The Castillo Templario de Ponferrada, or Castle of the Knights Templar, is a castle-fortress built by the Knights Templar. It is located in Ponferrada, a town in the Castile-Leon region of Northern Spain. If walking the Camino de Santiago, you should arrive in Ponferrada approximately nine to 10 days prior to walking into Santiago de Compostela.
Ponferrada was first settled in 1196 by Alfonso VIII in order to attack the neighbouring area of El Bierzo. Later, Alfonso IX expanded the town and in 1211 he gave the town to the Order of the Templar to help protect and defend the Way of St James. The Templars took over the pre-existing fortress and extended the castle for inhabitants and further protection. It is thought that the castle at Ponferrada was the Knights Templar’s head quarters for the region.
The Knights Templar existed for nearly two centuries during the Middle Ages and consisted of the most powerful western Christian military orders. The unit was endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church in 1129 and quickly grew in power with the most skilled fighters in the land. With growing amounts of donations and gifts following the Church’s support, they even set up a system of banking, gaining financial strength. The Templars gained a reputation of fierce warriors that protected the Church, as well as providing protection to European monarchs and nobles. At their peak, it is thought the group reached as many as 20,000 people.
The Knights Templar were disbanded in 1307 by Kind Philip IV of France due to growing mistrust of the organisation, as well as the Kings large financial debt to the group. It is thought that most members were arrested and tortured into giving false confessions, resulting in being burned at the stake. Mystery and speculation grew due to the swift disappearance of this immense and mighty group. Even now, many hold on to the belief that the Templars did not dissolve but went underground and continue to exist today.
The Castle of Ponferrada covers an area of more than 8000 square meters. The castle had improvement works in the 15th and 16th century and in 1848, large stables were added to the property. It is suggested that the castle is connected by tunnels to Cornatel Castle, Carracedo Monastery and Monforte de Lemos Castle, which provided a hidden underground system for the Templars when caught under siege. King Fernando IV strangley gifted the castle to his butler once the Order of the Templars was dissolved.
The Castle of the Knights Templar is a fascinating historical sight that should be seen when walking the Camino de Santiago. There are only a few Templar Castles throughout Europe and each hold their own wave of mystery due to the Church’s intriging military order. Today the castle houses the Templars’ Library and the Ponferrade Investigation and Study Centre.