The Valencian Community never ceases to amaze, and there always seems to be one more little gem of a place which only get spoilt by tourism when people like me write about them.
You won’t find it on many maps, and there aren’t any traffic signs to help you find it until you arrive, and yet Mascarell is the only completely walled town in the whole of the Valencian Community; a minature version of its elder brothers Lugo or Ávila.
I’ll probably be censored for telling you this, because I’m sure that it must be a state secret, but you can find this unusual village just outside Nules (in the province of Castellón) on the road to Burriana.
Don’t expect the Tourist Information Office to be very helpful, because there isn’t one, and if you want to find a bank in order to get some money to buy souvenirs, then don’t bother asking where it is as it’s a porta-cabin, so it could be anywhere and could be open any day, but almost certainly any other day, not today.
There’s a car park in front of the main of the two gates, and parking inside the walls is in theory prohibited, although you won’t find many policeman to fine you, so it’s up to you.
The only bar is just on the left as you go in, and inside you’re as likely to find customers in their pyjamas as fully clothed, as the bar seems to be an extension of everyone’s home. In fact, it brought back memories of the film ‘Deliverance’, and had somebody brought out a banjo, they wouldn’t have seen my heels for dust.
Don’t worry if people stare at you when you go inside, as you are likely to be the only entertainment all week; and try not to trip over the firewood that is sprawled across the floor.
There is a church, which proudly claims to be ‘Casa de Dios y Puerta Del Cielo’ (the House of God and Heaven’s gate), although as far as I know Michael Cimino didn’t film many scenes from that epic flop here).
There’s also a plaque on a wall in the main square celebrating the arrival of plumbing in 1993, which makes me wonder what they did before.
There are various little shrines on walls scattered around the village, although even one of those was closed, as was the local school, which seems to have been the victim of a demographic nose dive, which is strange because it’s the kind of place that some British family will inevitably find and open a rural hotel and bowling club or something similar.
Expansion however will have to wait, as there are no houses outside the walls, where the cemetery is the only place to stay, and therefore the present 400 residents are apparently happy with their situation.
If you look closely at the walls, built with mortar, earth and brick, you can see the Arab influence, and in fact the town was built as a result of the expulsion of the Moors from Burriana in 1310. The harassment of the Moorish population by Valencia’s first Christian King, Jaime I, explains why the Moors felt the need to quickly knock up a wall that seems to give psychological rather than military protection, especially as the land all around is completely flat. In fact, many attribute the defensive walls to King Jaime himself, and probably he added to the defensive positions himself after the Moors were expelled.
And in fact the Moors were expelled from Spain completely by 1492 with the conquest of Granada, and Mascarell went into decline until the 18th century.
The defensive towers are still quite impressive and the fortification used to have a moat, part of which is now used as irrigation channels for the orange orchards that surround the village.
Very few walled cities conserve their ancient splendour; even Àvila was on the point of demolishing its walls to make way for urban development in the years after modern artillery made such walls irrelevant, but before mass tourism made them an attraction.
In Mascarell, the walls seem to define the nature of the people, who like islanders, seem to be quite autonomous, and not especially impressed by somebody who found their town quite impressive.