Miravet Castle stands on a rock, protected by the sheer drop down to the river below and by 25-metre-high perimeter walls. Where the car park is now, there was once the fosse which defended the fortress on the north side. It was made by means of a broad, deep cut into the mountain rock parallel to the wall. The purpose was to make it as difficult as possible to approach. Evidence of the work of opening the fosse on the cliff is provided by the marks left by the cutting tools in different parts of the slope. The stone that was taken from here was used to build the castle, so that the fosse also served as a quarry.
The entrance is a weak point in the defence of any castle, consequently it is reinforced by a series of architectural structures intended to protect it, such as towers and a barbican. The approach road skirts the walls, following a meandering course that prevents a frontal attack and forces attacking enemies to place themselves within range of the defenders in the towers.
This tower, which has evidently been remodelled on numerous occasions, was built by the Templars on top of the old walls dating from the time of the Moors and was erected to strengthen the defences on the north side. Its forward position is crucial for controlling the entrance gate below.
The existing entrance gate to the castle dates from the 17th century. Built of smaller, more irregular blocks of stone, it differs from the large ashlars used in the Templar construction that can be seen in the Treasure Tower.
The lower bailey is an enclosure that was given over to the services required for the day-to-day running of the castle. Its 12,000 m2 contained stores, stables, animal pens and yards, workshops, a water cistern and even vegetable patches and fruit trees. Most of these features left no physical evidence of their existence due to their impermanence, but we know of them thanks to descriptions given in documents.
This building, situated in the lower bailey, has been used for various purposes over the course of its history. It was constructed during the time of the Templars, as shown by the blocks of stone and the decorative band that has survived on the lower part of the wall. However, we do not know what it was used for at that time. In the 15th century it was used as stables, though it could also have housed other animals, since it is described in some documents as a cow barn. When it was used for stabling animals, the staircase was replaced by a ramp. The floor of the building was later excavated to make it level with the door, leaving the feed troughs suspended.
This area originally consisted of stepped terraces that followed the slope of the mountain, but in the 16th century the land was filled in to level it and a new wall was erected.
In the 17th century, work began to adapt the old medieval walls to the needs of modern warfare, in which artillery predominated. The only defence against the destructive force of cannons was to make the walls thicker, meaning that it would take assailants longer and more ammunition would be required to demolish them.
The various alterations made in the 17th and 18th centuries include the construction of this bastion situated at the corner of the south and east wing of the upper bailey. The bastion stands forward of the walls, covering a larger area and eliminating blind spots for defenders.
From here, you can see that the upper bailey is a fortified enclosure within the castle. The only entrance is this gateway. The other openings are small and high up. The gate was protected by a ditch and guarded by the gatehouse inside the passageway.
To one side of the entrance passageway and partly excavated into the ground is a cistern built during the time of the Moors that has remained in use through to the present day.
The upper bailey was the residential part of the castle. It consists of a fortified area, the only entrance to which is via a covered ramp that leads to the courtyard. The arrangement of the buildings to form four wings around a courtyard creates an enclosed space protected from the outside by the walls of the buildings and by the five defensive towers.
The inner court is central to the structure of the upper bailey: the Templars constructed the community's outbuildings around it, creating an enclosed space. These works were done between the close of the 12th and the 13th century in the late Romanesque style.
This space has undergone numerous changes over the centuries. It is now identified as a kitchen as records show that it was used for this purpose at one time.
The refectory was the Templar community’s dining room. The Rule insisted on readings of the holy scriptures during meals and eating in pairs to ensure austerity and poverty. The discipline of the Rule also imposed abstinence and fasting although, unlike in other monastic orders, meat could be eaten three times a week because of the requirements for good physical condition imposed by the military character of the order.
Every fortress had storehouses for oil, wine and grain to ensure that the occupants could survive a siege. The most notable feature of this space is the two silos dug into the ground.
Fortresses had various stores. This one was used for making gunpowder.
Even though this room is described as the cellar, it has served a number of different purposes over the course of time. As well as being used as a cellar, it has also been a storeroom, stables and even a prison at some point in its history.
The gallery, which has barrel vaulting and is known as "De profundis", is the antechamber to the church and is on the first floor of the main building. It is reached from the inner court by the stone staircase, since there is no direct internal communication between the floors. Thanks to restoration work, the large windows and portal with round arches have been reinstated, as has the original red colour of the floor, the result of mixing powdered pottery with lime mortar.
As well as the daily service, after Sunday mass the church was used to convene the chapter, where different matters were discussed: administration of the commandery, confession and penitence for the members of the community or the ceremony for new members joining the order.
Miravet Castle, an imposing fortress surrounded by a 25 metre high wall that seems to spring from the rocks, stands on a hill dominating the Ebro river and the lands around it.
This strategic location has drawn settlements since prehistory and it has played a leading role in many conflicts.
Today we can still see part of the structures of an Andalusian fortress on top of which the Templar castle was raised immediately after the conquest of these lands by Ramon Berenguer IV. The castle was a gift to the Order of the Temple, who made it the headquarters of the Templar province of Catalonia and Aragón for what would be the period of the zenith of the power and splendour of the history of Miravet. The province became the seat of the provincial master of the Order and so was acknowledged as the most influential commandery on Catalan territory.
Although the castle was rebuilt later to adapt to the defensive requirements that arose with the coming of artillery, the appearance and the structures that have lasted down to our time are essentially the work of the Templars. And so Miravet has become one of the finest examples of Catalan military architecture of the 12th-13th centuries.
A visit to this Templar building will take us inside the monastic life of a military order governed by the strict discipline of the Cistercian Rule with a rigid hierarchy structuring an internal organisation that was ideal for a successful economic and religious administration. That also meant that it was an eye witness to the process of the suppression and extinction of the Order of the Temple.
© Departament de Cultura 2018 Agència Catalana del Patrimoni Cultural