There is a saying that goes something like, "He who holds Alaró Castle, holds the key to Mallorca." So where is the castle, when was it built and what happened there?
The castle is 500m above Alaró town, on top of the precipitious Alaró hill which, along with s'Alcadena Hill, guards the entrance to Orient Valley. The ruined walls are hard to pick out from a distance but once you can see them on the crest of the cliff they are hard to forget. Getting to the ruins involves following signs for the castle through the centre of Alaró town and then following a long narrow twisting road up the mountainside. It can get very busy on a weekend and the tracks were not designed for today's vehicles.
There is a carpark around two-thirds the way up the hill next to Es Verger Restaurant, where local food is served to those in need of sustinence before or after making the climb to the top. The track winds its way up through the woods, turning to a stone pathway after Es Pouet. As the final stretch leads you along the foot of a cliff towards the gateway, you cannot help but look up to the ruined walls above and wonder how anyone could capture the castle.
I reckon it takes an hour to make the walk, and although it is fairly strenuous at times, it is well worth the effort to see the views from the top. As you walk around the perimeter of the castle, and do be careful because some of the precipitious edges are not barriered off, you can see Palma Bay to the south and Alcuida Bay to the east. The Tramuntana mountains fill the northern horizon and they tower over Orient valley and Alaró village below. To the east is the precipitous s'Alcadena Hill, the lofty home of witches according to local legend.
On three occasions Alaró castle has been the last stand after Mallorca had been invaded. The first recorded siege dates from the Moorish invasion of 902 A.D., when 3,000 Almoravid warriors landed on the island. Although they easily overran the isolated farms and fishing villages, Alaró Castle refused to surrender. The garrison held out for nearly eight and a half years, braving the seasonal elements of heat and cold .
During the course of the next 300 years of Islamic rule, the Moors added to and improved the fortifications. The castle was a focal point in 1229 following King Jaime' invasion of Mallorca and many Moors headed to Alaró's hilltop and while the rich and powerful were allowed inside the castle, the farmers and fisherman had to hide in the hills around.
When King Jame the Conqueror died in 1265, his territories were split between his two sons. While Peter III inherited Aragon and Catalonia, his younger brother inherited the Balearic Islands and lands in southern France. The split did not go down well with either of the them and while Peter wanted his brother to pay taxes, Jaime refused.
Peter never got his brother to submit to his wishes and instead he spent his time reconquering lands in Tunisia, becoming King of Sicily and invading Italy. His activities brought him into conflict with Pope Martin IV and King Phillip of France and Jaime supported their invasion of Aragon in 1284 to get back at his brother.
Peter died in November 1285 and his son Alfonso III of Aragon immediately invaded Mallorca after hearing that his uncle Jaime had left the island. He took advantage of his abscence to make sure that the Baeleric Islands came under his control. The fleet landed on what is now Magaluf Beach and Palma opened its gates to Alfonso's troops after a siege of only two days while the rest of the island quickly fell under Alfonso's rule. Jaime' loyal supporters had fled to Alaró and the King of Majorca's flag beckoned from the top of castle tower.
Alfonso led the final attempt to end the siege, calling on the garrison leaders, Guillem Cabrit and Guillem Bassa, to surrender. They refused taunting the King about his name. 'Anfos' is the medieval Catalan word for halibut and legend has it that they shouted down from the walls; "We know of no halibut here that bears the title of King of Majorca but only the halibut which you grill and eat with sauce" . The insult infuriated Alfonso and he vowed to make the two Guillem's rue their words.
The castle eventually surrendered on 30 December 1286 and King Alfonso made sure that his terrible threat was carried out. The two leaders were impaled and roasted alive in Alaró's Plaza del Lladoner . Rome was far from happy with his treatment of the prisoners and while Alfonso was excommunicated, the Guillems are still remembered as the "Sants Màrtirs".
The martyrs remains wre buried in Palma Cathedral while a chapel in Alaró 's square remembers their sacrifice. An annual festival in which statuesque figures of the two Guillems are paraded through the streets is is held on 6 November.
The castle could have faced another siege in 1343 when Peter IV invaded Majorca. He took control of the island from his brother-in-law, Jaime III, and after Palma opened its gates without a fight, so did Alaró Castle. The hilltop fortress was used less and less over the next 400 years and the last garrison marched out of the hillside and down the hillside in 1741.
In the meantime a small chapel called Mare de Déu del Refugi was built in the centre of the castle in 1622. There is also a small cafe so you can purchase snacks and drinks and a hostelry where you could book a room and spend the night on Alaró Hill.
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