The Route of the Manorialism of Feria (Badajoz)

Author  Francisco García Fitz.   ​University of Extremadura

On 26th February 1394 King Enrique III granted Don Gómez Suárez de Figueroa, son of the Master of Santiago in that time, Lorenzo Suárez de Figueroa, the lordship over the towns of Zafra, Feria and La Parra, all of them separated from the municipal district of Badajoz. Over the following decades the family's territorial assets and jurisdiction would only grow in the area through royal donations, purchases or exchanges of different types of goods, which meant the incorporation of other towns or places into the manor, such as Villalba de los Barros, Nogales, Oliva de la Frontera, Valencia de Mombuey, Morera, Alconera, Salvatierra, Salvaleón, Almendral, the Tower of Miguel Sexmero and Monsalud

Therefore, between the last decade of the 14th century and the first half of the 15th century, and within the well-known framework of the formation and rise of a "new nobility" during the time of the Trastámara dynasty, we can see the origin of an important secular lordship that would be called to have a leading political and military role in the Extremadura of the late Middle Ages.

During these two centuries, the territory of the lordship of Feria, which became a county from 1460, and other adjacent geographical areas, were the scene of frequent armed conflict, mixing wars between Castile and Portugal, civil strife within the Castilian kingdom and bitter noble disputes of various kinds. During the course of that conflict, both the castles of the lordship and those of neighbouring towns witnessed violent actions that can be recalled today by visiting these heritage jewels.

Thus, already during the second half of the decade of the 90's of the 14th century, within the framework of the reactivation of the war between Portugal and Castile, the recently created lordship of Feria suffered fully, in 1398, the destruction and the plundering at the hands of the Portuguese army, led by the constable Nuno Álvares Pereira, who devastated the lands of Zafra and Feria, as well as other nearby territories, among others the dependents of Jerez de los Caballeros.

Years later, the first Count of Feria, Lorenzo Suárez de Figueroa, played an active role in the service of John II in his confrontation with the supporters of the Princes of Aragón, who became strong in the Castle of Alburquerque in 1430. In this context, the Count of Feria not only took charge of the defense of Badajoz, but in this same year he had to help the nearby castle of Alconchel, whose fortress had been besieged by the supporters of the marines, while two years later he was used to control, also in the name of the king, some localities, such as Jerez de los Caballeros, Alconchel itself, Barcarrota or the city of Badajoz.

For his part, the second Count of Feria, Gómez Suárez de Figueroa, played an important role in the operations that took place south of Badajoz during the conflicts that took place during the last years of Enrique IV: during the revolt led by part of the noble league against the monarch in 1465, the Count of Feria aligned himself with the king, becoming the guarantor of the monarchist interests in the area. This led him in 1470 to militarily occupy Badajoz and its citadel, which since 1465 was taken by Hernán Gómez de Solís, one of the supporters of the rebellious nobles and Prince Alfonso.

The beginning, in 1475, of the war of Castilian succession between the supporters of Princess Juana and her husband, Alfonso V of Portugal, and those of Isabel of Castile and her husband, Ferdinand of Aragon, placed Gómez Suárez de Figueroa once again at the centre of the conflict that plagued Lower Extremadura and in which dynastic partisanship was mixed with the particular ambitions of the nobility settled in the area: A supporter of Isabel, the second Count of Feria had to confront, from his stately possessions, Alonso de Cárdenas, the powerful aspirant to the dominion of Santiago with whom, despite being a soldier on the same Elizabethan side, he clashed over the internal control of the Order. In the course of this collision, Santiago's troops attacked the states of Feria in 1475, from Los Santos de Maimona and Jerez de los Caballeros. In response, the Count tried unsuccessfully to take the latter town, although he took the opportunity to plunder the surrounding Santiago territories.

When the Portuguese army entered Castile, in defense of the interests of Princess Juana, Gómez Suárez de Figueroa became, from Badajoz, a guarantor of the Elizabethan cause and a spearhead against the Portuguese towns closest to the border between 1475 and 1477. When at the end of 1478 the Portuguese again entered Castile by the border of Badajoz, again it was the count who took the initiative, defeating them and plundering the Portuguese towns near the border.

The castles and palaces of the lordship of Feria (Feria, Nogales, Zafra), as well as other adjacent fortresses belonging to various jurisdictions, such as the citadel of Badajoz, the walls of Jerez de los Caballeros or the castles of Alconchel and Alburquerque are, Thus, testimony in stone of a turbulent period in which the wars between Portugal and Castile, the confrontations between monarchy and nobility and the struggles within the noble elite and military orders were intertwined. The geostrategic situation of the region, due to its proximity to the Portuguese border, the strong implantation of the military orders and the increase of its lordship, of which the house of Feria is a notable example, turned these lands and their fortifications into a particularly representative scenario of the late Middle Ages.

    

Itinerary

The traveller can approach the castles and palaces of the lordship of Feria from the north, beginning his journey in the imposing castle of Luna, in Alburquerque, the centre of activities of the infants of Aragon at the time of their confrontations with John II of Castile and in front of which the first Count of Feria was as a frontier, from Badajoz. In little more than forty minutes you can travel, following the journey south, to Badajoz, whose Almohad fortress witnessed all kinds of armed conflicts in which the house of Feria, whose dominion was the product of a segregation of the city limits, played a leading role, either fighting the Portuguese or their own noble rivals.

Starting from Badajoz, in just another forty minutes it is possible to reach Alconchel, whose castle of Miraflores, which belonged to the Order of Alcantara during the 14th and 15th centuries, suffered on several occasions from the actions of the troops of the Lords of Feria in defense of the interests of the Castilian monarchy.

And from here, only thirty minutes away, the traveller can enter the streets of the old Templar enclave, Jerez de los Caballeros, a town that, also on more than one occasion, witnessed the political and military action of the lords of Feria. In this town it is possible to find magnificent examples of stately architecture from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as the palaces of Guzmán and Sotomayor or that of Rianzuela.  

From Jerez we finally enter the heart of the Manorialism of Feria, where the holders of the jurisdiction carried out a first-rate construction programme, not only to fortify their possessions in such turbulent times, but also as an architectural expression of the social and jurisdictional position of the lineage.

Thus, in the small town of Nogales, the former second lord and first Count of Feria, Lorenzo Suárez de Figueroa ordered the construction in 1458 of a magnificent square-based keep, more than thirty metres high, surrounded by a lower wall whose corners have been reinforced by four small cylindrical towers, and which together dominate the entire landscape of the area.

Just twenty minutes from Nogales is the town that gives its name to the manor, which became a county in 1460 and a duchy in the time of Philip II. The Castillo de Feria is notable for its keep, which is also square in shape and about forty metres high, with its rounded corners and surrounded by an irregularly shaped wall.

The traveller can conclude his route in Zafra, where he can rest in the Parador Nacional, built on top of what used to be a stately castle, with clear defensive connotations, and at the same time the residence of the first Count of Feria, who had it built for him.

Where does the route take place?

  • Castillo de Luna en Alburquerque
  • Alcazaba de Badajoz
  • Castillo de Miraflores en Alconchel
  • Palacios de Guzmán y Sotomayor en Jerez de los Caballeros
  • Palacio de Rianzuela en Jerez de los Caballeros
  • Castillo de Nogales
  • Castillo de Feria
  • Palacio de los Duques de Feria en Zafra

Know castles and palaces in this route

Alburquerque’s castle is one of the few fortresses that survived the artillery. It’s a castle characterised by its authenticity, it’s one of the few defensive constructions that keeps its military identity.

It’s built with spare and blocks of stone, in the finest parts. The enclosure consists of four defensive areas that are staged throughout the hillside which is the entrance of the village. The first enclosure is composed for a barrier with bastions that separate the village from the fortress, this construction was made when the square occupied by the Portuguese between 1705 and 1716.

The second defensive element is constituted by the access ramp or list roads, as well as, the four entrance doors that drive us to the patio, where the assailant is easily collapsible from the wall of the superior enclosure. In the second door there is the shield of D. Beltrán de la Cueva.

Highlights of the patio: The late Romanesque church know as Santa María del Castillo, the dining room,  the canteen, the soldiery’s bedrooms and the well. All of this dominated by the impressive watchtower of the Homenaje’s tower, build by D. Álvaro de Luna. By one of its sides it is the door to the second enclosure, known as “Plaza Alta” where it stands out the Cinco Picos’stower with pentagonal shape and the drawbridge with more than ten metres that joins this tower with the Homenaje’s tower.

Homenaje’s tower is as tall as a five story building and it’s build with sections of masory and granite’s corners. The whole tower is crenelated, and offer machicolations in the centre of the faces. Other important rooms in this patio are: The house of the Governor, the well and the canteen. But one of the reasons why this fortress was built it’s for control the oldest frontier in Europe and the only political one. From its walls we can see the frontier squares of Ouguela, Marvão or Elvas.

The most distinctive element of the town is the “Alconchel Castle", also called today as “Miraflores Castle” because it is located on the hill of the same name. Nestled on top of the hill of the same name, dominates with its imposing presence all the territories of the environment. Of Arab origin, and rebuilt in the 12th century by the monarch Alfonso Enríquez, was later consolidated by the Templars, becoming one of the most important bastions of this order.

Originally it was composed of triple enclosure, reinforced the intermediate with cubes pointed towards the south. It is presided by a powerful homage tower, completing the whole a good yard of weapons, cisterns, dungeons, chapel and other dependencies of which are preserved different remains. Today it is inside the centre of interpretation of the fortifications of the Great Lake of Alqueva, it already has a unique space for conventions, congresses and exhibitions and prepares for the lodging.

From the historical point of view, it should be remembered that a Muslim enclave existed here, of which no trace remains. In the first place it was occupied by the Portuguese, late in the 12th century, in the time of Alfonso I, in 1166. It passed into Castilian hands a hundred years later, in 1264, and was given to the Templars first and to that of Alcántara later. The fortress is full of History of the struggles between the Kingdoms of Spain and Portugal.

Most of the bulk of the fortress is built with stones, with ashlars in the corners of the keep and masonry. The wood is used in a few places such as in ranguas bars, floors of the tower and possibly in the rake of the current entrance door and in the mechinales of the upper part of the north side of the tower.

The castle has not escaped the local heritage either and there are some local traditions that revolve around it. Despite being many of them exaggerated data, they turn out to be curious and worthy of being traced documentary.

Thus, in Alconchel it is often stated that a tunnel leads from the fortress to the parish church and another to the nearby Ermita de la Esperanza, indeed some castles have had mines or passageways that served as an escape in situations of siege, but in In this case at hand, it has not been possible to attest to the presence of said tunnels in any way. Of course, what is proven is that the presence of mines in castles was a serious detriment to it since in the same way that it could serve to escape, it could also serve to enter by enemies, with which the presence of them is almost ruled out.

The Parador de Zafra, Palace of the Dukes of Feria, occupies a majestic castlewith elegant, spacious rooms. Construction on this residence for the dukes of Feria was begun in 1437. The value of the palace is evident in the spectacular façade. It is an ideal location for exploring the historic surroundings and sights in the area. You will be amazed by the magnificent interior, which still contains beautiful coffered ceilings, large chests, ironwork, banisters and other decorative elements from the former palace. Stately, spacious guest rooms, a swimming pool and a beautifully maintained garden round out the Parador's offerings.

Gates in the outside walls lead to the lovely city of Zafra. One of the most beautiful entrances is through Jerez Gate, where narrow Clavel Street will captivate you. Framed by an arch and decorated with tiles, small balconies bedecked with flowers overlook the street, creating the perfect picture postcard. Strolling through Grande and Chica (Big and Small) squares, the shops along Sevilla Street, the collegiate church, and amazing churches such as Candelaria are just some of the attractions in this town, which is also known as La Sevilla Chica (Little Seville).

Come discover this land of Templars and nobles, villages with simple, charming folk, rich in culture and learned in gastronomy.

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