A contested zone of battles, repopulation and depopulation during the 14th to 16th centuries, El Rompido’s major sites of interest can be found in its castles and the various fortifications erected during these three troubled centuries.
The castle of the Zuñigas, the convent of the Trinitarios descalzos (the poor nuns of the Holy Trinity order), the hermitage and the Mudéjar ‘pilares’, storage structures, and the Flecha sandbank of El Rompido are the basic destinations for anyone who wants to get to know the area.
Of course, the ideal visit is one that takes in the full length of the estuary of the ría Piedras, an untouched natural landscape whose majesty, as much in winter as in summer, lies precisely in the fact that it remains untouched by human hand, just kilometre after kilometre of fine and golden sand.
CASTILLO DE LOS ZÚÑIGAS
Castillo de los Zuñigas. Castillo CartayaThis fortified tower was erected between 1417 and 1420. At the beginning of the 15th century, the marquess and lord of Gibraleón set out on a journey by boat along the río Piedras to confront the authority of the rulers of Ayamonte, seven years after the start of the works on the castle of the Zúñegas, situated west of the town, on a rise that overlooked and dominated all routes to Cartaya.
Two centuries later, under threat from the repeated incursions by pirates on the nearby coast, the tension was heightened by certain frontier conflicts with neighbouring Portugal, leading to the further fortification of the site, with strengthened walls and artillery emplacements in the towers.
This is nowadays declared a National Monument, rectangular in form, with walls 8 m high and with a total length of 130 m. It was recently restored, conserving the bell tower, the tower of homage, and a handsome Mudéjar door.
The castle of the Zúñigas is west of the town centre of Cartaya, in the south of Huelva province, on the same elevated ground that still dominates all routes into the town.
While the tower was originally built to transform the town into a stronghold for Pedro de Zúñiga, the count of Plasencia, it later became the home of the Marqués of Gibraleón and served as a refuge for the citizenry during the attacks by the Portuguese. In 1815 the Marqués de Gibraleón donated the castle to the town.
In the plans surviving from the middle of the 17th century, the structure was surrounded by another compound, walled or with a ‘falsabraga’, a low exterior wall to augment an inner wall, with triangular battlements, but then in 1740 the builders discovered “algo escarnada”, a phrase often used to describe materials abandoned by pillagers, to provide parts for new building. In the same year, it was decided to change the military function of the fort into a new project in its interior, as a cavalry barracks, a proposal that never materialized.
State of conservation
Today the castle is in a good state of conservation. It was restored by the Consejería de Cultura (ministry of culture) in the early 1990s.
The castle has been declared a National Monument under the protection of the ‘Declaración genérica del Decreto de 22 de abril de 1949’, and law number 16/1985 regarding the Patrimonio Histórico Español, or Spanish historical heritage. In 1993 the Junta de Andalucía (government) awarded a special recognition to the castles in the Autonomous Community (Comunidad Autónoma) of Andalucía.
EL CONVENTO (THE CONVENT)
The convent was established for the members of the Trinitarios de la Merced Descalza, roughly, the shoeless (ie, poor, or penitent) sisters of mercy of the Order of the Holy Trinity. It has a baroque tower, made of smooth stone and rising to the belltower, topped with a capital covered with tiling. It was destroyed by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, and rebuilt in 1765. It currently serves as private accommodation, and is in a good state of conservation.
LA ERMITA AND LOS PILARES
Founded by a returning Spanish-American in the 16th century, and situated at the north-east of the town, the Ermita, hermitage or chapel, has a clear flavour of Andalucían baroque style, and has recently been restored. The Pilares, or storage buildings, of La Dehesa and Mogaya, are Mudéjar structures and date from an earlier period than the draining and cultivation of the land around Cartaya.
PARAJE NATURAL DE LAS MARISMAS DEL PIEDRAS
The Natural area of the Marismas of the river Piedras and the Flecha of El Rompido possess a great richness of flora and fauna. To reach the Marismas, a path leaves from by the old lighthouse of El Rompido that stretches all the way along the navigation channel of the Tendal and in the area known as Pradera de San Isidro there is a cafe and camping area nearby with a recreation area.