Castelló d’Empúries reached its moment of maximum splendour during the Middle Ages when the earls of Empúries set up residence there in the 11th century and turned it into the capital of the county. The buildings within the monumental neighbourhood date back to this period, and their traditional appearance has been conserved. In this village, we can find elements of old urban development that have lived on until today: arcaded squares, the Carrer del Bordell street, the artisans quarters and El Call (the Jewish quarter) between the following streets: Carrer de Sant Pere més Baix and Carrer de les Peixateries Velles, where only the layout of the urban development remains.
Given that the town of Castelló acquired the status of the capital of the county, the Santa Maria church was built from the outset with the idea of taking on the structure of a cathedral. Despite the fact that the architectural structure of the cathedral suffered much deterioration and damage during the successive wars, restoration work has never stopped, meaning that we can now contemplate wonderful sights such as the 14th century funeral sculptures, the relief work from the elaborate arch stones collection and above all, the excellent work on the main façade and the altarpiece of the main altar, which constitute a repertoire of medieval art that can only be witnessed in cathedral churches. It is the second most significant religious monument within Girona’s different regions. This building finally
received the classification of Basilica in 2006.
In the Middle Ages, the Cúria-Presó formed the law courts and the prison and comprised two buildings. The Cúria was the place where trials were heard and the Presó (Prison) was where the prisoners were led from the first building. The prison of Castelló d’Empúries was already up and running in the 14th century and employed an executioner. It is a unique example of a prison from the Ancien Régime, built around a small central courtyard where the dark, insalubrious cells were located; closed rooms with heavy doors and a sole source of light that penetrated through the barred windows overlooking the courtyard. Between the 17th and 19th centuries, prisoners left a testament of their moods, their concerns and their thoughts by means of numerous graphites imbued with art and symbolism.
The Eco-Museum-Farinera is a flour mill that dates back to the end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. Visitors can learn about the complex process of turning wheat into flour through four themed contents: the evolution of the flour mill into the flour factory, the energy source, the wheat, flour and bread, and the production process.
The Llotja (town hall) also known as Consolat de Mar was a symbol of peace between count John of Empúries and Peter III of Catalonia (IV of Aragon), the Ceremonious. A majestic vault with pointed arches crowns the large main room of this building, which was built in line with the gothic civil style of the late 14th century. Until a few years ago, it was the headquarters of the town council.
The Casa Gran (or great house) is the best conserved civil gothic building: the front section is still standing. Before parts of the building were destructed due to wars in the second half of the 17th century, it was a manor house and covered a much larger surface area than it does now.
The Counts Palace or Sant Domènec convent was founded in 1317 with the support of the town council and the counts. The Counts Palace was built outside the town walls, much like others built at the time in Castelló. The building now has a large trapezoidal-shaped surface area with a central cloister surrounded by four sections and a church adjoined onto the northern side. The church (that dates back to the 17th and 18th centuries), reveals a baroque style moving towards the neoclassical. It has a rectangular floor plan and is divided into three naves that are separated by solid pillars and each of which has three chapels covered with a groin vault ceiling. It is currently used as the municipal auditorium.
The stretch of wall that has been best conserved runs parallel with the Rec del Molí path. Of the eight entrance gates that closed the walled enclosure of the count’s town, the 13th century Portal de la Gallarda gate is the only one that remains. This entrance gate was protected by the walls and a moat now known as the Rec del Molí and the drawbridge provided access to the Castelló pond. Legend has it that the monks from the Sant Pere de Rodes monastery arrived there by boat to stock up on provisions. Both the gate and the base of the wall date back to the 13th century.
The former Sant Agustí convent, occupied by Augustinian monks, was sold to the well-known progressive politician from Castelló, Enric Climent, during the confiscation. He made changes to the church, taking off a cross section of the northern part, that is, the apse and one of the side naves with an apsidal chapel and four side chapels, in order to make a street (Carrer Climent). It later passed to the Torrecabota family who turned it into a manor house and lived there until a short time ago. The Casa Torrecabota house now conserves the stone façade with its monumental door and the church bell tower, and forms part of a hotel establishment.
The Santa Clara convent (17th-18th centuries), now owned by the town council, was one of the first convents to be founded by the nuns of the Order of St Clare in Catalonia in 1260. It was firstly located outside the town walls on a site called “Planiol de Santa Clara” or what is now the Ca l’Anton neighbourhood, but it was damaged to such an extent during the wars in the second half of the 17th century that the nuns decided to move it inside the town at the end of the same century. The building we can see now was built in 1683 and comprises a church with one nave and, on the side, the convent with four sections around an arcaded courtyard that acts as a cloister. There is a garden-vegetable patch behind it that reaches as far as the wall.
References were made to the 14th century Pont Vell (Old Bridge) from the end of the 13th century, although work was not completed until many years later. Located in the old neighbourhood of Sant Marc, the Pont Vell provides access to the old Figueres path and is built from stone and tiles. It has seven arches, each with a different shape, height and light and is reinforced by triangular-shaped cutwaters that act as buttresses. For centuries, it was the only bridge over the river Muga that united Castellò with the lands beyond the river. At the end of the 19th century however, another bridge was built (in 1895) for the new Figueres to Roses route, this time with a metallic structure set on large stone pillars that would become known as Pont Nou (New Bridge).
Within the medieval town of Castelló we can find the Call Jueu (the Jewish quarter). In addition to the counts and nobles that turned the town into the capital of the county, supported by an artisan bourgeoisie, another community also had a key role in this process: the Jewish community, who along with those in Girona and Besalú, represented one of the most important Jewish communities in Girona. The first documents that denote the presence of the Jewish community in the county of Empúries date to the 11th century and coincide with the Jewish chronology of the city of Girona. It seems as though the Jewish quarter of Castelló was located somewhere near the following streets: Carrer de la Llana, Carrer de la Muralla, Carrer del Calabró and Carrer dels Jueus. From the mid-14th century on, a slow drop was felt in the community, which finally ended on 31 March 1492 when the Catholic Kings signed a decree to expel all the Jews in the kingdom.
Currently, Castelló is the third place in Catalonia in terms of the number of funeral steles and a new synagogue can now be seen in Carrer de les Peixateries Velles street.
Outside the old walls is the “rentador” or Castelló’s former public washing place (17th-19th centuries), which has fallen into disuse. It is an idyllic and peaceful spot where the water pours out from the flour mill’s water channels.
The Carlist tower was built by the “Toledo” regiment (19th century) and was built with the aim of fortifying the town. During the 19th century, three civil wars devastated the country over disputes regarding the successor to the Spanish throne. The first and above all the third Carlist war fell harshly on the town, which had four defence towers in the outskirts of the town. Only one of them is still standing today, as the others were destroyed when Castelló suffered a very tough attack that would forever scar the memory of those who lived there: it was known as the Foc de Castelló (Fire of Castelló).
Empuriabrava: the largest residential marina in the world
This residential marina, which is 2 km away from Castelló as the crow flies, is one of the largest and most original tourist spots in the Mediterranean. Empuriabrava was built in 1967. Its original nature lies in its structure, based on a network of canals that stretches over 30 km. It forms a grid shape and can be sailed along. One of the greatest attractions of Empuriabrava is the comfort of the homes there. The majority of houses have a garden, a garage and private access to the canals, so that owners can moor their boat in the entrance.