How many Templar castles have you been in? While you think about it, we will tell you things about the one you are going to find in Peñíscola.
It is hard not to see it because it dominates the surroundings from the top of the rocky peninsula in which the old city is settled. And this thing about the old city we don’t just say it: even though the fortress was erected by the Order of the Temple around the year 1300, underneath there are the remains of a much older Arab citadel.
Tarik’s Muslims had been the owners of Peñíscola for five centuries, but before them, there had been the Romans, the Greeks, the Carthaginians and the Phoenicians, who way back in the seventh century BC were already involved with the Iberian settlers in the area. That is to say that the history of the settlements in here did not start last week. And it is normal, being as it is a perfect enclave to build a fortress from which to see a lot of sea and a lot of land.
The fact is that, in 1233, Jaime I won the place for Christianity. The same Christianity that, at the beginning of the XV century, was going to make of Peñíscola one of the sites of its power struggles. During the so-called Western Schism there were two popes at once: one of them, Urban VI, was in Rome, and the other one, Benedict XIII, decided to set up his Court here and to use the castle of the city as a Papal palace. El Papa Luna, as he was known, died in 1423, and the schism would end with the resignation of his successor, the also Aragonese Clement VIII.
But with or without Popes, Peñíscola was still overlooking the sea, which meant the risk of pirate attacks and, above all, the attacks of the dreaded Turkish ships that came from the bottom of the Mediterranean. So Felipe II, always so concerned about the security of his borders, commissioned Giovanni Antonelli to fortify the city thoroughly. The Italian, who knew a lot about military architecture, devised these Renaissance walls from which today you can contemplate such a beautiful sight, and while you are at it, you can look at its many war wounds and think if some of them were made by Napoleon’s brother, Joseph Bonaparte. Because the real party came with the War of Independence during which they had to endure up to sixty-thousand cannon shots. As you hear… And hey here they are, still standing. Incredible, don't you think?
However, do not take too long here because you must also go and see the old town. Truth is that its tremendous history wasn’t as important as its beautiful views and photogenic sites to convert Peñíscola, well into the twentieth century, into a popular tourist destination.
This is what happens when a location serves as a stage for films like El Cid, in 1962: then people want to come and visit it.