The remains of Iberian and Roman settlements in Sax have been compared to Ptolemy’s Segisa in the Bastetani region.
The present-day town dates from the late 12th century, when the caliph Yusuf al-Mumín discharged part of his army so they could settle with their families on land in this area, with the aim of repopulating and defending it. The obviously strategic location of the hill on which Sax stands meant that its castle was a major defensive landmark.
The first attempt to take back land here was in early 1239, by nobles such as Ramón Folch, Rodrigo de Lizana and Artal de Alagón. Moorish resistance was fierce and resulted in the death of Artal de Alagón, who was killed by a hail of stones at the castle walls. The loss of the man who knew the region best forced the Christians to withdraw towards Valencia.
At the end of that same year, a new expedition of knights from the Aragón Order of Calatrava led by the Commander of Alcañiz successfully took the castles of Sax and Villena. By order of King Jaime I they were entrusted to the Order to be handed over, as agreed, to the Crown of Castile. This was confirmed in the Treaty of Almizra.
In the 14th century, the castles of Sax, Biar and Villena were part of the Villena estate held by the Infante Don Juan Manuel. This meant that the fortress of Sax was involved, along with the nobleman’s other possessions, in the rebellions he took part in against the Castilian king Alfonso XI. It also played a role in the so-called War of the two Pedros between the monarchs of Castile and Aragón, which had been waging since the middle of the century.
In 1303, the Infante Don Juan Manuel handed the Castle of Sax over to Juan García, Lord of Alcaudete, for him to govern it on behalf of the Aragón sovereign Jaime II and as guarantee of the contract signed with the king for the Infante’s imminent marriage to his daughter, Doña Constanza, The contract stipulated that if Don Juan Manuel failed to fulfil his side of the bargain and the marriage did not take place, the King of Aragón would take legitimate possession of Sax castle.
The Stone Castle at Sax went through various stages of construction until its appearance as we see it today. Many authors believe that the castle was actually built in the 14th century, although during the Moorish era a citadel stood on the same spot and was also known as Sax. The oldest part of the castle is the north section and the newest is the keep.
This is the type of castle that sits on a rocky crag overlooking the town it defends. It is built into the rocky mountaintop and the east side is impregnable. It has two fortified areas; the first is accessible via a ramp and the second has a rectangular layout.
The castle basically consists of two large square towers linked by stretches of wall with battlements. The foundations of one of the towers may be Roman and the other, regarded as the keep, is Moorish and dates back to the 12th century, although its foundations are 10th century.
The keep is in the second enclosed area, built on a rocky cavern and standing at over 15 metres high. It has three floors and consists of dressed stonework and rubble masonry. The first and second floors have semi-circular barrel-vaulted ceilings, with arrow holes in the latter and on the third floor.
The floors are linked by a staircase joined to the wall and covered by stepped pointed arches. There used to be a drawbridge providing access to the keep, but it has not survived. There is a large water tank next to the keep, the east side of which is semicircular.
The other tower is at the far end of the elongated castle layout. It is square and single-storey with semi-circular barrel vaulting and thick walls.
What else to see in Sax
Chapel of San Blas Located in Plaza de San Blas in the heart of the town’s historic quarter, today the chapel houses the image of the town’s Patron Saint. In the Middle Ages it was Sax‘s parish church.
The chapel is rectangular and has a semi-circular apse in the presbytery. It is split into four sections separated by large semi-circular transversal arches. The Baroque belfry housing the bell was built in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The huge chapel doors are beautifully carved and both sides have superimposed decoration showing a crosier and a mitre, the symbols of San Blas, Bishop of Sebaste.
La Torre. The history of this area can be traced back to Roman times and is well-documented in archaeological terms by the remains of a villa built around the mid-first century AD. It had its heyday in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, coinciding with the High Empire. The villa thrived until the mid-4th century and spread over the surrounding land, where a white marble sarcophagus and part of a Roman dam were recently unearthed in a nearby gully.
The area’s name comes from the ruins of a Medieval tower on top of a hill. It is an Almohad lookout tower, dating from the 12th to 13th centuries, built on a square layout and consisting of masonry bonded with quicklime.
The tower was strategically located to protect travellers along a major communication thoroughfare, known as Camino de los Valencianos, thought to have been originally part of the Via Augusta through Sax.
Interesting buildings in the vicinity include the Chapel of San Pancracio, built on top of another hill in the mid-20th century. Every year, on the first of May, the people of Sax make a pilgrimage to the chapel to express their devotion.
But the real gem in this area is the recently restored Casa de la Torre, a mansion commissioned by Don Gaspar Marco y Marco in 1856 and built as a holiday home. This lavish and tastefully decorated house has two floors and an attic and some of the surrounding farmland was used to make garden areas.
Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. Built in the 1530s, its layout consists of a single nave simply divided into two sections, with double chapels between buttresses and a straight presbytery, with chapels on both sides. The nave is topped by a fan vaulted ceiling. The church tower was completed in the 1590s.
This monument is interesting because it is one of the purest examples of a single-nave Catalan-style church built in the area. It is probably the most regular and neat example, with a hint of Renaissance drawn from the artistic influence of Murcia cathedral.
The side façade has a Renaissance doorway, built in the 1530s and exemplifying the simplest kind of arch with a series of pilasters on each side. There is an entablature over the top that finishes in a triangular shape.
Despite the simplicity of the ornamental detail on this door, the overall design makes it sculpturally striking. All parts of the door are covered with decorative features, including two medallions with two bas-relief profiles, apparently showing the Emperor Carlos I (as the era’s new Caesar) and Pope Paulo III.
Pocico de la Nieve ice house. On the north side of the rocky crag on which Sax castle stands there is an ice house built with blocks of masonry and mortar. It is round, with a semi-circular roof and is about 10-15 metres deep. Snow that fell during the winter was stored here until the summer and was used to make sorbets and refreshing drinks, cooling fevers, keeping food fresh and exporting to Alicante.
Early records of this ice house date back to 1702 and, except for a few mishaps, it was used throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, until industrial ice production rendered it obsolete.
Colonia Santa Eulalia. This farming colony was set up in the last decade of the 19th century on land owned by the Count of Alcudia and Gestalgar. The estate’s 138 hectares were planted with vineyards, olive groves and almond trees and a new village was built, complete with streets and squares as well as olive oil mills, wine cellars, cider presses, flour mills and alcohol factories (Santa Eulalia brandy was widely known). There was also a theatre, shop, guest house, post office and telephone exchange, workers’ housing, gardens and lakes, and a railway station. The most impressive building was the count’s palace, a square two-storey building in the Modernist style with a coat of arms on either side of the main entrance door.