The castles of the Kingdom of Aragon (II)

© Luis Zueco

Our next stop on the route takes us back to the late medieval period, when the eastern border of the Kingdom of Aragon was less exposed, because both Valencia and Catalonia were part of the Crown of Aragon. This led to the emergence of other types of castles in this area, influenced by Mediterranean typologies and with a more palatial air, although without giving up their warlike characteristics.

            The Castle of Valderrobres, in the Matarraña Valley is a Gothic construction built on top of an earlier Muslim castle known as "La Peña de Azna Lagaya". In the fourteenth century it became part of the archbishopric of Zaragoza. Archbishop García Fernández de Heredia rebuilt it between the years 1392-1411. It was later expanded and was again renovated by Don Hernando de Aragón who added the large kitchen that it now contains.

It has a hexagonal floor plan, without elevated towers and a marked palatial air. On the main facade there are three crenellated towers, with only a decorative function, between which runs a walker.

The access door is in a semicircular arch crowned with a shield of Archbishop Don García Fernández de Heredia, which reinforces its noble air. This is reinforced by the fact that all its facades have windows, among which the geminated ones decorated with coats of arms that illuminate the chapter hall stand out.

Its interior distribution is organized as rooms around a courtyard, among which the church and several rooms stand out.

The whole town has a medieval feel to it, but its stone bridge and the San Roque gateway are particularly noteworthy.

 

Following our route, at the beginning of the 12th century, King Alfonso I el Batallador conquered Zaragoza and advanced to the other side of the Ebro Valley. The Aragonese borders increased and it was necessary to resort to the Military Orders to defend them. The Castle of the Calatravos in Alcañiz, was a defensive enclave of vital importance for the defence of Lower Aragon.

Throughout history, this monument has been a castle, palace, prison, barracks, cemetery and residence. And today it is a magnificent Parador Hotel.

The oldest part of the castle corresponds to the Homage Tower and the Chapel, from the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th century, with one of the most important medieval pictorial sets in Aragon and, inside the chapel, the alabaster tomb of Juan de Lanuza, a work commissioned by Damian Forment in 1537.

In the 14th century, the cloister and a series of rooms arranged around it were built.

During the 18th century it underwent a major reform in which the old medieval castle was transformed into a palace with a large façade built in 1738, flanked by two large square towers and accessed by a sentry path and a ramp resulting from the 19th century reform.

In the town centre we can visit part of the walls that defended the city, the mysterious medieval passages and the fish market.

          In medieval times, Aragon not only had to defend the border between Teruel and the Kingdom of Valencia, but also with the Crown of Castile. In the second half of the 14th century, the most important war between Christian kingdoms took place, known as the War of the Two Peters: Peter I of Castile, the Cruel; and Peter IV of Aragon, the Ceremonious.

            The western border of Aragon was fortified as never before and its most important fortress was located in the Jiloca Valley, the red castle: Peracense.

We know of its existence in 1284 as it was one of the bases for King Peter III to organize the conquest of the lordship of Albarracín. It was built in local Rhodesian stone, which gives it its spectacular reddish colour. On top of a rocky hill, it blends in so well with the mountain that it is difficult to distinguish where the rock ends and the castle begins.

It has three clearly differentiated and concentric areas, for a total of 4,000 square meters of surface. Inside, there are rooms such as the stables and a swimming pool.

The first enclosure consists of a large parade ground flanked by a tower. The church could have been located under this tower. The last enclosure is a tower with an access by means of a cantilevered staircase, which stands out for its rainwater collection system by means of channels sculpted in the rock, which led the water to cisterns.        

The last stop on the route takes us to the Levante gate, to the southernmost border of Aragon. According to legend, Mora de Rubielos was conquered by King Alfonso II of Aragon with the help of the archangel San Miguel, patron saint of the town. The Mora de Rubielos Castle, the fortress of the Fernández de Heredia family, stands proudly there. A castle palace built in the 14th century by Juan Fernández de Heredia.

The Fernández de Heredia family created the lordship of Mora in 1370, to which Mora de Rubielos belonged, until in 1614 its castle was converted into a Franciscan convent.

            This castle shows a powerful aspect, built in ashlar, of rectangular plant, flanked by four towers of machicolation style, of different plant, one octogonal, another hexagonal and the other two square. The hexagonal one, located in the west corner, could be the one of the Homage and it houses the church.

The building is structured on two upper levels and numerous underground rooms. It has two entrances, one defended by a moat and the other by an intramural ramp, arranged in a zigzag and with numerous loopholes.

The rooms of the building revolve around an open courtyard with a gallery formed by arches on octagonal columns. Around this courtyard, on the ground floor, the rooms are distributed, among which the chapel and, to the honor of its lords, the coat of arms of the Fernández de Heredia family, with numerous rooms and doors, stand out. On the upper floor were the rooms and in the basements the stables, barns and dungeon.

            One of the most characteristic elements of this castle is the proliferation of stonecutter's marks, which give rise to a multitude of legends; augmented by the existence of an enigmatic spiral staircase. Both elements are described in the novel The 33rd Step.

            Mora de Rubielos also preserves important remains of its walls, gates and its collegiate church.

Where does the route take place?

  • Castillo de Valderrobres
  • Castillo de los Calatravos en Alcañiz.
  • Castillo de Peracense
  • Castillo Mora de Rubielos

This route links with

The castles of the Kingdom of Aragon (I)

© Luis Zueco This route of seven castles takes us through the expansion of Aragon in the Mid[...]

Know castles and palaces in this route

The Castle-Palace of Valderrobres is a Gothic work built between the 14th and 15th centuries by the archbishop of Zaragoza, feudal lord of the area, who used the castle as a temporary residence. It was built with the parish church during the same period and both buildings were united by a passage that allowed getting to the tribune built over a lateral chapel inside the church.

The set of buildings preside the town. We can get to the castle area through two different doors. The first one is located next to the church, and the other one is under the passage which communicates both buildings. Crossing those doors, we first arrive to the parade ground, which was originally surrounded by a wall.

The castle is an irregular polygonal ground plant building and It was built surrounding a rocky hill. The builders used the mountain rocks as a quarry and gained that way new space in each floor up to the last where still today you can see the top of the hill.

On the ground floor we can find the stables with the servant’s rooms. The main floor features the kitchen, the pantries, a necessary one, the great hall of the chimneys, the library and the private rooms of the archbishop. On the upper floors are the oil stores, galleries and granaries and finally the round passage flanked by battlements, merlons and towers.

Do you dream of turning back time and spending the night in a castle high above a lovely town filled with history and tradition? Make your dream come true at the Parador de Alcañiz. Unique landscapes, architectural heritage, tradition, adventure sports, hunting, cuisine, and more. It all starts here.

This castle/monastery dates from the 12th-13th centuries. The keep, belfry, sacristy and a section converted into an Aragonese palace have all been preserved. Contemplating its Gothic wall paintings, Plateresque sepulcher and baroque façade or strolling through the peaceful garden offer many pleasures for your senses.

The Teruel town of Alcañiz conceals secrets beyond your wildest imagination. You will be astonished by the beauty of its medieval underground passageways, the Fountain of 72 Spouts and the Gothic Lonja (market). It is also a place for fun. The MotorLand Aragón track offers a place for sports like autocross, karting and motocross, as well as competitions such as the MotoGP Grand Prix of Aragón.

Another appealing option? Grab your bicycle and head to the Val de Zafán greenway, less than an hour from town. You will find a secluded route that travels along old train tracks which have been adapted for cycling tourism and horseback riding, crossing the Matarraña, a river of spectacular ravines and magical waterfalls. If history is your thing, the province of Teruel offers more than 70 cave painting sites. You can also view examples of this form of artistic expression in Alcañiz. 

Don't leave without introducing your palate to the exquisite local cured ham, black truffles, olive oil from the Bajo Aragón region, saffron from Jiloca and traditional sweets. Close your eyes, breathe deep, relax and enjoy, because this is a one-of-a-kind experience.

The castle of Peracense is located on the top of a rocky, very steep cliff of reddish sandstone, known as rodeno. The use of this stone for the construction of the fort makes it possible to obtain a totally integrated set in the landscape.

The defensive system of Peracense is made up of three precincts, which take advantage of the topography of the terrain to form an impregnable enclave.

The upper enclosure houses the core of the fortress, this being the place where the main residence is located, which was occupied by the warden and his family. In addition, this enclosure housed the armory and one of the dungeons, and to ensure the water supply was enabled a collection and storage system, with the presence of two tanks.

In the fourteenth century, the intermediate enclosure was built, with an irregular layout, following the shape of the rocks, with the function of protecting the weakest points of the upper enclosure. Inside, most of the spaces occupied by the garrison attached to the castle, such as bedrooms, kitchens or the chapel, would be located.

But the castle continued growing, in its eagerness to protect itself of the Castilian incursions, reason why the inferior enclosure was constructed. It is the most powerful walled structure of the entire fortification, a wall of up to 3 m. of thickness and a plant in L, reinforced with three turrets, and equipped with numerous loopholes. It was designed to shelter the villagers and their flocks in the large existing esplanade.

The space, which currently occupies the fortified area, has been inhabited since the Bronze Age to the present, possibly due to the mining wealth of the area.

Castle-Palace of the Fernández de Heredia family, XIV century (Mediterranean Gothic style).

The largest castle you can imagine.

Mora de Rubielos Castle is a representative building of the Mediterranean Gothic style situated in the highest part of the town, on a rocky hill.

The Castle is a solid stone construction built on an irregular, quadrangular ground plan with four fortified towers, a porticoed parade ground and a cloister gallery. It covers an area of 4,300 sq m (67 by 65 m). The Castle can be accessed through a zig-zag ramp with loopholes (long narrow windows through which arrows could be fired against attackers) along its length, which reveal the castle’s former defensive function. After going through the gate, a slight slope with some steps leads us to:

Porticoed parade ground (cloister when the building was used as a convent). It covers an area of 1,400 sq m (38 by 37 m). Its ground plan is a slightly irregular square, surrounded by pointed arches of different sizes. Some of the capitals are decorated with animals or monsters, but they are badly damaged.

Stables. They are in the basement that can be accessed through an oblique arch next to the angle formed by the walls, going down a slight slope with steps which once was a dirt slope. At the bottom, we get to a large space where there used to be troughs.

Stonemasons’ marks: These can still be seen engraved on some of the keystones that form the transverse arches situated closer to the entrance, as well as in some other rooms of the castle. They are the “signature” of the stonemasons who shaped these stones.

Great dining room or multi-purpose room, depending on whether it was a time of peace or war at the castle, something quite common in medieval times.

Antechamber, which could have possibly been used as an armoury, a scriptorium or a dressing room. Nowadays, this room hosts part of the Ethnographic Museum, where you can see different pieces which have been obtained in Mora de Rubielos.

Main bedroom in the castle of the Fernández de Heredia family. This chamber is inside the east tower. The walls are very thick here, something that can be appreciated in the thickness of the window, as well as in the reinforced ceiling, with twice as many beams as normally needed.

The dungeon. It used to be a high security prison. The Great Stairway, Outside tower and gate, Spiral Staircase, The Sacristy (when the castle was used as a convent), The Great Hall (with an area of 284 sq m), The Well, First and Second Level Basements, The Burial Crypt, The Crypt and The Chapel.

The Castle was awarded the status of National Monument in 1931 and Mora de Rubielos was declared a national heritage site in 1978. Restoration works in the castle began in 1972 with the removal of debris and the cleaning and consolidation of arches and structures.

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