The town of Roses lies on the Catalan coast at the north end of the Gulf of Roses, near the eastern end of the Pyrenees mountain range. It was founded by Greek colonists in the 4th century BC and later became part of the Roman Empire. The Gulf of Roses offered a good place for ships to shelter from bad weather and Roses benefitted from the sea trade. However, the sea also brought enemies, including the French and the constant threat from the Barbary Pirates of the North African coast. For this reason, Roses was fortified throughout its history. The town's walls were strengthened in the early 15th century.
In 1543 Emperor Charles V'visited Roses and ordered that a modern fortress be built there, to form part of the defences against France (although the frontier was some distance to the north at this point) and to guard against landings by pirates and other hostile powers. In 1544 an engineer called Luis Pizaño drew up plans for a bastioned'trace around the town and a coastal fort, the Castell de la Trinitat, to the east. Work was started but Pizaño died in 1550 and the project was taken over by Pietro Jacopo Cataneo, who modified Pizaño's plans slightly. He moved the land gate from the west curtain to be in the left flank of the north bastion, altering the pentagonal form of the fortress. Another engineer, Jian Battista Calvi, took over in 1553. When the work was almost complete, Barbary Pirates made a worryingly successful attack on Roses, which resulted in modifications being made to the angle of the glacis. The fortifications were largely complete by the 1560s, but work continued until the 1570s.
Roses was surrounded by a trace of five bastions, with demi-lunes'on all sides apart from the south side, which faces the sea. There was a wide ditch, which was partially flooded, and a covered way. To reinforce the Bastion Sant Jaume, which was vulnerable because it faced the higher ground to the east, Calvi had a lunette'built in front of it. There were two gates, the Puerta del Mar on the south side and the Puerta del Terra in the left flank of the Bastion Sant Andreu, which was a double flank, presumably to offer more protection to the gate.
The Castell de la Trinitat was a four-pointed star-shaped work built on the rocky heights to the east of Roses, 60 metres (200 feet) above sea level. It was built on a slope, with three different levels, the highest towards the land, the lowest towards the sea. On the lowest level there were guns in casemates as well as on the platform. Most of the fort's guns pointed out to sea, to counter a naval threat, but there were also guns on the landward side. Despite being dominated by the heights to the east, the Castell de la Trinitat was a strong work, as was demonstrated by its performance during the various attacks it suffered.
The defence system of Roses was completed by watchtowers built in the late 16th century at Cape Norfeu (to the east of Roses at the northern extremity of the bay) and at Montgó and l'Escala (at the south end of the bay). Although these towers were armed with cannon, their main function was to warn the garrison of Roses of an attack.
During the construction of the fortress some of the houses in the town had to be demolished and the townspeople resented having soldiers quartered in their homes. In an attempt to end this friction, barracks were built for the garrison in 1598, but even so the 17th century saw the inhabitants gradually moving out and building houses outside the walls on the east side of the fortress.
The first test of the fortifications of Roses came during the Thirty Years War when the French, encouraged by the Catalans, who were revolting against Spain, invaded Catalonia. The French took Perpignan and Collioure in 1642 and advanced south to help the Catalan rebels, but Roses was bypassed and the French came back to it in 1645. A French army, assisted by a naval flotilla, laid siege to the fortress. They attacked from the west, where the ground was flat and wet, but out of range of the guns of the Castell de la Trinitat. The garrison held out for nearly two months before the French beat their way to the walls and forced them to capitulate. The Castell de la Trinitat and the watchtowers surrendered a week later.
Roses was returned to Spain in 1659 by the Treaty of the Pyrenees, by which Roussillon was given to France, putting Roses much closer to the frontier. During their occupation, the French carried out some improvements to the fortifications. This work was directed by the engineer Agencourt and the main improvement was the construction of two lunettes, protecting the Bastions Sant Andreu and Sant Jordi.
In 1693, during the Nine Years War, the French again attacked across the frontier and attacked Roses. This time, the attack was made from the east. The garrison was small, poorly equipped and low in morale and the fortress surrendered after only a week of siege operations. Roses was returned to Spain four years later by the Treaty of Rijswijk'in 1697.
Roses experienced a period of peace for almost a century until the French Revolutionary Wars broke out in the 1790s. During the 18th century walls were built to connect the lunettes and demi-lunes, forming a continuous outer line of defence and a coastal battery was built below the Castell de la Trinitat. In 1794 the nearby fortress of San Fernando in Figueras surrendered to the French, who moved to lay siege to Roses in November. After resisting throughout the winter, being resupplied by ships, the garrison was evacuated by sea in February 1795. Roses was returned to Spain by the Peace of Basel later that year.
In 1808 Napoleon declared war on Spain and again the French laid siege to Roses. The Spanish garrison, assisted by British ships and marines (from the Imperieuse, commanded by Cochrane) who garrisoned the Castell de la Trinitat, held out for a month before surrendering. In 1814 the French retreated north of the Pyrenees and slighted the fortifications of Roses and the Castell de la Trinitat as they left.
The fortifications remained in their ruined state during the 19th century and plans were made to demolish them and urbanise the area in the early 20th century. Work on the demolition began in 1916 but was stopped when archeological remains of the Greek settlement were discovered. The fortress of Roses (often erroneously referred to as the citadel'of Roses) was classified as a historic monument in 1961 and extensive excavations and some restoration has taken place.
The fortress represents an interesting archeological phenomenon, with remains of the Greek and Roman settlements, as well as medieval buildings, all contained within the 16th and 17th century bastioned fortifications. A museum at the Puerta del Mar has been created to explain the history of Roses and display some of the archeological finds from the site.
Entry to the museum and the fortress costs 3 € (as of 2010), although the outworks and the covered way can be visited for free at any time. The museum is not extensive, but it does present the site well and guides are available in English and French as an alternative to the Spanish-only information boards. The visitor is free to wander around the fortress and the remains of the Greek, Roman and medieval settlements. The fortifications were slighted by the French in 1814 and never repaired, so some sections are not in good condition. However, this has the benefit of revealing how the walls were constructed. The Bastion Sant Jaume has been partially repaired so as to show the counterforts and buttresses that were used behind the main wall, which are invisible on most fortresses.
The Castell de la Trinitat was slighted by Cochrane's British marines when they left in 1808 but also by the French in 1814, so it was in bad condition before restoration work began recently. The fort will be open to the public when this restoration has been completed, but currently it is only possible to see the fort from a distance. The fort is about 2.5km (1.5 miles) from the fortress in Roses.
The tower on Cap Norfeu was slighted by the French in the 17th century, but the lower half survives. It can be reached by walking along Cap Norfeu, which is about 11km (7 miles) along the coast road running east from Roses.