Over the centuries, different civilisations have left their mark on the town of Almenara. Proof of this can be found in its once-walled historic centre; the castle that still overlooks the town from its privileged, almost inaccessible location; and other spots of outstanding natural beauty such as the Els Estanys lagoon and the peaceful Casablanca beach, which stretches along three kilometres of coastline.
While the town’s current name is of Arab origin (deriving from la atalaya, meaning the watchtower), there is also evidence of Iberian and Roman settlements in the Abric dels Cinc, Punt del Cid, Casablanca, La Corona and Muntanya Blanca archaeological sites, where various architectural structures – including a Temple of Venus and a series of mausoleums – have been found.
In 1238, James I of Aragón laid siege to Almenara as it was considered to be a strategic point for his plan to conquer Valencia. Almenara became royal property after the Christian conquest. However, it was sold by James II of Aragón in 1292 – alongside La Llosa, Quart and Chilches – and the Barony of Almenara was thus created. This barony would later become the county of Almenara.
The Battle of Almenara took place in 1521, which would mark the first defeat of the agermanats (the Northern Front) and the loss of control of the Castellón provinces.
The town was fortified in the 16th century. The town walls have recently been restored, although only two of the six original towers remain standing. The town centre is presided over by the 18th-century Santos Juanes church.
During the 20th century, Almenara was notable for its strategic role during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and for the creation of the XYZ Line which ran from Santa Cruz de Moya (Cuenca) to La Llosa (Castellón). This was the most fortified strip of the Battle of Levante and the scene of the main battles that sought to halt Franco’s advance towards Valencia.
Built on Greco-Roman remains, Almenara Castle is a large defensive structure which has two towers – Bivalcadim and Bergamuza – located on either side of the central body. These are more commonly known as “L’Agüelet” (grandpa) and “L’Agüeleta” (grandma), respectively.
Its strategic importance lay in its location, marking the half-way point between the coastal plain of Castellón and Valencia, and the natural corridor that led to Aragón. Benefiting from this strategic location, James I reconquered the castle from the Almoravid commander of Játiva who was staying there, before using it as a base from which he sent his troops to reconquer the city of Valencia.
Almenara Castle is open to visitors. Part of the outer enclosure – with stepped defences and strong containing walls on the main platform – have been preserved.
The Almenara urban centre once assumed the shape of a perfect rectangle. In the second half of the 16th century, the town centre was enclosed by a wall measuring 1.5 metres deep and 5 metres high. Said wall was designed by the architect Mosén Miquel de Santander and remained in place until the end of the 18th century.
Nowadays, remains of two of the six original towers that protected the wall have been preserved. Some sections of the original wall can still be found on Calle Cisterna, inside some houses and on Calle Molino.
LOS SANTOS JUANES PARISH CHURCH
The current structure was constructed upon the remains of the old town temple, which was built in 1528. The current structure has a larger perimeter, which also covers parts of the old Plaza Vella, the public well, the old town hall, oven and jail. To prove the existence of the public well, which is believed to have been built in 1532, the following inscription was made in one of the side walls of the church: ‘H I C A L T V S P V T E V S S V P E T R A C L A V D I T V R I S T A’, which is Latin for ‘A deep well is closed off beneath this stone’. The old public well, which was made of carved stone, was saved through the placement of two robust brick arches that would support the wall of the church. The outer half of the well remained exposed, while the other half is the left base of the arch which supports the church’s structure.
That is how the Los Santos Juanes Parish Church was built upon other constructions. The construction of the present church began on 15 August 1721 and was completed on 21 September 1737, the day on which the temple was blessed.
The church has a bell tower topped with an orb and cross. The orb is made of wood wrapped in iron (the work of the Sagunto-born carpenter, Antonio Peña). The cross, meanwhile, which is also made of iron, is the work of Almenara-born locksmith, Pedro Ferrer, and is said to contain the relics of various saints. The cross weighs approximately 171 kilograms. The bell tower houses four bells: San Juan Evangelista (the largest bell), Santa María (the medium-sized bell), Santa Bárbara (the smallest bell) and San José (called Simbolet). All of the bells were blessed on 19 August 1735.
This Composite order temple is of a considerable size – measuring 25.8 metres long, 20 metres wide and 25 metres high – and has an ashlar façade adorned with blue marble. The church can be accessed through two doors. The main door can be found in the Plaza de la Iglesia, while the side door is located on the Calle de los Santos Juanes.
To the east of the town, lying between agricultural fields on the way to the beach, we find the Estanys d’Almenara: a wetland of huge ecological value.
They form part of the ancient and extensive wetland that once spanned the Valencian coastline. The Estanys consist of three large freshwater lagoons that are located in the Marjal de Almenara marshland. The clean, transparent water springs naturally from the Ullal de Cavanilles in the the Sierra de Espadán mountain range, which ensures that the water levels are maintained all year round.
The Estanys serve as a refuge for birds such as the grey heron, the mallard, the stilt, the night heron and countless other birds that stop here during their migration. They are also home to a vast range of underwater species such as the eel, the Spanish pond turtle, the petxinot (Unio mancus) and the Valencia toothcarp, which have managed to survive the passing of the centuries.
They are also home to typical marshland vegetation, such as thalictrum maritimum, yellow iris and dyer’s broom.
THE GOTHIC CROSS
The Gothic Cross, also referred to as the Wayside Cross, is located in the Plaza de la Constitución. It follows the model of monumental crosses that are representative of the Middle Ages. Made out of limestone, its base consists of four rows of stones with three circular supports, marking the beginning of a three-sectioned octagonal column. The first support consists of seventeen pieces of limestone or sandstone, the second consists of eleven pieces and the third consists of eight pieces.
The cross was destroyed in 1936 at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, but was rebuilt three years later with high-fired artistic ceramics and decorated with natural colours. The original capital was a hexagonal polyhedron measuring seventy-five centimetres high by sixty centimetres wide. Once it was lost, a wrought-iron cross was put in its place. The part of the column is thirty-five centimetres shorter than the original.
MOLÍ D’ARRÒS MUSEUM
The Molí d’Arròs (rice mill) museum is one of Almenara’s most famous attractions, with the town being strongly associated with this cereal.
The land of the Marjal d’Almenara marshland, which stretches between the municipalities of Sagunto and Moncofa, has been used to grow rice for many years.
The building was constructed in 1753. It originally served as a storehouse for straw, but it was also used as barracks for troops. Documents from 1850 suggest that the building was used as a toll gate, where people would have to pay money in exchange for right of way.
It was also used as a storehouse for oranges in 1889. In 1914, the owner, Antonio Ferrando, obtained permission to install motors for rice production, turning the building into the rice mill that we can see and visit today.
XYZ LINE INTERPRETATION CENTRE
The XYZ Line Interpretation Centre seeks to use the material heritage of the Spanish Civil War to teach visitors about the conflict while shining a light on the town’s historical legacy. It seeks to do so by getting guests to observe remains and discuss the causes that determine their existence, rather than relying on written documents and similar sources.
Els Estanys Natural Area
Tel.: (+34) 620 557 471
The Casablanca beach has managed to combine tradition and modernity while respecting its main characteristics: width, tranquillity and the environmental importance of its dunes. The latter enjoy protected status due to their unique characteristics and have been duly marked off and signposted.
This beach gently slopes into a 1.5 km stretch of crystal clear waters, which can be enjoyed throughout the summer and during warmer spells of other seasons.
The beach is awarded Blue Flag status on a yearly basis, reflecting the impressive quality of its water, services and facilities.
Visitors can sample delicious local gastronomy in the wide range of terraces, bars and restaurants located close to the beach. The area also boasts various recreational, cultural and sporting facilities and hosts multiple events of these characteristics during the summer months.
One of the best ways to discover the Casablanca beach is by following the peaceful ‘Blue Trail’, which begins at the viewpoint before weaving its way through the wild area and crossing the traditional seafaring quarter, which is punctuated with picturesque houses. The route then ends in the Microreserve, where you can marvel at the local flora and fauna – including a 120-year-old eucalyptus tree!
SANTA GENOVEVA TORRES HOUSE-MUSEUM
The house where Santa Genoveva Torres was born has been turned into a museum, allowing visitors to discover what a typical Valencian house from the early 20th century was really like.
The house-museum displays all of her belongings, as well as household utensils and agricultural tools.
The lagoons, marshes, peat bogs and meadows of Almenara constitute a catalogued wetland of great value and biodiversity. They are shelters for resident and nesting waterfowl that spend their breeding period here in the spring and summer months. Its proximity to the coast is also a key point for migratory birds, which rest here before or after crossing the Mediterranean on their long journeys between Africa and Europe.
In addition, in Almenara we have very wide sandy beaches with dune systems and a flora micro-reserve, which are preserved in good conditions, and where you can see a multitude of seabirds of very diverse families, adapted to life in different ecosystems that are, unfortunately, increasingly rare.