Although the final stronghold of the Moors, Granada, fell in 1492, Spain was not safe from hostile threats from North Africa. Indeed, in the next century, raids on the Murcian coastline by Berber pirates seeking goods, animals and slaves, became a constant threat and trouble. One countermeasure taken was the building of watchtowers along the coast to give advance warning of the pirates’ approach. Today, some of these towers still remain. There are four within a very short distance around Mazarrón which are well worth going to see.
The Molinete is in the heart of Mazarrón and easily visible as a circular watchtower on a prominent hillock. There has been considerable recent restoration work, aimed also at making the area a pleasant green space in the urban environment. It is now a fenced urban park with a gated access. The way up is on well made paths and just below the tower there is a viewing area with excellent views of the surrounding area. Although small, the tower is an impressive structure, built on a base of rock several feet high. The tower itself is a stone structure, now only several metres high, open to the air, and of quite a restricted diameter. Clearly, at one time, it would have had two or more floors.
The Molinete was commissioned by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1490. For that reason, it is also known as the Tower of the Catholic Monarchs. It is superbly situated despite being a short distance inland, and there is a magnificent view of the surrounding area from it. It would, therefore, have been an excellent vantage point despite its restricted size, occupying a marvelous defensive position even if it could not house many people. The Castle of los Vélez, however, is prominent a very short distance to the north-west across a small depression.
Saint Isabel Tower (Torre Santa Isabel) stands on a promontory and overlooks the indoor market in Puerto de Mazarrón and can be quite easily accessed from the surrounding area. It is very much more complete than its counterpart in Mazarrón. The reason for which it was built in the 16th Century, however, was identical – to keep watch and warn local farmers and fishermen of the possible arrival of Berber pirates. Its construction began in 1576.
Today, the buildings below in Puerto de Mazarrón have obscured the tower’s vantage point which, once, would have given good views out to sea. The monument also has other names – the Tower of the Summit (Torre de la Cumbre) and the Old Tower of the Port (Torre Vieja del Puerto). Inside the circular tower are two domed vaults and on its top, there are incomplete and rather flimsy looking railings. There is an arched window half way up the tower on one side, and a similar window rather higher up above the entrance door. The entrance to the tower itself is, however, closed by an iron grille, but inside, is a further staircase going up and round to give access to a higher level. The walls are perhaps 1.5 to 2 metres in thickness.
Torre de los Caballos is to be found at the side of the Iglesia de la Purísima in Bolnuevo, which is of mid-20th Century construction, and which was built over some earlier ruins. It dates from the 16th Century and appears remarkably complete with external decorations and a castellated top. It has small windows in the walls which are mainly blocked up and a door half way up with an iron railing across it. It was built on a small hill from which Bolnuevo Beach and part of the Cope Cove were easily visible. Its square shape housed three stages in its interior, which were linked originally with a solid building annexed to it as a fort. The tower is documented in Mazarrón’s municipal archives from 1577. However, by 1798, there was reference to the tower having been abandoned for over a century and, by 1801, it was simply described as “ruined”.
The tower has undergone recent restoration and repair and is open to visitors, but it is as well to check days and times with the Mazarrón Tourist Office or Town Hall. When we last visited it (one Saturday morning in November 2011), the entrance area had a display about the 1585 Miracle, when it is said that the appearance of the Virgin caused Berber pirates to abandon a raid on Mazarrón. In addition, there were papers from the town’s archives, including one from 1660, giving permission to the local fishermen to use the tower to house and repair their fishing tackle. Access to the tower’s first floor is by way of a spiral staircase and there we found another display, this time about the coastal watchtowers themselves. Several had once possessed artillery pieces. The Bolnuevo tower ground floor originally had a water deposit, while the first floor was used for accommodation and storage. Unfortunately, when we were last there, access to the top terrace of the tower was temporarily impossible. If you are lucky enough to be able to get on to the top, the views of the Bay of Mazarrón are said to be spectacular!
Torre Santa Elena is perhaps the most prominent of the landmarks in and around the coastal village of La Azohía near Mazarrón. In 2009/10, substantial restoration work took place on the approaches and the tower which now prevent unauthorized vehicular access. It is a good but enjoyable walk of perhaps a kilometre from La Azohia to reach the tower. However, by way of consolation, the views are excellent down into Mazarrón Bay and to the small harbour in La Azohía. In addition, before you reach the tower itself, there is a sign indicating a “mirador” (viewpoint) down a footpath and some steps, which you descend to reach a fenced, semi-circular area looking out over the Bay of Mazarrón with the sea immediately below.
The tower forms part of the defensive system which the Emperor Charles I wished to establish along the Mediterranean coast. According to one notice, it was constructed between 1556 and 1598 and furnished with armaments. It would warn the local inhabitants of impending danger by smoke during the day and fire at night. It remained in active service until the start of the 19th Century when it began to lose its military value. A metal spiral staircase leads to the entrance into the building, which is some four or five metres above the actual tower base, where the walls are very thick (perhaps three metres). Following restoration, the tower was shut to visitors when we last visited it, with iron grilles covering the entry. No doubt the Ayuntamiento or Tourist Office in Cartagena will be able to advise of when it may be open to visitors. Nevertheless, it is well worth visiting the tower even if you cannot go inside. If you go when it is open and are able to ascend the spiral staircases to the roof, you will see why a watchtower was built here. The whole of the Bay of Mazarrón unfolds before you.