Whilst enjoying a Sunday drive in the mountains and valleys of the Marina Alta, stop and take a look at the local parish churches. Strong, stone built religious temples with fortified metal doors, these ancient churches still hold their medieval Mudejar tradition in their materials such as brick, rammed earth and plaster.

Sober and subtle, their outer building designs follow the formal language of the classical Herrerian tradition, which dominated Spain in the late 16th and 17th centuries and was defined by clean and sober façades and attention to geometrical precision.

However, each parish church displays a different Baroque curvilinear parapet, a wall-like barrier at the edge of a roof or structure. Some even have an oval or round ocular window on their façades, thanks to the 18th century Baroque upgrades supported by Juan de Ribera, Archbishop and Viceroy of Valencia.

Let's take a closer look at these unique and stylish parish churches of the Marina Alta region...

* Report by Arts Historian and Educator , Karla Darocas, Hons. B.A. (
* Copyright photos and text : Karla Darocas 2018 *


During his archdiocese that lasted 34 years, Juan de Ribera erected more than 200 parish churches and sponsored the installation of more than 83 convents of different religious orders.

The top architects in the counter-reformation Baroque era in the Marina Alta were the Franciscan friars. Their knowledge of mathematics and geometry was recognized and their opinions were respected.

Due to the rural and rough lifestyle of the Franciscans, their architecture is characterized by having defensive structures for civil protection during times of raids. The existing defensive towers are turned into bell towers.

Architect friars worked with local craftsmen, stonemasons, carpenters, blacksmiths and other artists who were integrated into the building or reconstruction tasks. The friars worked for free, hence saving money in the communities. They also controlled the workmanship and supervised the quality of the materials.


Benimaurell, a village in the municipality of Vall de Laguart, in the Marina Alta region, was the epicenter of the Valencian Moriscos uprising in 1609. After their surrender they were expelled to north Africa through the Port of Denia.

On June 14, 1611 , Vall de Laguart was repopulated by farmers from the island of Mallorca, descendants of the old Catalan settlers.

In the center of the town is the parish church of San Cosme and San Damián; dedicated to twin brother physicians and Christian martyrs. Legend says that in 1581, the skulls of these martyrs were sent to Madrid by Maria, daughter of  Emperor Charles V, as a gift to the Franciscan Poor Clares and are housed in their convent.

So, here we have a connection to the Franciscan Order who loved their Euclidean curvilinear lines.

This parish church at Benimaurell is ancient and sits on a Moslem mosque's foundation. The current church dates back to the end of the 16th century and seems to be the first in the area to be rebuilt, probably to accommodate the new Mallorcan population.

Rising up from the facade is an elegant parapet with descending concave and convex Euclidean curvilinear lines, which from the side you can see supports a thick defensive wall.

The need for the continued use of defensive walls and structures was due to the fact that the expelled Moriscos were often coming back to their old homes and raiding the new settlers. Some say that many Moriscos never left the area but hid in the caves that dot the region. In fact the Spanish etymological origin of the word "Vall" is cave.

The portal is in defensive tin and above it is a window with a rounded Renaissance arch but a Gothic pointed frame. I can only speculate the reason why but since the date marks a period of transition from Gothic to Renaissance, perhaps the Gothic frame is a reminder.

The bell tower really shows its Medieval age and was never plastered over like the church. It has arrow slits, which are narrow vertical windows from which town defenders launched arrows. These are also referred to as loopholes, arrow loops or bow loops.


Campell is also in the municipality of Vall de Laguart, in the district of Marina Alta.

The parish church in Campell is dedicated to Santa Ana (Saint Ann) and was most likely reformed about 1700. Like all of the parish churches in the Marina Alta, it too is ancient and sits on a Muslim mosque foundation.

Once again, we see the minimalist Herrerian facade with its high walls, which was favoured by the fortified parish churches, with just a basic, but big, latin cross on the front. The small square side windows are again of Herrerian style and suggestive of the fortification of this temple.

The Baroque parapet here is a bite more rounded and adorned with pyramids, another sign of the basic geometric shapes offered by the Herrerian style.

There is a Baroque style ocular window above the door offering subtle illumination to the interior space.

The bell tower has been plastered. There is a preserved arrow slit on the front of the tower, a reminder of its medieval fortification.

On the side, under the plaster, are the ancient stone buttresses, left raw so  you can see the materials.


The parish church of San Juan Bautista was upgraded in 1730. It can be found in the town of Beniarbeig, located ten kilometers from the sea, at the foot of the Sierra de Segaria and crossed by the river Girona.

In terms of human settlement, 7th century artifacts of the Iberian culture have been found in Beniarbeig and history suggests that this town was a recreational resort in Roman times.

San Juan Bautista, Saint John the Baptist, stands in a Romanized niche above the fortified door of this parish church. A relief of a stone Latin cross decorates the facade. A stained glass window of John perches above the statue, noting the end of the Herrerian non-coloured glass favoured by that era.

The Baroque curviliear parapet has three fluted ornaments on top and from the side you can see just how thick is this piece of fortification, in order to add an extra level of protection.

The side bell tower has been incorporated into the facade with matching ashlar stone blocks with one arrow slit. The top has been extended to house the bells in Mudejar brick stylized with pilasters and decorative frieze and cornice.


The parish church of the Immaculate Conception is found in Parcent, a village in the Vall de Pop. The Roman name of the village was Fundus Parcennii. It was Arab held farming land until it was conquered by Jaime I around 1248 and distributed among his nobles as a reward for their help.

The parish of Parcent was created in 1535 by converted Moors. The church was an old mosque enabled for Christian worship. In 1529, the village was sacked by the Barbarossa pirates, led by the famous Khayrad'din Barbarossa or Redbeard.

After the expulsion of the Moriscos in 1609, anarchy, looting and suffering occurred during various rebellions and the church was left neglected and deteriorated.

In 1630, it was completely demolished and a new church was constructed and completed on April 30, 1638.

In the year 1734, due to an increase in population, the temple was enlarged. In the attic of the Baroque curvilinar parapet is an eight pointed star - eight traditionally being the number of regeneration. There is also a Baroque oval ocular window. The Latin cross appears to be metal of some sort.

The door has attached pilasters on either side of it made from sandstone or "tosca" from Jávea.

The defense tower, with one arrow slit, was plastered over in 1929 and again restored in 1949.


The parish church  Nativity of Our Lady is located in the Vall de Pop area of the Marina Alta. The name comes from the Arab word "al-Kala-li" (meaning " the small Castle "). The village was conquered around 1248 by Jaime I, who reserved it for the Crown

Around 1534, when the new parishes were being constructed for the Moors, who were converted to Christians and called Moriscos, the Mosque of Alcalalí would become a first Christian hermitage.

Later, at the time of the expulsion of 1609, the Moriscos sacked the temple and left it in a ruinous state.

In 1610, in an effort to repopulate the area, the first baron of Alcalalí, Ximén Roís de Liori, sent out letters to families from Altea, Barcelona, Benissa, Bocairent, Calpe, Finestrat, Murla, Mutxamel, Polop and Valencia offering land for resettlement.

By 1624, the parish was able to start their first "Quinque libri", a book that collect the most important sacramental acts in the life of a Christian: baptism, communion, confirmation, marriage and death.

In 1768, the church had to be enlarged and this is when we get to see the addition of a curvilinear parapet and the front was plastered and made to look like ashlar blocks. The rest of the church is still very much Mudejar with packed stone and flat clay bricks. On the side, you can see what looks like the remains of an ocular window, that was filled in.

This curviliear parapet is a bit different than the others in the fact that it is more arabesque, perhaps as a reminder of its past.

The portal is flanked by two stone ionic pilasters and topped with a stone frame tympanum. Above that is a Herrerian window in the attic of the parapet.

From 1806 -1808, the bell tower was finished, the bells were installed and the wind vane was added. This bell tower contained an important Gothic bell. During the Spanish Civil War it was partially destroyed and rebuilt around 1961.


The Marina Alta region of Alicante, bordering onto Valencia, is rich in history and natural beauty. Now that you have learned about some of the historical architecture of the region, you will enjoy your day trip even more!

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REPORT BY: Karla Darocas, Hons. B.A. Fine Arts (

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