Located on a beautiful, imposing mountain above the town of Xàtiva, 34 miles south of Valencia, Xàtiva Castle predates Roman times. Technically, there are in fact two castles, known respectively as the “Menor” ( minor) and the “Major”. They extend from east to west, perched across the top of the magnificent mountain, and are linked by sizable and impressive historic structures.
This is a guest post by Family Travel with Ellie
We are a world schooling family, who have settled short term in Spain. Wherever we travel I like to incorporate as much local culture and history as possible as part of the children’s education. So, when we chose to settle in Valencia for a year, I was overwhelmed with the educational opportunities. By far one of our most charming finds was Xativa Castle.
History of Xativa Castle
The strategically positioned twin fortress has been the scene and spectator of a host of battles over many years. It has been gradually expanded and been fortified by the successive cultures that have inhabited these ancient lands.
Whilst researching the area, and much to the excitement of my children, we discovered that the castle featured in Hannibal Barca’s military campaigns. Specifically, Xativa Castle is reportedly where he made his preparations for the siege of the Roman city of Saguntum, which took place in 219 BC. Which of course, legend has it, involved his military elephants.
This information immediately provoked questions from the children about where the elephants may have lived, eaten and pooped whilst they stayed at the castle.
A stroll around the Castell Menor unlocks legends about the Iberian Princess Himilce, Hannibal’s wife, and the war Hannibal unleashed against Rome. According to legend, Princess Himilce bore the Carthaginian general’s son here, in Castell Menor, in 218 BC. There is a balcony named after Princess Himlice and a gate named after Hannibal, which is said to be where he entered the fortress, although the original gate no longer exists. The gate that is there today dates from the 15th century.
Despite its Iberian and Roman roots, most of the castle walls and towers preserved today are of Islamic or Gothic origin. It’s imposing architecture renders the castle one of the city’s finest gems, and it has been declared a Cultural Heritage Site.
No visit to Xàtiva is complete without a trip around this incredible fortress, with breathtaking views across the city and its surroundings. It’s hard to put into words just how breathtaking the views really are, as you climb higher and higher to finally reach the summit, some 345m above sea level.
You can quite literally see for many, many miles all around and it’s just mesmerising to sit and watch the large and bustling town of Xativa living life way beneath you, almost like toy cars, trains and people buzzing around.
You can either choose to walk, drive or catch a lift in the tourist train from the town to Xativa Castle.
We choose the former, a decision I must admit we later regretted a little, as it was a very warm day, almost reaching 35 degrees and the walk is long and very steep in places! However, don’t let me deter you if you enjoy walking, it really is a beautiful hike, but perhaps attempt it on a cooler day and remember to take plenty of water!
Without question, the excursion was worth it. On reaching the entrance to the castle walls we were greeted by the most extraordinary views and a real feeling of stepping back into history.
Opening hours and tickets for Xativa Castle
The admission prices are minimal. We paid 2.40 per adult, 1.20 per teen and all children under 10 go free. OAP’s pay the discounted rate of 1.20. It is important to note here, that the castle is open every Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 am – 9 pm, but due to COVID restrictions, currently, early booking via email is crucial.
A tour of Xativa Castle
I had organised for us to enjoy a casual walking tour of the castle with a knowledgeable, bilingual guide from LoveXativa Tours. Our guides price was very reasonable. Being a home educating family, I felt the extra information available from a local guide would be invaluable ad would enrich our history lesson.
In addition to the Hannibal stories, another legend that really captured the family’s imagination was that of Jaume d’Urgell. The fortresses other job was that of a state prison by the ancient Crown of Aragon. Jaume d’Urgell was one of the most renowned prisoners to reside n the dungeons. He led a rebellion, albeit unsuccessfully, following rejection as a candidate for the Crown of Aragon in 1412.
The legend has it that he was imprisoned in the cell, which consists of 4 brick walls, with absolutely no light entering whatsoever, for many years. On being released directly into bright daylight he was struck blind and died. We were told this tale of horror whilst shut in the pitch-black cell which made it even more awful and compelling.
The guided tour lasted around 1.5 hours and was fantastic. We learnt so much about the local area and the kids found the guide’s historical recounts fascinating. Our guide was fun, friendly and very knowledgeable. She was very happy to answer the kid’s endless questions!
Alternatively, if you choose to visit the castle without the structure of a guide, there are excellent Audio Guides available on the castle’s website.
There are conveniently located toilets, a charming coffee shop and a large picnic area. It’s worth mentioning here that we visited Xativa Castle a second time with my elderly Mum. As with many historical ruins, access isn’t always easy, and at Xativa Castle some of the paths are steep, uneven and arduous. That said, my Mum loved her visit, she took a walking stick and we took our time.
We have visited many castles throughout Europe, and Xativa Castle is certainly one of our favourites. With the astonishing views and the extraordinary history it offers, Xativa Castle is a must for anyone visiting Valencia who is looking for an enjoyable day out and a step back in time.
At Family Travel with Ellie, we are a world schooling family who are passionate about reviewing family-friendly travel and family days out. We are settled short term in Spain but plan to travel next to New Zealand.