the hill overlooking Castrojeriz has been fortified since Celtiberiena times (the final centuries BCE) — the location on a steep-sided mesa in the midst of the Meseta Alta is remarkably defensible. Romans defended roads to Galician gold mines while later its location near the frontier of Muslim-held territory meant it endured frequent recaptures by Muslims and Christians. it fell permanently under Christian (Castillian) control due to the efforts of Nuno Nunuez in about 912 and received its first charter in 974, which sought to repopulate the area with Christians through a Second Grade of Knighthood that granted any soldier who owned a horse (of noble birth or not) a knighthood. this proved successful and the town grew and thrived as a fortified way station and commercial center that attracted many foreign merchants, as well as peregrinos.
archaeological excavations indicate pre-Roman habitation atop the meseta where the castle ruins now stand. the Visigoths likely built a fortified settlement which was overtaken and destroyed during one of many Moorish attacks. once Nuno Nunez secured the town under Christian control, the castle was reconstructed during the Middle Ages by the powerful Condes de Castro. their luck didn’t last long, however, as siding with the losing side in the Guerra de los Comunidades against Carles V in 1521 boded ill for the town, which slid into decline.
|Santa Maria del Manzano|
the old town, which runs about mid-way down the hill, is one of the longest existing urban medieval routes that the Camino follows. we stayed in a splendid hotel along that road, just a few steps from a church that had, among other adornments, a skull and crossbones carved into the wall. unlike some of the small towns we walked through, most of the houses along that main street were renovated or at least had been kept up.
there are a total of four churches in Castrojeriz: Santa María del Manzano de Castrojeriz (begun in 1214); Santo Domingo (now a museum); Santiago de los Caballeros (now in ruins, but with the carved skulls on the walls to “warn passers-by to heed the inevitability of death”); San Juan de los Caballeros (13th century and probably the most ornate and elaborate). Leonor de Castilla y de Portugal, wife of Alfonso IV of Aragon, was buried in the Iglesia de Santa Maria after her assassination — on her nephew’s orders — in the castle in 1359.