Santa Bárbara: the castle that exploded into a thousand pieces (Alicante)

Santa Bárbara: the castle that exploded into a thousand pieces (Alicante)
Felipe V de Borbón recovered Alicante during the War of Spanish Succession, digging a mine on Mount Benacantil and making it explode.

Dating from the late 9th century (in times of Islamic rule), but several times modified and expanded after the Christian Conquest in the 13th century, the majestic fortress of Alicante has been witness and victim of many battles. The date of one of these battles gave name to the castle. It was the 4th of December —onomastic of Santa Bárbara— of the year 1248, when the Infante Alfonso de Castilla managed to defeat the Muslims, thus taking the castle of al-Laqant.

But let’s talk about the main topic of this article: The explosion of the mine. To put us in context we must go back to the War of Spanish Succession, in which two sides faced each other after the death of King Carlos II of Spain, without leaving offspring. One side was placed in favor of Felipe V of Borbón, whom Carlos II had designated as heir to the throne; the other side was in favor of Archduke Charles of Austria, proposed by the members of the Hague treaty of 1701. Different European countries were involved in this war.

Numerous English ships appeared before the coast of Alicante on July 31, 1706 and, after eight days of incessant siege, stormed the city. Almost a month later, on September 7, they took the castle and took control of Alicante until December 3, 1708, date on which the French knight D’Asfeld was sent by Felipe V to recover the city first and, later, the castle. For this purpose he ordered the excavation of a mine in the bowels of Mount Benacantil (on which the fortress is based) and to fill it with gunpowder, a task that was carried out between December of that year and February 28, 1709.

Prepared the strategy to break the mountain into a thousand pieces, as well as those who took refuge in the castle (the English and a few Austrians), offered to the commander of these, Richards, both to leave the place for good and, after his negative, check that there really was a mine full of explosives prepared to cause chaos, to which they also refused. Made the decision, D’Asfeld ordered, on March 4 of the same year, to vacate the houses surrounding Mount Benacantil, and then proceed with what he had already announced: the lighting of the mine and the consequent explosion.

The bulwark, the governor’s house and hundreds of tons of rocks were thrown by the air. Richards himself and several of his men, who were in the bulwark, lost their lives in the detonation, which did not have the dimensions that D’Asfeld expected. In addition, about four hundred houses are estimated to have been buried under the avalanche of rocks that caused the explosion. The survivors of the castle were evacuated from the city, on April 19, by an English garrison.

With the capture of Santa Bárbara Castle, Felipe V de Borbón recovered the last place in Valencian geography that had been in the possession of his rival, Carlos de Austria.