Brihuega is a village with many layers. At first glance you couldn’t imagine there is so much to see and do in one small town—but looks can be deceiving and this place offers more history than you could possibly take in during a brief stop.
Brihuega was already making a name for itself in the middle ages.
Some parts of the castle were built in the 1100’s, and one of the Brihuega’s churches was the 1st of its kind to be built on the Iberian peninsula. (more on that later)
What to do in Brihuega
Perhaps a better title would be “what NOT to see in Brihuega” as there isn’t much you would want to miss out on and it is hard to know where to start.
Tour the caves under Brihuega
Accessed from the plaza mayor, the eight kilometres of caves and tunnels are an intertwining underground maze. The caves and tunnels were originally built by the moors, and then expanded on throughout history. Most of the original houses in Brihuega were connected to the tunnel system and these were used for escape in times of invasion. In times of peace, they stored food and wine.
Visitors can only see about 800 metres of the caves which for me was more than enough as I had moments of panic thinking that I had no idea how to get back out. (It didn’t help that one in our party accidentally tripped on one of the wires and we were in complete darkness for a minute or so until the lights came back on)
Ask at the tourist office (also in the Plaza mayor) about guided visits.
Laundry — Fuente de la Blanquina
Now, you may think that laundry is a bit of a strange place to visit, and granted it will only take a few minutes to see, but it is interesting. Before wash machines and running water, each town provided a public laundry area. The 12 spouts fountain which is connected to the “modern” laundry (modern because it was built in 1905) was in existence in the 16th century. The water in Brihuega has always been known for being clean and clear as it came from underground springs. Legend has it that if a single girl drinks from the fountain, she will find herself a husband. You have to wonder how many single women in centuries past drank to this superstition?
Interestingly, this castle wasn’t built for a prominent family or for a king, it was built by the church—for archbishops who happened to be in the area. The archbishops would generally stay long periods of time, often in the summer as this was a much cooler area than other parts of the kingdom. When the archbishop was on sight he held the church councils and other meetings in this castle. One of the most prominent archbishops who used this castle frequently was Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada. Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada was instrumental in introducing the Gothic style art and architecture into Spain. Being used to Roman architecture, which were dark closed buildings with very few and very small windows, he was blown away in France he saw the newly constructed Notre-Dame. The Notre-Dame was full of light, taller than anything Jiménez de Rada had ever seen and had an airiness that was never found in any cathedral or castle in Spain. When he returned to Spain he ordered the Santa Maria de la Pena to be built.
Santa Maria de la Peña church
As mentioned above, the Santa Maria was ordered by Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada. He brought in architects from France who had seen and worked on the Notre-Dame in Paris. Now, the Santa Maria is in no way as grand as the Notre-Dame but is impressive in that it is the first example of gothic architecture in the Iberian peninsula. As Spain had never seen gothic before, the Santa Maria de Peña was more of a mixture of the new Gothic style mixed with the Romanic. It was built higher than churches of its time, but still had smaller windows than the authentic gothic. However, it was a start to a new style in the Iberian peninsula.
Royal Cloth factory
Skipping ahead a few centuries (to the 16th) we come to the time of King Carlos III. He was grateful to the part the townspeople played in a decisive battle that helped him strengthen his throne and as a thank you, had the Royal Cloth factory built in Brihuega in 1783. The factory primarily supplied uniforms for the military. It was no small gift as it gave 1000 direct jobs to the town, and 1000 indirect (as suppliers and spin-off jobs). Brihuega flourished for centuries thanks to the cloth factory. The workers not only had secure, well-paid jobs, but they also enjoyed a form of union and health benefits.
Brihuega was a perfect location for such a factory for a number of reasons:
It was on one of the main travel routes of the shepherds, so wool was easily available
It was close to suppliers in Madrid
It had a dry, windy climate that was perfect for drying the dyes of the cloth
An excellent water supply
The cloth factory is built in a circular form and almost resembles a bull ring. This was a strategic design that has nothing to do with bulls, however. The design encouraged an almost constant breeze in its courtyard which was essential to dry the material.
One of the highlights of visiting the factory today is that you can walk through the gardens. The gardens weren’t added until 1815. The gardens were built in the French style popular in that time, using trimmed shrubs, walkways, a large birdcage in the centre as well as arbours, flowering plants and shrubs. The garden was left unattended for a number of years, but the entire property has recently been purchased by the town of Brihuega. At the moment you can only visit the gardens, but the town has plans to again open up the factory to the public.
More sights to see in Brihuega:
Each of the sights are worth investigating, but space allows only a quick mention.
Miniature museum—originally (1619) was a convent to the friars of San Pedro de Alcantar. Later it was used as a hospital, prison and school. Now it houses the museum of miniature art.
Royal prison—currently the tourist office of Brihuega
Piedra Bermeja castle—built by the Arabics and later expanded by the christians.
City walls—finished in the 12th century, there are still 2 kilometres of the wall remaining that you can see.
San Felipe church—built in the 13th century and is a mix of Romanic and Gothic styles