Aledo is a quite spectacular sight from many points in the valley in which the small town of Totana is situated. Up in the Sierra Espuña and beyond Totana, you can see what looks like a castle stuck out on the end of a ridge, with other buildings surrounding it away from the seemingly precipitous drop at the end. This is the small town (or large village) of Aledo. Aledo looks as if it ought to be worth a visit and it certainly is, though you will be hard pressed to spend more than half a day there, if that. Even so, all this masks the enormous importance of the place in medieval times.
If you drive to Aledo, you may want to park on the outskirts, very soon after turning off the main road. The road into the town progressively narrows and there can be severe parking problems if you go too far. As you walk toward the old centre of Aledo, very narrow streets go off to the left and the right. Soon, however, you reach the end of the ridge with its fortifications. It is here that you fully appreciate just how strong a defensive position the geography made Aledo. The land falls away precipitously from the edge of the ridge and the sturdy metal fence that has been put around the edge to prevent accidents is very necessary! You continue the final few yards up the incline to the Church and tower where there is a small town square also housing the post office (correos) and the town hall.
The most prominent of the buildings hereabouts is the large stone tower at the end of the ridge on which Aledo is built. In recent years it has been quite superbly restored for visitors. There is a small entrance fee. The ground floor is divided into two domed chambers by a dividing wall, along one side of which stairs lead to the next floor. The ground floor also houses the local tourist office. On the next floor, there are displays and information about Aledo in medieval times. From here, you climb up a good number of steps (it is a tower!) to the second floor with its ceiling high above you. This is an interesting area with many more displays and remarkable ancient graffiti scratched into the north wall. There are representations of horses, archers and a tower. The two upper floors each have four brick vaulted “chambers”. From the top floor, you can even go out of a door onto a terrace on the open top of the tower which offers (unless you suffer badly from vertigo!) marvellous 360˚ views down into Aledo, to Totana, across to the Carrascoy Hills, and, of course, of the Sierra Espuña. The local landmark of the Statue of Christ on a nearby hill can also be seen. Rain water used to be collected from this roof area and then drained to storage tanks lower down. A description of the tower in the second half of the 15th Century refers to a well with water; a first floor used for the storage of arms; a second floor with an oven, a hand grinder and four grain storage areas; and a terrace with a hut for the sentries, firewood and stones for use should there be an attack.
In medieval times, it appears that the tower was itself surrounded by a wall, with another wall then going around part of the town. There were seven subsidiary towers on these walls, especially on the least defended sides and, of course, at the narrow entry area at the other end of the ridge on which Aledo is sited. There was also a dry ditch to reinforce the defences. You can easily see remnants of the old walls as you walk through the old part of Aledo.
The origins of the remarkable tower are in the times of the Moors. However, in 1088, Christian knights took the town and tower with unsuccessful, lengthy sieges following by the Moors in an attempt to recapture it. Its taking by the Christians, and retention for a number of years, hit the headlines throughout the Arab world, where it was regarded as a scandalous occurrence. However, this was a frontier land and there were many skirmishes in the ensuing years before the Christians temporarily abandoned the area during a Moorish offensive. This is not really surprising, for, with Aledo being a Christian wedge, constant struggles between the Christians and Moors were only to be expected. It was only after the Treaty of Alcaraz in 1243, when the Moorish Emirate of Murcia was finally taken under the Crown of Castile that Aledo again came under Christian rule.
Following the re-conquest of Granada in 1492 and the end of Moorish rule in Spain as a whole, Aledo ceased being on the front line, leading to a progressive usurpation by the lower lands (remember Aledo is at an altitude of around 2,000 feet) and Totana of the former town’s importance. Its role as a fortified settlement with the stronghold of the Tower was quickly becoming superfluous. Nevertheless, Totana had to wait until 1793 to assume its separate identity. Even at the height of its importance, in the mid 15th Century, Aledo was said to have a population of only 60 families, a figure which, by the end of the century had still not reached 100.
Today, Aledo is in one sense but a shadow of its former self, despite its notable and very visible history. Most recent censuses, give the population of the Aledo district as just making the 1,000 mark, this being something of an improvement over previous years. Certainly, from the 19th Century onwards, there was considerable outmigration from the Aledo area to other more prosperous areas of Spain as well as to southern France. Today, the most notable activity is still agriculture, especially viticulture, although tourism is becoming increasingly important. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating place and well worth going to see.
There is also one noted beauty spot nearby just off the road from Aledo to Lorca – a gorge in the rock, known as the “estrecho”. This gorge is remarkable in that, at times, you feel that you are actually in an elongated cave, with the narrow open top being totally hidden and the narrow sides very close together. You need to be well shod and capable of a rough walk if you want to visit the gorge. The tourist office in the tower, or the nearby town hall, will be able to give you further details and directions if you are interested.
Part taken from “Exploring Murcia – A Guide to Totana, Alhama de Murcia, Aledo, Pliego and the Sierra Espuña”, by Clive and Rosie Palmer which is available from www.lulu.com or contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Clive and Rosie Palmer have written several guide books on towns and regions in Murcia. Copies of some of the books may also be available from Cosas y Cosas, Cehegin and Best Wishes, Camposol Urbanización.