A crumbling castle in rural Andalusia with a Scottish history? And you can go wander around for free, and it only costs like €2 to get in to the building itself? Say what?
Yep, that’s the Castle of the Stars at Teba.
Teba itself is a pueblo blanco (white village – quintessential whitewashed Andalusian mountain town) about 35km from Malaga, midway between Malaga and Ronda. From the road you can see the castle up on the hill, but there are very few signs or indications of what a special place it is. You either have to know about it in advance, or be very curious.
In the town square there is a plaque memorializing Robert the Bruce, King of Scots and Sir James Douglas, aka Black Douglas. There’s a massive memorial to two Scottish people in this tiny town. Because Black Douglas participated in a battle here in the 14th century that was one of the major victories in the centuries-long Reconquista, in which the Christians took back the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors.
Robert the Bruce had been excommunicated from the Church in the early 14th century. He always dreamed of going on Crusade to the Holy Land in part to redeem himself from that punishment. On his deathbed (of leprosy – not cool) he asked his second in command from the Battle of Bannockburn, Sir James Douglas, to take his heart in a box on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and to bury his heart in Jerusalem.
Sir James Douglas was notorious for his raids into England in the border counties, and his loyalty to the Scottish crown was paramount. He took Bruce’s embalmed heart in a casket which he wore around his neck and off he went with 25 Knights Templar. They got to Flanders in the Spring, and waited for followers from the rest of Europe. They planned to visit Santiago de Compostella, a holy town in the North West of Spain in which the remains of the Apostle James had been found. Santiago de Compostella was apparently the third holiest site in Christendom and over half a million visitors were attracted to it each year in the 11th and 12th centuries.
Word reached the party that the King of Castile and Leon had started a siege against the Castillo de las Estrellas (Castle of the Stars) at Teba to drive off the Saracen Army of the Sultan of Granada. Douglas told the King he would join the party against them, and sailed to Seville, marching the rest of the way to Teba.
On August 25 the Saracen army came out below the castle. There was a miscommunication and Douglas thought there was a general advance going on, when there wasn’t. He led his troops into a charge against the Saracens and held them until the Moors fled. Douglas followed them and found that he was deserted and his troops hadn’t followed along with him. He turned around to join the army and saw a fellow Knight surrounded by a group of the enemy who had managed to rally. Douglas tried to rescue him with just a few knights.
He was surrounded. He did something ridiculously poetic – made a last charge in the name of Robert the Bruce, took the casket with the heart and threw it into the group of the enemies. He shouted that Bruce would go in front as he desired, and he (Douglas) would follow or die.
They all died.
But he had diverted enough of the enemy away from the main forces that the Castillians were able to rally and defeat the Moors. Both his body and the casket were recovered from the battlefield. Since it was summer and the body wouldn’t survive long enough for the trip him, the two remaining knights decided to boil the body in a vat of vinegar until the flesh fell off from the bones. That flesh was buried in Teba, and the bones returned to Scotland where they were buried. The casket with the heart also returned home where the new king, Bruce’s son, buried it in Melrose Abbey.
In archeological diggings in 1996, a small container was found at the burial site in Melrose Abbey. Although worn, it was still in a good condition and had been inscribed with the following;” The enclosed leaden casket containing a heart was found beneath the Chapter House floor, March 1921.by his Majesty’s Office of Works.” The casket was reburied in a private ceremony at Melrose Abbey in 1998.
In 60 more years the Saracens would be gone completely from that area of Andalusia, and they put more of their efforts into defending the Alhambra stronghold at Granada.
Now Teba is available to visit – there are limited hours for going inside, but you can always go wander around. Inside there is an exhibit about Robert the Bruce and Black Douglas, and the Crusades and Reconquista in general.