Situated to the north of the province of Castellón, in the lower Maestrazgo region, Peñiscola is one of the privileged towns which have conserved part of the magic from times gone by on each of its corners and squares in the old town centre.
A unique old town centre on an isthmus which stretches into the sea; the narrow streets paved with boulders, squares of a clear and leisurely Mediterranean flavour, whitewashed houses, hermitages dedicated to virgins, and murals which have protected and seen such illustrious figures such as Jaime I, Pope Luna, Felipe V and more recently others like Alfonso XIII, Sofia Loren and Pepe Isbert. The visitors are transported to a universe in which every stone breathes history and culture to be enjoyed at every moment, stretched out on one of its walls over the sea.
More than 2500 years of history have created a suggestive gallery of legends, traditions, buildings and historic events which invite us to immerse ourselves, more like voyagers than tourists, into the search for the origins and legends of this town declared a historic-artistic complex in 1972. Good examples of this are the patron saint’s feasts, the templar castle, having been one of the three papal seats of Christianity together with Rome and Avignon and, so the legend goes, that it was here where Hannibal swore eternal hate towards the Romans, after passing through Sagunto,.
Its strong strategic position in commerce and war, its topographic inexpugnability, the flow of sweet spring water within and surrounding the isthmus as well as the mild climate led to the town and its surrounding areas to be settled since ancient times.
After one of the guided tours offered for free by the Tourist Board, the visitor will surely look at the town which has become what we know today as Peñiscola after incursions by Iberians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Cartagena, Arabs, military religious orders, schisms of religious men, later men of the Renaissance, erudite and Carlists with new eyes.
From the ChersonesosGreek, referring to the most ancient written form of the town’s name which, translated from Greek into Latin meansS IV a.c peninsula to the Latin translation of the Greek name deriving from ”pene+iscola” meaning “nearly island” we get to the present-day name of Peñiscola.
The 500-year Muslim rule converted “Banaskula” , the Arab name for Peñiscola, into an important port which became increased in importance with the Christians’ reconquest. There are some remains of the ancient port which can be encountered in the Porteta area.
From 1294 to 1307, the castle was built over the remains of the ancient Arab fortress under the all-powerful rule in the town of the Templar Order. An unfinished and interrupted castle caused by the abolition of the order by Clemente V who, together with the King of France, was responsible for the beginnings of the Western Schism.
Later it was Felipe II who put the walls into condition to face the pirates on our Levantine coasts. The Tower of Badum, a watchtower in the natural park of the Sierra de Irta is another vestige of the passage of the imperial times in these lands. Nowadays, the 1571 coat of arms is still preserved.
With the War of Succession, the War of Independence and the Carlist Wars we come to 1890, the year in which Peñiscola loses its military importance since its arsenal is dismantled and transferred to Cartagena.
From this time onwards, with the arrival of tourism in the 60’s and its wealth of historic-artistic value and effervescence, Peñiscola has been able to adapt to the new times with a wide, heterogeneous and high quality range of offers, becoming one of the most appreciated tourist references because of its extensive cultural, historical, environmental and landscape values.
Today, walking through its streets, you will feel the shelter of the fortress and understand when you are at the top of the castle what made illustrious figures feel so well protected within its walls.
Juan Antonio Beltrán/ Adolfo Aguilà