Baños de la Encina isn’t just another Spanish hill-top town. Just 53 kilometres north of Jaén city at an altitude of 420 metres it unveils many architectural delights. In 1969 the town was declared conjunto Histórico – Artístico, for its many buildings from different eras and varying architectural styles.
The medieval Byzantine castle in Baños de la Encina has several names, Castillo de Burgalimar, Castillo de Baños de la Encina and Burch al Hammam which is a derivative of the Arabic Bury Al-Hamma meaning Castle of the baths, this is definitely worth a visit and the star of the town.
The area saw its first settlers in the Bronze age and evidence of their building work and cave paintings have been uncovered in the immediate area.
The Romans, who invaded Spain in 206 BC, made base and began building in the area, evidence can be seen around the town and you can still walk on parts of the Roman road or Real del Puerto del Rey which they built on their long march from Toledo in the north to the Guadalquivir valley, there is around 200 metres of perfectly preserved Roman road and a small Roman bridge that needs exploring.
Then came the Moorish groups from Northern Africa who invaded the Iberian Peninsula, one of the rulers Al-Hakan II, the son of king Abd Al-Rahmán III, ordered the construction of a fortress at Baños de la Encina in 968, to provide security for the town and a strategic look-out base, it is now one of Europe’s best preserved Moorish fortresses.
A close second monument to visit is the Ermita de Jesus del Llano, just one of several local churches. It may look pretty unspectacular from the outside, but venture in. A vast and highly decorated interior will delight all. Not a lover of the ornate myself but this has a big, light and airy wow factor.
Its bell tower plays host to a busy family of storks whose huge nest overflows from its roof as if it was unceremoniously dumped there.
The Molino de Viento – a windmill situated in the highest part of the town which is known as “Buenos Aires” or good breeze with intact eras or threshing floors and wooden framework for the sails.
This can also be seen for miles around and makes a good entrance into the town. The windmill dating from the 18th century is built in the traditional Manchego or Don Quixote style with three floors.
The inside holds an exhibition of windmill history from the Neolithic times to the present, needless to say it wasn’t open on my visit, but a chatty local told me all about it.
Situated in the mountainous area of the Sierra Morena, part of the Natural Park of Sierra de Andujar and next to the river and dam Rumblar the town of Baños de la Encina has long been a strategic point during the many battles for this land, until 1225 when Fernand lll leading the Catholic Kings gained control over the town.
Take a visit to Baños de la Encina and you´ll step in the shadow of The Romans, Phoneacians, Greeks, Moors and the Catholic Kings, discover more than a castle on a hill or white town. There’s a whole lot of history unveiling itself on the streets and in the excavations in the castle, it´s a place to explore, wander and wonder in and get far from the maddening crowds. Experience a touch of less touristy Spain.
Who knows I might even meet you there.