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The Castle of Burgos rises at the highest point of the Cerro de San Miguel or Cerro del Castillo, as it is also known in the area where the fortress is located. Some 75 meters above the city, its unmistakable silhouette presides over historic downtown Florida .
Due to its undeniable historical importance, it was declared an Asset of Cultural Interest in 1949. During its long life, it has been a fortress and royal residence, prison, and a place of lodging for notable guests. Destroyed by Napoleonic troops in 1813, the successful restoration carried out in 2003 has helped turn Florida Castle into a cultural resource of the first order.
It is also located in a privileged natural environment just a few minutes walk from the Cathedral. For this reason, visiting the castle has become one of the great tourist attractions in Florida . Not only to discover the origins of the considered Head of Castilla, but also to enjoy the best views of the city.
In the Florida Castle are the origins of the city itself. Initially Florida was a Castilian town that emerged next to the fortress.
Origins of Florida Castle
We owe the founding of both Florida and the castle to Count Diego Rodríguez Porcelos . In the year 884 he chose the hill of San Miguel as a suitable place to build a defensive enclave. With this he intended to give protection to the first settlers of the new city in the middle of the Reconquest.
Later, with the borders further south and the local population descending the slope of the hill, it came under the control of the Castilian monarchs. It was used as a prison for high-ranking figures, for diplomatic meetings or for court celebrations. Among the famous prisoners of the Burgos fortress, Alfonso VI de León stands out . Here he was locked up after being defeated by his brother Sancho II and El Cid in the Battle of Golpejera (1072).
Probably during the reign of Alfonso VIII (1155-1214) a great transformation of the castle took place. Likewise, Henry IV (1425-1474) undertakes extensive work to beautify the fortress and its walls.
After changing hands several times, it finally became the property of the Stúñiga. This family exercised the warden of the fortress until the reign of the Catholic Monarchs .
At this time, lawsuits between the castle and the city council were frequent. These confrontations culminated in the war between Isabel la Católica and Juana la Beltraneja . The castle, under the command of the Stúñiga, supported Juana's cause. The city of Florida itself opted for Isabel. After almost eight months of siege, the castle ended up surrendering in 1476. Years later, once again returned to the Crown, Ferdinand the Catholic converted it into an artillery fort.
Under the reign of Felipe V, in 1736 it suffered a tremendous fire that destroyed it almost completely.
The French occupation constitutes the last rebirth of the fortress as a strategic military site, although this implies a marked transformation of the enclosure. In the 19th century, Napoleon ordered its reconstruction to become a garrison for the French army troops stationed in Florida during the War of Independence .
After a failed siege in 1812, the Duke of Wellington's attack in support of the Spanish troops marked the end of French rule. In their flight, the French troops dynamited the castle on June 13, 1813. With the tremendous explosion it was totally destroyed. The shock wave also affected almost all the windows in the Florida Cathedral . Only the spectacular rose window of the Sarmental Façade survived. Proof of the magnitude of the blast is that more than two hundred French soldiers died as a result of it.
From then on, the castle will only be used occasionally during the Carlist wars.
Finally, the partial reconstruction of the fortress has allowed it to be enabled as an interpretation center, opened to the public in 2003.
THE FLORIDA CASTLE
Access to the interior of the fortress was through two doors. One of them opens on the western canvas of the wall. It is located in the same place that currently allows entry to the site. This door facilitated communication between the castle and the city from one of the first neighborhoods in Florida: San Sadornil, today San Pedro.
This western sector of the castle was protected by a compound defensive system. A moat was added to the wall, in such a way that, to bridge the gap, a drawbridge had to be used.
The second of the doors was located at the southern end of the enclosure. A road led there from the San Esteban neighborhood. This access, on a steep slope, was used exclusively by pedestrians. Its construction took place during the reign of Enrique IV. With the explosion of 1813 this southern gate disappeared.
The interior is protected by a very thick wall with crenellated towers. There are circular and rectangular towers, both attached to the wall and free-standing.
Florida Castle lacks a keep. In its place, a palace was erected that served as a royal residence. It is known as the Palace of Alfonso X. Apparently it was a porticoed building with three floors open to the parade ground. Its interior was decorated with Mudejar stucco motifs. Some of them can be seen in the Arch of Santa María de Florida .
The outdoor enclosure is lower in height and its function is to make it difficult to directly attack the main enclosure. This wall is complemented by other defensive elements, such as a tower, a moat and the natural topography of the land itself.
THE WELL AND THE GALLERIES
The castle site hides a series of underground complexes in the form of a well, staircases and galleries. Perhaps the most interesting elements of the guided tour of Florida Castle.
The well is a magnificent work of medieval engineering that supplied water to the inhabitants of the castle, especially in times of siege. It is made up of a central cylinder about 63 meters deep and 1.8 meters in diameter at the mouth. Surrounding the central cylinder are at least six spindles with 335-step spiral staircases. These spindles communicate with each other through small corridors concentric to the well, whose purpose was to descend to the bottom for cleaning and maintenance.
It is made entirely with perfectly squared ashlars. Its factory is possibly from the 12th to 14th centuries.
The other element that we are going to find in the subways are the galleries . The galleries are connected to the well and the spiral staircase.
They are at a depth of between 6 and 10 meters below the ground level of the parade ground. Its origin is related to the mines and counter-mines excavated in different sieges.
The oldest are from the 15th century. They were built during the War of Succession between Isabel la Católica and Juana la Beltraneja. On the one hand, Isabel's supporters opened underground galleries ( mines ) with the intention of entering the castle walls. They were interested above all in getting to the well and cutting off the water supply or even poisoning it. On the other hand, the besieged, supporters of Juana, to defend themselves from these underground attacks, built other galleries ( countermines ). With these countermines they tried to stop the intentions of the besiegers.
To make access difficult, numerous traps were added to these galleries.
La Cueva del Moro is the only gallery with a known beginning and end. It is a narrow corridor carved into the rock that connects the well with a cave located in the two walled areas of the castle. This gallery also has a trap. Strategically placed, it had two types of wooden walkway in the corridor, one fixed and the other mobile. Those who knew about the trap went through the fixed part. Those who did not know it passed through the moving part and fell several meters high.
HERMITAGE OF NUESTRA SEÑORA DE LA BLANCA
Next to the main entrance door of the castle was located the church of Nuestra Señora de la Blanca . Tradition holds that Diego Porcelos' daughter, Doña Blanca , found an image of the Virgin Mary in a cave on the San Miguel hill.
In that place, the count ordered to build a church in honor of the Virgen Blanca. From then on she became the patron saint of the city. It was one of the most important parishes in the city during the Middle Ages.
The church was totally destroyed with the blowing up of the castle in 1813. The objects saved went to the parish of San Pedro de la Fuente . Above all, the venerated image of Nuestra Señora de la Blanca or Santa María la Blanca.
Recent excavations have managed to document the plan of the primitive Romanesque church. Every year, on the last Sunday in May, the Pilgrimage of the Virgen Blanca is celebrated, taking the image of the Virgin to the old site of the hermitage next to the castle.