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Castle of Carlos V: A Historic Jewel in Hondarribia

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When it comes to historical treasures in Hondarribia, the Castle of Carlos V stands tall and proud atop the town’s highest point. This iconic fortress, now known as the Parador de Hondarribia, has witnessed centuries of history and is considered one of the most significant buildings in the city.

A Blend of Castle and Palace

The Castle of Carlos V is a unique architectural marvel that seamlessly blends elements of a fortress and a palace. This magnificent structure consists of two distinct parts: the fortress on the west side and the palace on the east side.

The Fortress

The fortress was designed to house the troops stationed in Hondarribia. It spans five stories and includes various quarters, warehouses, bombproof powder and ammunition storage, dungeons, stables, and more. It was constructed with durability in mind, making it a formidable defensive stronghold.

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The Palace

On the other hand, the palace, located on the east side of the complex, served as the residence for the Captain General and members of the royal family who visited the town. While the fortress was known for its height and imposing presence, the palace was relatively shorter. Unfortunately, during the tumultuous events of 1794, the palace was severely damaged by the French, leaving only a few remnants of its once-splendid structure. Today, much of the eastern section is occupied by ruins and private buildings.

Both the castle and palace were interconnected by a small inner courtyard.

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Architectural Features

The Castle of Carlos V boasts a square-shaped structure with walls nearly three meters thick. Its main façade is characterized by smooth stone masonry, dominated by ashlar blocks. Notable features include a series of small, recessed semicircular arches, two on each side of the entrance door and two more above it. Rectangular windows were added at a later date.

One of the standout elements of the castle is the elegant entrance, relatively small in size but brimming with beauty. The entrance arch is flattened and adorned with a frame (alfiz) decorated with spheres. Above it, you’ll find the imperial shield featuring the double-headed eagle. The attention to detail in this design is truly captivating.

The north façade once housed the artillery park and gunpowder storage but now only retains a few traces of the original structures. In contrast, the south façade facing the church has better preservation, particularly in the castle section, which contained the guardhouse and stables. One of its windows, which was once a door, still bears a decorative sphere motif similar to that of the main entrance.

Parador de hondarribia

Step into History

Stepping inside the Castle of Carlos V feels like a journey back in time. The interior is adorned with period-appropriate furnishings, including banners, cannons, shields, and antique or replica furniture. These carefully curated details create an immersive experience that allows visitors to connect with the castle’s rich history.

Beyond the Basque Castle Norms

The Castle of Carlos V defies the typical architectural norms seen in Basque castles. Unlike the usual medieval castles characterized by towering towers and few openings, this structure boasts a distinctive design that sets it apart. The extensive renovations carried out by Carlos V gave it a rectangular artillery platform, which is responsible for the imposing current façade of the building.

Rebirth as a Parador

Today, the Castle of Carlos V has been lovingly restored and transformed into the Parador de Hondarribia, a luxurious hotel that retains the essence of its historical past. It stands as a testament to the resilience and adaptability of this remarkable structure.

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Carlos V in Hondarribia

Carlos V, also known as Charles V, played a pivotal role in the history of Hondarribia. Born in 1500, he was a powerful ruler who expanded the Spanish Empire and became the Holy Roman Emperor. His influence extended far beyond Spain, and he made significant contributions to the region during his reign.

In 1660, the Castle of Carlos V served as the residence of the Spanish royal family during the betrothal of the Spanish Infanta to the future King of France, Louis XIV. This momentous event, along with the Treaty of the Pyrenees signed on the nearby Island of the Pheasants, marked a turning point in the relationship between Spain and France.

However, the castle also bore witness to the ravages of war. In 1794, during the tumultuous times of the French Revolutionary Wars, the fortress suffered severe damage at the hands of French troops.

Fuenterrabia Castillo de Carlos V y Parador Nacional El Emperador 07

A Living Legacy

In the early 20th century, the Castle of Carlos V faced a period of neglect and deterioration, with the building falling into ruins. Fortunately, in 1968, the castle was meticulously rehabilitated and reborn as the Parador Nacional, a role it continues to fulfill to this day. It is the only Parador in the province of Guipúzcoa.

During the restoration process, the main façade underwent some modifications to enhance its monumental grandeur. These changes included the addition of a coat of arms and a lintel, as well as the removal of remnants of old roofs by replacing the stones.

The Castle of Carlos V is not only a testament to the rich history of Hondarribia but also a symbol of resilience and rebirth. Today, it invites travelers to step back in time and experience the grandeur of a bygone era while enjoying the modern comforts of the Parador.

Discover the allure of the Castle of Carlos V in Hondarribia, where history, architecture, and culture converge to create an unforgettable experience.

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Irene was born and raised in Bilbao. She has a deep rooted passion for her country and culture. She has a Bachelors degree in education and has traveled to over 85 countries throughout the world.
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Zachary was born in Michigan, USA. He has lived in the Basque Country for over 10 years, and fell in love with the natural beauty and quality of life found here. He earned a Bachelors degree in economics from DePaul University in Chicago.