grab his binoculars and survey the valley from the balcony. Although I couldn't locate the binoculars the last time I went to his house, I remembered that I was mesmerized by the abundance of ruins scattered throughout the valley. However, there's one that stood out to me the most, even though it's not as noticeable as The Hermitage of Santa Anna.
West of our village, more inland into La Costera, lies another small village called Montesa. It's a settlement built around a rising mound capped with a castle of huge importance to many nations that roamed these tumultuous yet prosperous lands.
When standing at a high point like the trail that runs up the mountain by our village, you can see the castle standing over the valley. I mean, where else can you look around and see so many ruins and castles that seem untouched for hundreds of years.
Spain has a rich history today and even a richer one over the past 1400 years. It wouldn't come to you as a surprise then to know that the origin of Montesa starts with the Muslims. Like much of the peninsula, Muslims have left their touch everywhere you go around Spain, especially closer to the south.
Before the arrival of the Crown of Aragon & The Kingdom of Valencia, Montesa was a Muslim settlement in Al-Andalus. As the conquests traveled inland, the Moors slowly lost one settlement after another. Where the castle stands, today was the refuge center for the last remaining Muslims.
In 1277 the castle of Montesa was surrendered to King Pedro III. That was a pivotal victory for the Crown of Aragon since the castle was known as one of the strongest in the Kingdom of Valencia. Over a succession of eventful years, the castle became the headquarter of the Order of Montesa, a military order protecting the territories of Aragon. Although the castle does capture all the attention of visitors, I find the village to be equally as beautiful. Montesa is built on slopes from the bottom of the valley to the castle's base. The architecture here isn't much different than the rest of the area. However, it is uniquely compressed into a small area with very narrow roads shooting in every direction.
Naturally, I wanted to go and see the area myself, so I jumped on my Lolo and headed west toward Montesa. The village isn't that far from ours. As a matter of fact, it was about a 19-mile roundtrip, cutting through the backroads between farms of olives and oranges. I reached the bottom of the mound on which Montesa sits.
I found my way to the castle following streets that went up; the narrower, the better because I wanted to see the nooks and crannies of this place.
By the time I got to the castle, that enchanting Valencian sun was slowly sinking, casting warm tea-colored sun rays all over the valley.
The Golden Hour.
This isn't my first time visiting the castle, but it sure feels like it every time I do. To have a place of such historical importance just a stone's throw away is quite telling of the rich history of the Iberian Peninsula.
The attention to detail in the architectural design of the castle is stunning, as it quite literally seems like it's part of the giant rock it sits on. As was the case with numerous castles and strongholds that belonged to the Moors, many were remodeled and renovated to the successors' architectural style. As a result, most of what you would see of the castle today was built in the Valencian Gothic style.
The style was common throughout the Kingdom of Valencia and was dominant across the countries on the Mediterranean shores. Although it uses building techniques developed by the Romans, which later influenced the French Gothic, Valencian Gothic diverges from that and establishes a clear branching against it.
Lastly, the architecture also differentiates itself by incorporating Mudejar art, an artistic style developed & influenced by the elements and materials of Islamic art from Al-Andalus.
What once was the headquarters of The Order of Montesa and Fortress of the Moors is now a quaint farming village near the western edge of La Costera valley. It's most definitely worth a visit, especially if you are already in the area.
I've been brainstorming for a long-distance trip that passes through Montesa and up the mountains north of the Village towards Ayora and back, mostly on gravel and backroads, OMTM style. However, I'll have to wait till I get my B-road in Spain sometime soon.
So perhaps this won't be the last time you read about this beautiful little village with a welcoming spirit.
Until next time, friend.