Castle of Zafra – The Hidden Gem of Spain (History & Travel Tips)

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The Castle of Zafra (also known as Castillo de Zafra) is something straight out of a George R. R. Martin high-fantasy book. With its tower keep architecture and regal stature, Zafra is one of the most iconic castles in Spain. Zafra’s location was highly strategic and important: it was situated on the boundary between the Muslim and Christian territories. It was deliberately made inconvenient to reach to enhance its defenses. Let’s take a look at how this castle fares n the contemporary world today:

Zafra was featured as the “Tower of Joy” in the sixth season of the highly popular Game of Thrones.

An aerial view of Zafra Castle and its unique topography.
An aerial view of Zafra Castle and its unique topography. Castillo de Zafra, Campillo de Dueñas, Guadalajara, España, 2017-01-04, DD 41-46 PAN flickr photo by Diego_Delso shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Frequently Asked Questions

FOR HISTORY | BEAUTIFUL IMAGES | INTERESTING FACTS | TRAVEL TIPS

Early History

Moorish Origins

Zafra Castle has been home to many zeitgeists throughout history, but its earliest remains can be traced back to the Moors. Although archaeologists have dug up remains that date back to the Bronze and Iron Ages, along with Romans, Celtic, and Visigoth relics, the Moorish Zafra is what was at this site immediately prior to the castle we see today. It was conquered circa 1129 by the Christians.

Zafra Castle’s unique rocky perch and its fascinating geography.
Zafra Castle’s unique rocky perch and its fascinating geography. Luis Rogelio HM, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Spanish Nobility

The Castle of Zafra that we see today was built by the de Lara family in order to strengthen their hold on the territory. Don Gonzelos, the third de Lara, stirred up troubles in the territories outside his fiefdom by urging the other Castillian lords to overthrow King Fernando of Castile. 

In retaliation, Fernando laid a siege on Zafra that lasted for a few weeks, as the troops couldn’t storm its excellent defenses. In the end, a negotiated peace was reached, the fallout included disinheriting Don Gonzalo’s male heirs and an arranged marriage between his daughter Dona Mafalda and Prince Alfonso.

A closer look at Zafra’s stone masonry.
A closer look at Zafra’s stone masonry . Benjamín Núñez González, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

After the 15th Century

The 15th-century Spanish civil wars saw the Castle of Zafra in the thick of things again, as it stood strong through multiple sieges. Henry II of Castile endowed the castle to his French mercenary ally, suffered through the civil rebellion, and was dethroned.  Zafra was inherited by the Castiles again by marriage before Henri IV of Castile gave it to the first duke of Alburquerque. It kept passing hands until it landed in the hands of the Spanish Catholic Monarchs (as opposed to the Spanish Moorish territory the castle also bordered). 

A closer view of some part of Castle Zafra.
A closer view of some part of Castle Zafra. Benjamín Núñez González, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Zafra’s strategic location became moot after the conquest of the Iberian peninsula. After that, it began to fall into ruin.

Current Times

The Castle of Zafra was owned by the Spanish State before being privately purchased by Don Antonio Sanz Polo, a descendent of one of the previous wardens of the castle (Don Juan de Hombrados Malo). He restored Zafra back to its former glory. Today, the castle is not open to the general public, but you can always appreciate it from the outside.

The terrain that you have to trek in order to reach the Castle of Zafra.
The terrain that you have to trek in order to reach the Castle of Zafra. Pedroantoniolazaro, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Interesting Castle Zafra Facts

  • Zafra was featured as the “Tower of Joy” in the sixth season of the highly popular Game of Thrones.
  • The Castle of Zafra stands proudly on a large flagstone rock that has eroded through the course of time and is steeply sloped.
  • There’s a rock-cut staircase on the west side of Zafra’s rock formation which leads to a dark tunnel. Keep your flashlight handy for exploration.
  • Zafra is said to be able to house at least 500 men in times of siege.

Visiting Castle Zafra – Tips and Tricks

The Castle of Zafra is quite a marvel. Its inherent defenses, proud stature, and distinguished beauty make it Spain’s hidden gem. So if you’re looking for somewhere that most mainstream tourists won’t even think to check, then you should definitely visit Zafra. Here’s everything you need to know to plan a visit:

A photo of the tower of  Zafra.
A photo of the tower of Zafra. castillo de Zafra flickr photo by Alorza shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

How to get to Castle Zafra?

You can get to the Castle of Zafra by taking the train from Madrid-Puerta De Atocha to Calatayud. From there, you can rent a car or a jeep and drive directly to Zafra Castle. This entire route takes two hours and thirty minutes, and it would cost you €26-€60 ($30-$70 USD).

Ticket Prices, Visiting Hours & Travel Tips

The Castle of Zafra is now private property and you can only visit it from the outside. You’ll find all the doors locked, but the exterior is well worth the visit by itself! 

The trail that you need to walk in order to reach the castle’s rocky outcropping.
The trail that you need to walk in order to reach the castle’s rocky outcropping. Castillo de Zafra 1 flickr photo by jogafu1 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

How Long Will It Take to Tour Around?

There isn’t an official tour, so there aren’t any set hours. You can stay and explore as long as you want.

Some words of advice and tips: 

  • Wear your most comfortable shoes because you’ll be walking at least 3.1 miles to get to the castle.
  • Keep your phone batteries charged or bring along a power bank because you’ll be wanting to snap a lot of pictures.
  • The dirt roads leading to the castle are not in the best condition, so it’s recommended to travel in a sturdy 4-wheeler.

Quick Video Tour of The Main Castle of Zafra Areas

Zunaira Ghazal
Zunaira Ghazal
Zunaira is an architect and designer on paper, but a writer at heart. She’s got a Bachelors in Architecture and a passion for traveling, both of which combine in her writings about timeworn castles and fortresses that have withstood the tests of time and stand proud to this day.

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