- The castle of El Catllar is situated upon the ruins of a fortified Iron Age settlement (V-VII centuries BC) on a hill overlooking the a meandering River Gaia.
Although written documentation traces it back to the beginning in the eleventh century, when the river acted as the border between the Catana counties and the kingdom of Al-Andalus, the archaeological excavations indicate that the origins of the fort go back to Muslim period or even earlier.
The structure, as seen today, is the result of its growth from a primitive wall and tower to which were added living quarters mainly between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. It was during the last century, however, that the castle experienced remarkable growth, being set up as a building with a moat, around a triangular walled perimeter, with two towers on the facade and interior surrounding a central courtyard.
The lordship of the castle and village, born in its surrounds during the second half of the twelfth century, remained in the hands of the Montoliu family until 1344 when it was purchased by Pere de Requesens. His son Berenguer sold it in 1351 to Bernat d’Olzinelles, treasurer and councilor of King Peter III the Ceremonial. Through the marriage of his granddaughter it passed on to the Queralt family, then on to the Pallars family and finally back to the Queralt family, who in 1599 became the Counts of Santa Coloma.
In 2002 the local council acquired ownership of the building, until then privately owned, and began work on excavation and shortly afterwards on its interior recovery and renovation. This allowed it to be established as an historic landmark for the village while at the same time gaining it the status as the main Exhibition Centre for all the castles of Baix Gaia.
Consequently, the castle plays a key role in the wider recognized Border Castles Trail, proudly promoted by the Department of Tourism of the Catalan Government.
Archaeological excavations carried out have documented the existence of Bronze and Iron Age settlements on the same site (V-VIII centuries BC) and a set of structures belonging to the castle, dating from the ninth and eighteenth centuries, which help understand the architectural development of the fortifications throughout the different historical periods.
The Castle Moat
The first archaeological excavation that was carried out on the hill, where the castle is located, was centred around the moat. The excavation was conducted in two phases. In 1996 the area that bordered the main facade of the castle and the rest in 1998.
As a result of this work it is known that the moat began to lose its importance as a defensive element at end of the fifteenth century and it is precisely at that time when it is filled in with dirt, debris and household waste: remnants of ceramics, glass, bones etc.. and by the eighteenth century it was already completely filled. Also built in the sixteenth century was the bridge accessing the castle, which was blown up during the War of the Segadors and was never rebuilt, as the pit was used as a quarry.
The moat excavations on the hill uncovered the existence of another archaeological site known as the Era of the Castle.
The Era of the Castle
This name is given to the archaeological remains excavated in 1997, on the part of the hill situated in front of the main facade of the castle.
The excavations uncovered the remains of three villages that had existed prior to the castle. These consisted of wooden huts tracing back around 3000 years, corresponding to the end of the Bronze Age, followed by stone houses of about 2,600 years ago corresponding to the beginning of the Iron Age, which continued until the Iberian period, dated back to about 2450 years of antiquity.
This is the first site in Camp de Tarragona which registers such a sequence of continuous human occupation, and that which is seen as the transition from wooden hut habitat to habitat of stone.
Archaeological excavations in the interior of the castle began in 2003. It must be stated that during the 1920’s of the last century, the owner of the castle converted the property inside the enclosure into a garden, consequently demolishing any existing buildings in the process of leveling the land and thus burying the remains. Therefore, at the beginning of excavation and taking to account the large size of the area, a series of bays located at strategic points were dug in order to see if structures were conserved at subsoil level. On finding walls and archeological levels composed of building materials it was decided to extensively excavate the entire zone. The work, which lasted fourteen months, uncovered the walls that formed the lower floor of the castle. These excavations led to the discovery of numerous remains of pottery, glass, metal, etc.., used daily in the castle, which served to date events. At the same time it became clear that the settlement during the Era of the Castle also extended to the area where the castle was built, thus occupying the entire hill, showing that during the Iron Age it was fortified.