Secret Hidden Under Galician Soil: What Happened to the Castle de Rocha Forte?

Imagine a castle that has been in ruins for centuries, with all its secrets covered by the ground. Now, you are allowed to explore the basement of this lost fortress and be one of the few people to see its secrets after it has been ignored for so long. The biggest castle in Galicia stood near the remarkable cathedral of Santiago de Compostela centuries ago. This impressive construction was destroyed in the 16th century, but its rediscovery brought many breathtaking artifacts and allowed researchers to unearth several of the site’s secrets.

The remarkable site consists of the ruins of a castle which is known in some resources, but it still has a story full of gaps. A number of fictional stories exist, but when archaeologists unearthed the foundation of the fortress, legends came alive as never before. The patient work by a team of researchers became a basis for the organization that now helps thousands of tourists understand the history of the castle and penetrate the remnants of this impressive building.

History of the Castle Rocha Forte

The history of the castle started perhaps in the 12th or 13th century AD, but the first document that confirmed the existence of the fortress is dated back to 1253. Compared to other fortresses like this, the Rocha Forte is not located on the top of a hill. It was built in a valley, and its principal purpose was to control traffic to the city of Santiago de Compostela. The medieval period was one of the darkest times in the history of the Iberian Peninsula. Brutal fights made the rivers run red with blood and the ground fill with remnants of warfare. Therefore, fortresses like Rocha Forte were necessary to protect a city. Moreover, it was an element of the sophisticated system that covered a bigger site. It was the greatest and strongest fortress of the Kingdom of Galicia.

Walls inside the main enclosure of Rocha Forte

Walls inside the main enclosure of Rocha Forte. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

It was created to protect and defend against every enemy who wanted to conquer the city. With time, it also became a home for the Archbishop of Santiago de Compostela, who was one of the most influential people in this part of the world. The archbishop also created a shelter for individuals in need. In 1317, it belonged to the Archbishop Berenguel de Landoria. However, the residents did not welcome him with open arms. Instead, they started a rebellion. Many of the rebels paid with their lives for this action. A few decades later, the fortress was damaged during one of the battles in the Irmandiño wars. The notable castle was abandoned and the walls were dismantled in 1472.

Possible reconstruction of the Rocha Forte castle.

Possible reconstruction of the Rocha Forte castle. (CC BY 3.0)

Bringing the Castle of Rocha Forte to Light

Galicians never forgot that there were ruins of a remarkable castle in the area of Santiago de Compostela. Sadly, the site was looted at least once – during the 19th century. Some historians have already noted the importance of the ruins and it is mentioned in several works.

The first archaeologists that appeared on the site in the 1930s weren’t interested in the castle itself, but in the petroglyph of Castriño de Conxo. Later, in 1962, the electric company installed a high voltage pylon in the middle of the ruins. A staircase and underground passage were discovered during its installation. The Rocha Forte was slowly coming back to the world. As a team of researchers beautifully described:

”A Rocha Forte (sic) is a material metaphor of a historical process marked by violence, conflict and death. Its walls saw political murders and siege wars. A medieval Titanic, which considered itself eternal, the fortress was reduced to ashes in 1466-67. The havoc caused by the Irmandiños and the later systematic plundering literally wiped it off the face of the earth.

This anecdote is a good example […] In May 1617, stonemasons Gaspar de Arze and Francisco Gómez Araújo, and carpenters Xoán Varela e Afonso de Beade, visited A Rocha (sic) to collect data on [the] site which justified the reconstruction of the shattered fortress:

And upon laying their eyes on it, all they could see were but some foundations at ground level or even at some parts covered in earth and so engulfed by branches, grass and weeds that it was not possible to ascertain where the walls of what used to be known as the keep had been. And judging by the look of the ground, there had not been a keep there for many years and they could not assess its worth or its damage or whether, as it was, there was any point whatsoever in any rebuilding.”

Stairs discovered on the west side of the fortress.

Stairs discovered on the west side of the fortress. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The castle had a square plant of some 3500 m² (37,700 ft2). It had four round towers made of binding stone at the corners. Inside the castle, there was a staircase that led to a small underground room. The entrance to the castle was on the west side and featured two towers.

The fortress will perhaps remain a beautiful ruin forever. But it’s worth remembering that the castle site was also a battlefield. Countless battles took place around the walls of Rocha Forte. Researchers found weapons from different periods of the castle’s history. It is also known that the ruins were used as a hideout in Francoist Spain too.

Partial view of the Castle of Rocha Forte’s southeast wall.

Partial view of the Castle of Rocha Forte’s southeast wall. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Recovering the Castle de Rocha Forte

The castle was abandoned until the 21st century. But due to the successful campaigns supported by Galician authorities and medievalists of the University of Santiago de Compostela works began in 2002.

Base of a tower at the Castle of Rocha Forte, Galicia, Spain.

Base of a tower at the Castle of Rocha Forte, Galicia, Spain. (CC BY-SA 3.0)             

After centuries, a story known in every household became a famous historical site once again. The city of Santiago de Compostela is one of the most popular destinations for tourists in Spain, but now the Padro village on the way to Santiago has also become an attractive tourist stop, especially in the case of pilgrims who follow the famous route of the Camino de Santiago.

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