On a route through the medieval castles of the Gaià River

On a route through the medieval castles of the Gaià River

The Gaià is one of the rivers that cross the province of Tarragona. What makes it special is that along its course through the regions of Alt Camp, Conca de Barberà and Tarragonès - perpendicular to the coast - there is the largest concentration of medieval castles in the entire Catalan territory.

On this route we suggest you visit some of the most significant fortifications around the Gaià River, so that you can learn about their history and how they have survived the passage of time.

Furthermore, in the itinerary we have included a visit to some of the towns originally born around these medieval buildings, such as Altafulla, Tamarit, El Catllar, Montferri and Aiguamúrcia, which are living history of our country's past.

A tour of the castles of the Gaià River

The Gaià is one of the rivers that runs through the lands of Tarragona, specifically it crosses the regions of Alt Camp, Conca de Barberà and Tarragona.

In the Middle Ages -10th and 11th centuries- it played a very strategic role, since it acted as a natural border between the County of Barcelona and Al-Andalus. For this reason, along its course, nearly fifty castles and some watchtowers were built that served as a brake on the Muslim invasion to the north.

Unfortunately, given the harsh living conditions of the Middle Ages, most of these fortifications were abandoned by their owners until today. However, there are some that have maintained a good state of conservation, have been converted into leisure spaces and can be visited.

Towns such as Altafulla, Tamarit, Aiuguamurcia or Santa Perpetua de Gaià were born around these castles, towns that hide the living history of our country's past in their streets and that we will also visit.

The route

This route through the castles of the Gaià River, in addition to a trip through the geography of Tarragona, is mainly an itinerary that will take you to another era. We are referring to the time of territorial fights, feudal lords and knights. Like them, and if you wish, you can tour some of the castles on horseback, although if you are not so dreamy you can also do it by car or bicycle.

We propose a selection of castles and towers that you can discover by following the natural course of the river from its source, near the town of Santa Coloma de Queralt, in the Conca de Barberà region, passing through the Santes Creus monastery and up to its mouth near Altafulla, a coastal town north of the city of Tarragona.

The starting point of the castle route would be the town of Santa Coloma de Queralt, located in the north of the province of Tarragona, very close to where the Gaià river originates. This town, which preserves part of its medieval wall, has its origins in the existence of the Queralt castle, located in the Anoia region. The castle originally from the 10th century was destroyed by Almanzor, but you can see the remains of the reconstructions that were carried out in subsequent centuries.
Although it is a Renaissance work, it is worth it when you pass through Santa Coloma de Queralt, you will visit the castle of the counts of Queralt, since it preserves the tower of Homenaje, from the 11th century. Currently, the castle is a space for cultural activities and, among others, houses the municipal library.

On a route through the medieval castles of the Gaià River

Gaià. Font: Wikipedia

If you continue descending, you will find the ruins of the Pontils castle, known as “el Castellet”. Next you will arrive at Santa Perpètua de Gaià, a town that is currently almost uninhabited, and which preserves a 15-meter-high tower from the 10th century, located on a cliff with impressive views.

A little further down, you should not miss a visit to the castles of Saburella and Selmella. The first, built after the Reconquista (that is why it was built on the left side of the Gaià River), is located on a hill and is quite well preserved, especially two of the semicircular towers and part of the wall. As for Selmella Castle, it preserves some walls, part of the wall and the base of the tower. In 1988 it was declared an Asset of Cultural Interest.

On a route through the medieval castles of the Gaià River

Castells de Saburella i Selmella. Font: Wikipedia

On the right side of the Gaià river and a little below the town of Querol, you will find the castles of Querol, Pinyana and Montagut. They are considered to have certain similarities, given that they are from the same era. Querol Castle was declared an Asset of National Interest in 1985. Of the Pinyana castle, which became property of the Santes Creus monastery, only part of its keep and its wall remain. As for Montagut Castle, today you will only find some remains.

On this same bank of the Gaià, and if you continue the course of the river towards the sea, you will reach Santes Creus, where you can visit its Cistercian monastery, founded in the year 1160. A little further down you will reach Aiguamurcia, a small town that has its origins, once again, in the construction of the Selma and Albà castles.

On a route through the medieval castles of the Gaià River

Monestir de Santes Creus. Font: Ajuntament d'Aiguamúrcia


Selma Castle, originally from the 10th century, passed through several owners, until it was definitively abandoned in 1930. Currently, it preserves only part of the walled outline and the church of San Cristobal. The castle of Albà was the property of the bishopric and only a tower and some ruins remain.

In Rodonyà, a small town of half a thousand inhabitants, you can visit its castle, of which the defense walls are preserved. It is currently owned by the city council and is undergoing restoration.

To the south of the town of Montferri, is the Rocamora castle, which is currently a restaurant. Not far away you can visit the Montferri Tower, from the end of the 11th century. Its state of conservation allows you to climb it on foot, which will allow you to enjoy impressive views. If the weather is good you can see the sea.

Getting closer and closer to the coast, you will reach the castle of El Catllar, located in the town of the same name, which was inhabited until the end of the 18th century. This has allowed it to be preserved in better condition than others and you can visit two 14 meter towers joined by a wall and some rooms inside, which you will reach after crossing the bridge that goes over the old moat.

Finally you will reach the last two destinations on this route, the Tamarit castle and the Altafulla castle. The Tamarit Castle, from the 12th century, is Romanesque in style and was built at the mouth of the Gaià River, possibly to prevent pirate attacks. It is in a very good state of conservation, as is its church and keep, located outside the enclosure. This has been possible thanks to the various renovations carried out by its last owners. Currently they have used the castle for wedding celebrations.

On a route through the medieval castles of the Gaià River

Castell de Tamarit. Foto: Sergi Boixader

As for the Altafulla castle, it is really a castle-palace from the beginning of the millennium that maintains a very good state of conservation, although we must say that it is not the original, but a version from the 17th century. It is located in the historic center of the coastal town of the same name, which has also preserved the authentic medieval spirit in its streets and squares. So much so that all of Altafulla has been declared a Historical-Artistic Site.

How to get?

If your starting point is Barcelona, the best option is to drive to Sta. Paloma de Queralt and start the route from there. You must take the A-2 towards Igualada and then the C-241 detour. And from here you can take the T-201 towards Pontils, the C-37 to reach Santes Creus and the T-202 to continue to Tamarit and Altafulla.

If you want to start from the coast inland, you can take the AP-7 in the direction of Tarragona and before arriving you will find the detour through Torredembarra and Altafulla.

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