Intangible Cultural Heritage

Pic by David López Gómez

Sigüenza, January 22nd 2021.

On a day like this back in 1124, the Aquitanian bishop Bernard of Agen entered the city of Sigüenza, together with his troops, bound for a memorable reconquest of the city after three assaults. This fact was undoubtedly the origin of a city marked by the episcopal seal, which will also be the residence of bishops for several centuries afterwards.

Furthermore, January 22nd is the feast day of Saint Vincent, who as could have not been otherwise, became the patron saint of our city the day it was (re-)taken by the Christian kingdom. This remarkable fact in our history is celebrated every year, and the saint is venerated with different ceremonies.

On the eve, the last novena dedicated to the Saint is celebrated at the Romanesque church devoted to Saint Vincent. On the square in front of the church and opposite to the House of El Doncel, a bonfire is lit with a pine tree in the middle, with or loanges and tangerines hanging from its centre, symbolizing the martyrdom of the deacon in Valencia according to the legend. At the end, the bravest ones will jump over the remaining flames and ashes.

The sound of dulzainas and tambrets, intangible cultural heritage, surprises devotees, visitors and passers-by, announcing with their melodies that an important event is taking place. 

Traditional rosquillas, a kind of fried doughnuts typical of many festivities in Spain, are sold (after being blessed) to help defray the costs of the Brotherhood. 

The day after the feast, the traditional Bibitoque takes place, with activities for adults and children, and hot chocolate for everyone. 
This year, due to the pandemic, these celebrations will not take place and the bonfire will not be lit. However, the flame will still remain in the heart of all Seguntinos, hoping for a better future and looking forward to the coming celebration of the IX Centenary of the reconquest of Sigüenza, in 2024.

CREDITS: Picture by David López Gómez

Sigüenza: one city, three walls

Even though Sigüenza may seem a small city, it has continuously been growing throughout different periods of History, and its urban development can easily be seen today thanks to the remains of three enclosures of walls which were built to protect the city between the 12th and the 16th centuries. After the 17th century, the city did not stop growing, but the new neighbourhoods originated in that period, such as San Roque or the Arrabal, were no longer protected by walls.

Starting from the Castle towards the Cathedral, the first wall extended like two arms that would eventually intertwine, leaving the enclosure fully protected. Gates and passageways where built to connect the city with certain areas located outside of the walls, and towers served as surveillance, protecting the city and its inhabitants.

Nowadays, there are five of these gates that can still be seen, and a walk around the remains of the wall is highly recommended. From the Romanesque period, we can find the Puerta del Hierro, which was the main entrance and served as customs house, since the merchants had to pay their taxes at the entrance to be allowed to sell their products in the market. Also from that period, we can see the Arquillo de San Juan, which connected the Jewish and the Moorish quarters, and last but not least, the Puerta del Sol, where the sun rises.

From the Gothic period, the cube of the Peso, one of the defensive towers, and the Portal Mayor, with a niche showing an image of the Virgin and one of the most photographed corners of Sigüenza, with elegant palaces attached to both sides.

Next to the arcades of the Plaza Mayor, we can find the Puerta del Toril, through which the bulls would enter the square in the bullfighting festivals.

Two monumental gates were also built in the Renaissance period, called Medina and Guadalajara, but were overthrown in the War of Independence.

To learn more about this fantastic city, keep reading our posts and do not hesitate to ask any question you may have. If you have the chance to come over and pay a visit, please contact us to arrange a Walking Tour and enhance your visit even more!

Sigüenza, to the conquest of the World Heritage.

Sigüenza and its citizens received an excellent piece of news in January 2020: our medieval city was to present its candidacy to UNESCO World Heritage, a prestigious nomination which would recognize the uniqueness of its architecture and history.

In 1986, Toledo was the first city in Castilla-La Mancha to be recognized as a World Heritage Site and so was Cuenca in 1996. Sigüenza would become the third city in the region to conquer the title of UNESCO World Heritage City.

Sigüenza is also preparing for the IX Centennial of the Reconquest, which will be held in 2024, and will position the city as one of the cultural capitals of Spain, with loads of commemorative acts.

Sigüenza has always had a busy cultural agenda, filled with lots of events such as concerts, exhibitions, recitals… After the lockdown, the agenda starts getting busy again and open spaces will take a privileged position to host this kind of events. For example, the past 12th July the cultural leisure program began with a concert by Santos Moreno and Javier Villaverde, two of the most beloved musicians in the city, held at San Vicente square.

But the crown jewel is the outstanding exhibition of El Prado Museum, on the streets of Sigüenza. From July 13th  to August 26th, 50 life-size photographic reproductions of the masterpieces of El Prado Museum, will be exhibited in the Plaza Mayor, a pleasure for the views of whoever strolls our streets these days.

Not to be missed and definitely a great opportunity to know Sigüenza and enjoy the cultural agenda the City Hall prepares for locals and visitors.

Sustainable leisure activities to complement your visit…Sigüenza is much more than you’d ever imagine!

If you like to practice sports in contact with nature, Barbatona Ecotourism Centre offers a wide range of active ecotourism options such as: Interpretative hiking, caving, canyoning, kayaking, climbing and abseiling, multi-adventure, guided mountain bike routes and astronomical observation.

Barbatona Ecotourism Centre has a two-hectare plot of land in the middle of nature, ideal for enjoying the tranquillity of an authentically rural environment in a privileged natural and cultural setting. It is located in a territory that has managed to preserve its essence and rural authenticity, which invites us to discover all its charms: natural jewels, cultural wonders, rich ethnography and tasty traditional gastronomy.

The premises include a Rural Hostel with 8 rooms of different capacities for up to 60 people; each room has independent access, complete bathroom, fresh bedding and duvet, hot water and biomass heating system. In addition, there is a lodge with common areas for all guests: a Lounge-Bar -with fireplace, snooker, foosball table, games, hi-fi system, TV-, accessible toilets, dining room and a complete kitchen, where traditional dishes are carefully prepared using local and seasonal products. Barbatona Ecotourism Centre offers free parking, adapted access and is dog friendly… a perfect base to explore the region!

The ecotourism activities have been designed for people of all ages and are organised and supervised by qualified and experienced monitors and guides. All activities include personalised customer care, monitors/guides, all necessary materials for the activities and the mandatory Civil Liability, Accident and Assistance insurances.

To find out more about the Barbatona Ecotourism Centre click on the logo!

The Holy Week in Sigüenza

Talking about Easter or the Holy Week in Spain (Semana Santa) has nothing to do with what some of us might envision: chocolate eggs, Easter bunnies or candies. Even though these traditions, popular in other countries, are currently winning followers, especially amongst children, Semana Santa is above all, a religious festivity which is passionately celebrated with religious processions, masses and music.

In Sigüenza, episcopal city par excellence, this could not be otherwise. The streets of the city are filled with parade floats, candles, crosses, and the sound of beating drums. On the floats, you may see grand statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary or representations of Jesus’s crucifixion and other scenes from the Bible. They are proudly carried by the armaos on their shoulders, with grace and steadiness despite of the weight of the floats. Walking alongside, we may see the nazarenos, who dress in long robes and cone-shaped hoods, and the music bands, which create an intense soundtrack to the already impressive spectacle.

The festivities begin on Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday) and last until Lunes de Pascua (Easter Monday), but the most elaborate events and processions, are held on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Wherever you are in the country, you will encounter a procession, which is by far one of the biggest Easter traditions in Spain.

Even though egg-hunting is not popular at all, we don’t miss out on sweet treats. Torrijas, the most popular choice, are made from bread, which is dipped in milk with honey, sugar and cinnamon, then coated in batter and finally sprinkled with sugar or drenched with honey.

Easter is an important time for families. Children don’t have class for the whole week and parents usually take a few days off to spend time together. Those not participating in the processions, will definitely go to watch them. As well as in 2020, this year no processions have taken place, but the spirit remains the same, hoping and praying for better times to come soon.

Natural caves and man-made shelters

Sigüenza is one of those places where we can travel with certain expectations, perhaps because we have read an article about Medieval towns in Spain, or places to visit near Madrid, or maybe because someone has been there and has recommended us not to miss it. However, once we are there and discover the huge amount of things to see and do, our expectations are definitely exceeded. If we planned to go for a one-day visit, we would suddenly feel the need to come back.

Some of the treasures of Sigüenza are hidden in its municipalities (pedanías), not only cultural-wise but also natural-wise. Several natural caves, such as the Harzal Caves in Olmedillas, have been carved by the water over time. What we can see nowadays is an incredible limestone gorge with large holes penetrating the rock, which offers a wonderful spectacle to our sight.

The caves constitute an archaeological site in which remains of ceramic pieces dating from the Neolithic period as well as the Copper Age have been found. Also, there are some remains of habitable constructions dating from the Muslim period and also what possibly was a watchtower right out of the caves. 

These caves have served as natural shelters for ages, from hunters-gatherers until recent years, as they were used as sheep-pen until not so long ago. Most of the walls we can see today, were built by shepherds to keep the cattle in.

Even though it is no longer used by humans, it’s now home for a good number of birds of different species, such as Red-billed Choughs and Eurasian Craig Martins.

As a curious fact, “The Trojan Women”, a 1971 American-British-Greek drama film directed by Michael Cacoyannis and starring Katharine Hepburn and Vanessa Redgrave, was filmed there. You can watch one of the scenes here.

Get ready for a trip to Sigüenza as soon as we can travel again, and do not hesitate to check on our Nature & Landscape section for the best advice to discover Sigüenza and its surroundings!

NOTE: the caves are easily reachable but bear in mind that they are a private property, so please be respectful.

Ladies power in Castile

Contrary to popular belief, there was a time back in history when some women were ladies of our towns and villages, not just as simple housewives, but holding the titles of nobility that men generally did. The village of Palazuelos, one of the municipalities of Sigüenza, was one of those villages where women passed over men and kept magnifying the city with their titles.

The castle and walls, an emblem today of what the village of Palazuelos was one day, date back to the 13th-15th centuries. The works extended for a few years so it is difficult to set an exact date. Also, due to the strict laws established by the crown, building and demolishing at the same time was typical. There is a curious episode which happened here in Palazuelos, where the Queen (Juana I), ordered the magistrate of Atienza to go there and find what one of the ladies of the village, Lady Guiomar de Mendoza, was doing. Apparently, she had ordered to build more towers in the castle, and higher than the laws of Castile allowed, and hence the anger of the Queen, who order to stop the works.

Lady Guiomar was married to the Count of Priego, and since their son had no descendants, they passed their titles and properties to his wife, Beatriz of Valencia. But one of the most influencing ladies would be Mayor Guillén de Guzmán, who according to the history, could have been queen of Castile, because of her love affairs with the king-to-be, Alfonso X the Wise, who granted her these domains. They had a daughter, Lady Beatriz, who also inherited the lordship of Palazuelos and would eventually become Queen of Portugal.

Her successor, Lady Blanca decided to enter a convent in Burgos and sell some of her possessions, including Palazuelos. After that, some other women ruled the village, such as Lady Juana Manuel or Juana de Valencia.

If we visit Palazuelos today, we will see one of the most outstanding medieval fortified complexes in all of Castile due to their uniqueness; the walls defend a comparatively small and not particularly strategic population and for their exceptional state of conservation (although in recent years their deterioration has been progressively accentuated). The enclosure surrounds the town, covering a length of just over a kilometre, with the purpose of defending the town from external attacks, but also of locking the population in.

The castle is surrounded by a low barbican that is accessed from the town through a door that had a drawbridge. It is privately owned and has been recently transformed into a private home (visits not allowed).

In 1951, the Castle and Walls of the Villa de Palazuelos were declared a Historic-Artistic Monument, thus recognizing its national interest. This declaration was completed with that of Asset of Cultural Interest, in 2002.

History and Legends: the Castle of La Riba de Santiuste

If you are fond of paranormal phenomena, I’m sure you know the Spanish TV show “Cuarto Milenio” presented by journalist Iker Jiménez. The program ( explores a wide range of topics, such as conspiracy, ufology, parapsychology, archaeology and history. A few years ago, they visited the castle of La Riba de Santiuste, one of the 28 municipalities (kind of borough) of Sigüenza, but before I tell you why, let me give you a bit of information about it.

The castle of La Riba, is believed to be firstly built in the 9th century, during the Andalusian era, with the purpose of defending the area from the Castilian onslaught. However, there are almost no remains of that period apart from its foundations. The Riba de Santiuste fortress is typically medieval, although its shape is determined by the hill on which it is located, from where a very important part of the Salado river valley can be controlled. There is no need of moat nor barbican, thanks to the steep slopes.

Along the history, it has undergone through several restorations and interventions, including the expansion and reconstruction carried out at the end of the 12th century by the bishops of Sigüenza. Back in 1451 it was one again occupied, this time by Navarrese troops.

Few after, the bishop of Sigüenza, Fernando de Luján, planned its successful reconquest, returning the ownership of the castle to the Seguntine clergy, which continued up until the suppression of the dominions granted to the Church, back in the 19th century. The fortress was destroyed during the Spanish War of Independence and years later, the Civil War.

At some point which is still uncertain, the Spanish government became the owner of the castle and sold it in an auction in the 70’s. It was bought by a private individual and several restoration works were carried out. It is said that it was used by New Acropolis, an entity supposedly linked to esoteric studies, but also a sect.

Going back to the beginning of the post, let me tell you the reason why Iker Jiménez and his team came over: Manuela, a hypothetical spectre of the “white lady” who supposedly continues to roam the fortress. There are different versions of who she could be. The first and best known is that she was a young Arab, daughter of one of the first lords of the fortress, who ended up in love with a Christian. Since her family had already arranged a marriage of convenience for her, her father took this fact as an infidelity and took revenge. Ever since then, the girl’s soul would continue to roam the place and her screams can be heard at night…

Even though it is totally closed today and cannot be visited, I still remember that we used to go there when I was a child back in the 90’s. We would ride our bikes, climb up the hill, and enter the castle just for fun. No signs of Manuela I have to say, but to be honest, none of us had ever heard of her. In fact, when we asked, no-one in the village had heard such stories before they were seen on TV.

Looking for some additional information while writing this post, I came across a website which I found really interesting, not only because of the enormous amount of pictures and information provided, but also because it has a whole section devoted to legends, myths and even personal experiences that are definitely worth reading. Check on and let me know what you think.

Castilviejo, a Celtiberian fortified settlement

A few kilometres away from Sigüenza and close to the town of Guijosa, we can find this magnificent fort, nowadays in ruins, but still admirable. Finding it may be rather tricky, since it is hidden in the woods and we need to walk up a steep slope, although it is quite close to a local road.

The archaeological works carried out on the site, differentiate three different times of occupation, without chronological continuity between them: few remains of the Bronze Age (12th -10th centuries BC), then the most visible part, which includes the defensive system, built in the Celtiberian period (4th-3rd century BC), and the most recent occupation by the Islamics (10th -11th century AD).

The first thing that calls our attention is the wall and the rest of defensive systems. The visible part of the wall, measures approximately 90 meters and the whole surface of the settlement is close to 3000 square meters, with remains of devastated constructions within. It seems that the houses were quadrangular, with their rear side built within the wall and thus reinforcing the natural escarpments of the promontory.

The most impressive remains, at least for me, are the Chevaux de frise (Frisian fields); several rows of stones, driven into the ground, whose mission was to prevent carts and warriors, footmen and horsemen, to approach the enclosure. Dismissing that option, cavalry and chariots should necessarily enter through a corridor which was left between the left-side and the right-side areas of the chevaux de frise, then pass through a gate, flanking the wall and being exposed to their enemies.

The wall consists of a double row of stones, with an inside and an outside part with better worked stones, and an intermediate area filled with random stones of different sizes. It is located on a –probably artificial- land elevation, and its height must have been considerable.

Another curious feature of the site is its defensive tower and observatory. It was built using the technique of successive staggered courses, which are still visible today.

Even though it was discovered in 1.929, the excavation works didn’t start until 1.977, and are still in progress today. Even though it may seem abandoned, there are some projects going on and hopefully we will be able to see some results soon. In the meanwhile, why not enjoying being in a town built more than 2.300 years ago? The feeling is just magic.

Ancient salt mines: Imón

Although currently abandoned, Imón salt mines were the largest in the area and for a long time, the most productive ones in the Iberian Peninsula. It is believed that the Romans already extracted salt from the area in the first century of our Era, but the mines themselves were not built until the 10th century.

The monarchs always took advantage of them, granting nobles and the clergy some of their benefits. It was King Alfonso VI who finally granted the bishopric of Sigüenza its exploitation. Carlos III expanded the  existing infrastructures by building large warehouses, troughs and canals that are still standing.

The current salt mines consist of a set of warehouses, located in the central area, and a series of pools, annealed ponds and waterwheels that are supported by a series of canals and gullies that serve as drains for excess water. The set of buildings date from the 18th century and have been reformed and adapted in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The oldest warehouses that remain are those of San Antonio and San José, whose large dimensions guaranteed a sufficient capacity for the salt flats. San Antonio warehouse preserves a complete entrance portico, based on large octagonal stone columns and a rear access ramp to the mezzanine floor. It has a chimney attached, belonging to the small power station that served the salt flats. San José warehouse has two buildings attached to its main façade. In its rear access it preserves a tower with part of the machinery that helped to raise the wagons up the ramp.

Another building that survives nowadays is the guardian’s house, located in the southern part of the so-called “Tiñosa” pool. The materials used in all buildings are ashlar and masonry in the walls and wood in the interior structures and roofs. The roofs are made of ceramic tile.

The operating mode may seem rather simple: the salty water is extracted from the subsoil through wells of about four or five meters deep, then an octagonal waterwheel supplies water to the annealed ponds where it is heated and from there, it is supplied to the pool where the salt is deposited.

The operation of the salt mines is intense from May to October, however, and depending on the weather, salt can also be produced during the rest of the year.

Declared Site of Cultural Interest (Bien de Interés Cultural), Imón salt mines were active until 1996 and some of the leftovers of the last harvest are still kept in the main warehouses. The site has been recently fenced but it is still worth visiting, even though its state of conservation is quite poor. The tiny but cute village nearby, Imón, is one of the districts of Sigüenza, and there are a few hotels and bars to stop over.

If you want to see a salt mine which is currently operating, a bit further away from Sigüenza but still close enough, we can find Saélices de la Sal, a lovely village whose San Juan salterns were apparently installed in 1203, although their current appearance dates from the eighteenth century. There is a guided tour available and I will definitely do it myself one of these days for sure! Check their website here.

Ways, routes and pilgrimages: Camino del Cid (the Way of El Cid)

I am sure you have heard about the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James in English, one of the most important Christian pilgrimages, with Santiago de Compostela (in Galicia, northwestern Spain), as the final destination. Every year, thousands of people take one of the several routes available, some of them for spiritual reasons, some others just for pleasure, adventure or fun. Although the most well-known route is the French Way, there are some others including the Ruta de la Lana, which leads form Valencia and Alicante towards Burgos, where it links with the French way. This route goes across a few places located in Guadalajara, including Sigüenza and some other villages around, but we will talk about that in another post (coming soon!)

In this post, I would like to introduce you to another cultural and tourist route that crosses Spain from the northwest to the southeast, from Castilla to the Mediterranean coast: the Camino del Cid or the Way of El Cid. It follows the history and the legend of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, known as El Cid Campeador, a medieval knight of the 11th century and one of Spain’s greatest literary characters and historical figures.

The main “travel guide” on the route is the Cantar de Mio Cid, a medieval epic poem written at the end of the 12th century or beginning of the 13th, which tells the adventures of El Cid Campeador as from his exile, fighting to survive.

The route crosses eight Spanish provinces, one of them being Guadalajara, and it can be done hiking, MTB and road cycling or by car or motorbike. Last summer I decided to take my car and discover the historical places within the province which were mentioned in el Cantar. It was an amazing experience and the feeling of being at those places mentioned in the book while I was reading it, was just magical.

To make your trip even more challenging, you can get a Letter of Safe Conduct, the credential that features the stamps of the various towns and villages travellers pass through. It is based on the document used during the Middle Ages to ensure that travellers and goods were allowed to travel freely and safely. (Tip!: you can get discounts in bars, restaurants, hostels, and even get free gifts, including bracelets, badges, caps…) If you collect four stamps from at least seven of the eight provinces the Way passes through, you will receive the Way of El Cid Certificate.

As you can see in my picture, I already collected a few stamps, but as soon as I can, I promise to keep on visiting places and enjoying the way. I will post some pictures of this personal adventure in my social networks Instagram and Facebook, so don’t forget to follow, like and comment or ask in case you have any question. You can also find more info on the official website of the way: