Castell de Ciutat Fortress
In the heart of the Pyrenees, 1 km from the historic town of Seu d’Urgell, the fortress of Castell de Ciutat has borne witness to the region's history since the 9th century. Home to the Counts of Urgell in the 11th century, and occupied for military reasons in subsequent centuries, the marks left by French invasions can be seen on its walls.
In 1969 the Tàpies family acquired the property, which had until then belonged to the Spanish government. They then renovated the fortress as a place to hold social and corporate events and built a 38-room mountain hotel a few metres away.
Centuries of history
1. The “oppidum” of Castellciutat
There is archaeological evidence that the first inhabitants of Castellciutat date back to the Bronze Age. They occupied the hill and created small population or “oppidum”.
2. The “civitas”
After this, there is no archaeological evidence about any population in the hill until late Roman era. It is believed that the Romans used the reminds of the old oppidum to built a fortification for military use, outside the then-small urban agglomeration of la Seu d’Urgell, called “urbs” and destroyed in 793. This “urbs” has always been the seat of the bishop. We know that there were other “civitates” (civitate is synonymous of oppidum which means fortified village of” castrum”, castle) along the Pyrenees, which were all built in the later part of the Roman time and which formed military defence against the barbarians. These fortifications were later used by the Visigoths to exercise they military control of the Pyrenees..
3. The Civitatis Palace
From the ancient documents that are still kept in the archives, we know that the fortress as always been closely linked to the presence of the counts and that the population and military power evolved side by side. On one side the counts exercise they power from the castle throughout the earlier age and the Visigoth age and on the other side the Episcopal power grew the plain, starting off from a small Paleo-christian chapel and using the ancient Roman settlement.
The Episcopal power of la Seu d’Urgell planned an important role in the Christianization of the Pyrenees.
The fortress was the residence of the counts, and this is reflected in documents dating back to 1099 in which a “Palacio Civitas” is mentioned. Nevertheless, when the moors started their conquest of Spain the counts of Urgell decided to play a more active role in the wars against the moors and the moved south of the Pyrenees, toward Segre plain. There they established their new residence in the town of Balaguer, which they conquered in 1101.
4. The castle of the viscounts
As their military interest was now located further south, the Counts of Urgell, delegated their power to the viscounts of Urgell. These soon changed the name of their title including the name of their main possession, the valley of Castellbó. This is how they become viscounts of Castellbó. The viscounts soon extended their power over the neighbouring valleys and started to fortify the castle. This led to very strong protests from the bishop of la Seu d’Urgell, who felt menaced by the viscounts. That created a conflict that lasted over 2 centuries.
At the end of the XVth century the attorney Pere Tragó made the first inventory, called “the Spill Manifest de totes les coses del vescomtat de Castellbó”, of the possessions of the viscounts of Castellbó, in which the fortification is mentioned as a square building without turrets.
From the moment the viscount of Castellbó was included in the crown of Catalonia-Aragon, the role of the fortification changed significantly. New military technologies and the constant invasion of the French led to the total transformation of the old fortification of the viscounts.
5. The castle of the Austrias
During the XVII century 2 big wars took place, which greatly changed the life of Urgellet region. At the end of the war “dels Segadors” the French occupied the town of la Seu d’Urgell in 1654. This war divided the population of the town in two parts: the partisans of the bishop and the followers of the canons. The troupes of Felipe IVth re-conquered the town 3 years later, but the French did not leave the town until the singing of the peace of the treaty of the Pyrenees, in 1660.
A new French invasion in 1691 led ton new attempts to renovate the fortress. These building works were ordered by the Baron de Preu, governor of Berga and later governor of la Seu d’Urgell. In 1701 the reformation work started, under the direction of the engineer Bursano. The towers of Torreblanca and Solsona were constructed and they created a safer fortification. This fortification was stronger to resist the growing menace of artillery. The more the importance of the fortification grew, the less important and the weaker the city walls of la Seu d’Urgell became, and finally the security of the town became dependent on the fortification.
6. The Bourbon fortification
During the Spanish war of succession (1704-1714) the governor of the fortification was the general Moragas, until capitulation its (1707-1713). Nevertheless, in 1719 the fortification was re-conquered by the anti-bourbon alliance.
The fortification was continuously improved and enlarged, as the plans from 1711-1726 show. Unfortunately the building works must have been badly done, as in 1785 Francisco de Zamora described the castle as totally deteriorated und useless.
This situation becomes a problem in 1793, when a French attack became evident. It finally happened in 1794. The defenders made themselves secure in the town, leaving only a small number of men to defend the fortress. The French ended by plundering the town and ignoring the fortress.
7. XIXth and XXth century
The Urgellet was not occupied during the war of “the French”, which favoured the use of the fortress an service corps and night-stop for the fighting troupes. We still have a selection of plans for a project of modernization of the fortification from this period.
The absolutist forces favoured that the Regency of Urgellet besiege the castle and town in 1822. The liberal troupes of Espot and Mina occupied the castle in November of that year. In 1823 the royal French troupes conquered the castles once again and it stayed in French hands several years.
During the “Guerras Carlistas” the fortress played an important role in maintaining the liberal government in la Seu d’Urgell. The fortress was not occupied until the end of 1875, when the troupes of the carlistas threw them out.
The spectacular siege of General Martínez Campos, from August 22nd till August 27th, was the last military action that took place in this fortification.
This last siege changed the live of the fortress forever. The troops were relocated to the ancient convent of the Jesuits on the main street of la Seu d’Urgell and abandoned the old building.
It was not until the civil war of 1936-1939 that the fortress used again. The masses of troops stationed in the Pyrenees obliged the government to use it to house the troops.
The military use of the fortress during de XIXth and XXth century deeply changed the structure of the castle utterly. In 1955it was finally abandoned, after being completely plundered.
In 1969 Mr. Jaume Tàpies Travé bought the fortress from the Spanish government and started to transform it into the modern hotel complex it is today.