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Vila Vella, or Old Town, is a protected national monument and one of the most-visited sites along the entire Costa Brava. Located in lovely Tossa de Mar, which is perfectly situated around 60 miles from both Barcelona to the north and the French border to the south, Vila Vella is the only existing medieval walled city to be found on the Catalan coast. It boasts fortified walls, seven towers, three massive gates and the remains of an enchanting 12th-century castle that is locally known as Castillo de Tossa de Mar.

A Bit of History

In 966, the area fell under the control of the Benedictine abbot Santa Maria de Ripoll, and construction began on the fortified towers and city walls of Vila Vella in the 12th century right after the abbot officially restored rights back to the city. The structure was completed by the 14th century, and it was wisely built on Mt. Guardi with its back to the sea for the excellent protections offered by the steep cliffs on the coast side and by the city walls on the land side. As time marched on, the fortified city of Vila Vella provided protection from would-be enemies until the time of danger had passed, and the city began to be built up outside of the walls. The city walls found new purpose in 1951 as the backdrop of the popular Ava Gardner film, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, and both Vila Vella and all of Tossa de Mar have been popular with tourists from around the world since that time.

Vila Vella Highlights

Visitors are free to explore the charming narrow cobblestone paths that are found throughout the interior of Vila Vella, and each path leads to something extraordinary. The remains of the Gothic-style old church of Saint Vincent are of note, and this area is often the site of open-air performances. There are also remains of a Romanesque-style church. Other features include the Municipal Museum, a medieval hospital, the House of Holy Cloth, the 36-foot-tall functioning Lighthouse El Far and a life-size sculpture of Ava Gardner from the film that made the area famous. Many other historic remains, quaint restaurants, bars and shopping opportunities are found at various points as well.

Not much remains of the castle, which was built in the space where the lighthouse now stands, but the views from the castle site are absolutely the very best. Castillo de Tossa de Mar was once a grand castle within the walls of Vila Vella that served to house and protect its residents, and visitors may still admire the standing cannons that point out over the cliffs and were once used for defense against pirates and other enemies. The Torre del Castel also still stands, and it's the remains of a great round tower that once fortified the old castle.

Those who don't mind heights may also climb up a staircase to the ramparts of the city wall for an incredible walking tour. Stunning views are enjoyed from this high vantage point, and the walk leads visitors to each of the most popular towers. These include the Torre d'en Joanas, which offers an excellent view of the bay; the Torre of the Codolar, which overlooks the gorgeous beach of the same name and the Tower of the Hours, which is found at the courtyard entrance. It received its name thanks to being the historical home of the public clock.

Ways to Explore

Visitors should be advised that the walk up to Vila Vella is considered moderate and not friendly to wheelchairs or strollers. Fortunately, there is a train available to deliver those who are unable to make the walk to the site. Private tours are available, and visitors may also choose to take as long as they like to explore Vila Vella on their own.