Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Sleeping in a Vaubam Fortification: Fuerte de la Concepción (Salamanca)

Patio de Armas with the chapel remnants



This is a quite belated blog entry which I was initially planning to publish in late October 2017. I spent several days touring the Portugal/Spain border fortresses of Ciudad Rodrigo and Almeida, as well as the battlefield of Fuentes de Oñoro.
But how would you feel if in addition to visiting all these historic places,  you had the opportunity to sleep in truly original Vauban fortification now refurbished as an upper scale (4 stars) hotel?

This is actually the case of the Fuerte Concepción located at Aldea del Obispo, now called Domus Real Hotel. I don't think it is  well known specially among British tourists, a shame because it is the perfect base-camp for touring all the places mentioned plus the battlefields of El Bodón and Tamames in the Spanish side and the River Coa area in the Portuguese side.

A little bit of background and context: until very recently, the only good communication routes between Spain and Portugal passed through Salamanca and Badajoz. To exert control on those two routes, twin fortifications were erected, Ciudad Rodrigo-Almeida and Badajoz-Elvas on both sides of the border respectively.   
Aerial view from a tourist leaflet



That basically explains the level of military activity saw during the Napoleonic wars in this area and also why Wellington could fight the French in Spain’s soil only when the line of communications with Portugal were firmly in his hands.
Fuerte Concepción is at a 3 ½ hours drive from Madrid. It had a truly sad history as it never saw war action. It was built after Portugal’s independence in mid-17th century as an advanced post of Ciudad Rodrigo to control the access from Portugal and as an advanced post overlooking Almeida (at literally 10 minutes car drive from the fort’s site).
The fortification was finished in 1664 and could accommodate a force of over 1,500 infantry plus 200 cavalry and the artillery batteries. It was abandoned just a year later  (!) only to be reoccupied and reinforced in different phases between 1730 and 1760.
After the 1808 uprising against the French, it was abandoned by the Spanish garrison, occupied by the British forces under command of General Crawford; in 1810 retreated into Portugal but not before blowing the bulwarks to render it useless to Massena’s French army.
In the battle of Fuentes de Oñoro (1811) the fort anchored the British  left flank  of the forces  deployed between Fuentes and Aldea del Obispo but saw no action as most the battle was fought in and around Fuentes itself.

Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro (click to enlarge)
After the war the fort fell into decay, as inhabitants from the nearby villages ravaged the stones to build houses; some stone auctions were even organised by the local towns mayors! In 2006 it was acquired by Luis Togores, a Spanish university professor of history; Togores led a refurbishing project and the new hotel open in 2013.
I can personally attest the high level of service and quality of the rooms and the restaurant within the hotel premises. The rooms are located around the plaza de armas (training square) that formerly were the troop barracks.
In the nearby village of Aldea del Obispo it is worth visiting a small nice museum with a huge and detailed model of the fort.  The caretaker of the museum is a really nice and entertaining person, quite proud of the little jewels stored in the 1-room display.
 
The main fortification was designed in the typical star shape to cover all potential attack routes surrouned by a moat filled with water. The central plaza or Patio de Armas hosted the garrison barracks, the governor's house and the chapel.

 
Fuerte Conceoción Model at the Aldea del Obispo Museum

The weakest point of the site was to the south of the fortification, as the hill on which it was built ascended providing a very good field of fire and observation to an enemy controlling it. For that reason a fortified position was erected at the edge of the hill and communicated with a sunken trench to the main fortification. 

Fortified position (south), Mews and Sunken Trench
Middle of the way between the fortification and the fortified position a fortified mews  or stable was also erected, with capacity to host a small cavalry squadron (90 horses), including riders, orderlies and defended with 10 artillery pieces.

Overall, a mighty fortress with a sad story behind, never used for the purpose it was built, and happily recovered recently for more peaceful purposes. A must-see or a must-sleep site if you are planning to visit the area.

 
Moat and bridge to main entry

 
The walls from the outside


Main entry gate






Access to the walls from the Patio de Armas
Moat and main entry gate bridge


Another view of the walls (from inside the moat)



Patio de Armas and Chapel
Having breakfast near a wall breach

 
The Mews and the South Fortified Position





Sunken road and Mews
Inside the Mews





The fortified position in the hill's south edge


A Pak 40(!?) Not exactly contemporary to the fort


A SCW 75mm Schnider (!?): the artillery collection

 

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