Teruel, the border and bridge between the Ebro valley and the Spanish east coast

As a result of the dry climate, springtime and autumn are delicious

Teruel, the border and bridge between the Ebro valley and the Spanish east coast

Teruel, the border and bridge between the Ebro valley and the Spanish east coast, has a countryside of impressive grandeur in its 14,804 square kilometres. The elements of nature vary greatly, ranging from the mountains of Albarracin to the flat, olive-grove region of Alcaņiz. As a result of the dry climate, springtime and autumn are delicious; the summers are fresh and it is therefore a holiday area in that season; the winters are cold and provide many possibilities for winter sports. The capital on the banks of the Turia lies on the railway between Saragossa and Valencia from which it is separated by a distance of 188 and 163 kilometres, respectively. One kilometre from the capital, the Institute for the Promotion of Tourism in Spain has a modem, comfortable Parador. There is another Parador in Alcaņiz.

Its remote origins are hidden in the darkness of prehistoric times, proof of which are its stone-age paintings, stones and ceramics. Later Teruel was on a Roman road, In the 12C (1171) it was reconquered by Alfonso II of Aragón who took it from the Muslims. Five years later it was granted a far - reaching, very liberal fuero or code of laws which made it possible for the Muslim population to live peacefully in the company of the Christians and to develop the creative skills leading to the Mudéjar style. The historical tradition of the Teruel Lovers (=Amantes) dates from the beginning of the 13C. The architectural treasures of the Teruel Mudéjar style, which is still preserved in the city today, come from that and the following century.

The Legendary City Of The Amantes

The city of Teruel lies on a hillock surrounded by a deep natural moat at a height of 920m. The story of the Teruel Lovers has made it famous, and it has become an obligatory stop-over place for couples who have just married. The events took place in the 13C. It was the tragic love story of Diego de Marcilla and Isabel de Segura, which inspired literary and sculpted works of art of great quality inside and outside Spain. In the Church of San Pedro there is the Chapel of Los Santos Médicos where the bodies of the Lovers were buried and then exhumed in 1555. Today they lie in a lovely mausoleum built by Juan de Avalos in a chapel attached to the church.

It is said that in the first years of the 13C there were two young people - Diego de Marcilla and Isabel de Segura - who lived in Teruel and whose youthful friendship turned into love. When Diego asked for her hand, he was refused since as the second son he had no right to the family fortune. He managed to obtain a five-year period in which to make himself rich, but returned on the very last day of that period. Isabel had married the brother of the powerful lord of Albarracín. Diego found a way of entering the wedding suite and asked Isabel for a kiss which she denied him. On the following day the funeral ceremonies were held in the Church of San Pedro. A woman in mourning approached the coffin and threw herself on Diego's dead body after which she died: Isabel had given her dead lover the kiss which she had denied him when he was alive.

Teruel Mudéjar

The Teruel moriscos (= baptized Moors) always stood out in the art of ceramics and construction. They made Teruel the centre of the most beautiful Mudéjar buildings in the whole region and hence in Spain. In the course of the centuries, Teruel has lost nothing of its Mudéjar character and of the gracefulness accompanying this beautiful Hispano-Muslim style, to the point that the Mudéjar features are clear landmarks in the urban scenery. The Cathedral, as of old called Santa Maria de Media Villa, was built in the 12C, refomed in the 13C and turned into a Cathedral in the 16C. It has a surprising exterior: it consists of skilfully worked brick and has an outstanding square and slender tower. It is influenced by the Romanesque, very elegant and in the Mudéjar style with ceramic decoration. Also remarkable, the lantern which dates from the 16C is a successful blend of the Mudéjar style and Renaissance elements. Inside the layout of the nave, aisles and crossing follow the Gothic Mudéjar pattern, but the marvellous coffered ceiling is a masterpiece of the latter style. Its varied decorative contents is a sculpted chronicle of expressive medieval vivacity. Also remarkable are the Gothic choir screen, a wrought-iron Teruel masterpiece from the end of the 15C, and the 16C Plateresque main reredos by the French sculptor Gabriel Joly.

Another very important example of Mudéjar architecture is the Church of San Pedro. The ornamentation of its brick tower, a twin of the Cathedral tower, is typical 13C Mudéjar as is the lovely 14C apse. Inside, the eye is attracted by the huge Renaissance reredos carved out of wood and the small altar of Los Santos Médicos, a skilful work of art by Gabriel Joly. The lovely, elegant San Martín tower is another superb example of the Mudéjar style, where the medieval artists turned the brick and glazed tiles into real filigree full of colour. The tower of El Salvador Church is considered a rival of that of San Martín and is as beautiful and balanced. It stands at the end of a narrow street and has an arch with cross vaulting, through which it is possible to walk. This is one of the most typical pictures of Teruel. These two famous towers, the only ones in their style, are almost identical in structure and profuse Mudéjar ornamentation. In El Salvador church is the curious figure of Christ known as El Cristo de las Tres Manos, an old image which is deeply venerated in the city. La Merced Church has yet another example of 16C Mudéjar: its square tower.

Especially outstanding as examples of civil architecture are La Escalinata and the Teruel Casino with signs of Mudéjar influence. The 16C Casa de la Comunidad is elegantly severe and its Renaissance portal and balconies are combined with the arcade and the characteristic eaves of Aragonese Architecture. In the Ronda de Ambeles, a street, there is a large tower of the same name which is what remains of the former Alcázar or fortress. It is the most interesting military construction in Teruel because of its originality. The octagonal, solid looking Lombardera Tower used to be part of the former city walls. The Portals of La Traición and of La Andaquilla were also part of the defences of the city. Among the many bridges in Teruel, especially interesting from an architectural point of view is the 16C Aqueduct of the Arches, built by the French architect Pierre Vedel. It is an aqueduct and a viaduct because the pillars of the second section are open for people to pass thorugh, thus fulfilling the old regulation of the Teruel Law Code: "Whoever builds an aqueduct must incorporate a bridge".

Next to the Cathedral there is the Episcopal Palace, a typical Aragonese construction which is borne out by the running gallery under the eaves and the 18C portal. Also in its vicinity stands the so called Casa del Deán, a building in the traditional style of Aragonese architecture. Also worthy of a visit are the 15C Gothic Church of San Francisco and the Provincial Museum with very interesting items and large Roman mosaics. The Mudéjar style is widely found in the province: the tower of San Martín Church and the entrance to the sacristy in San Martín del Río; the tower of La Asunción Church in Báguena; the old tower of La Inmaculada Church in Santa Eulalia del Campo; the lovely, famous octagonal tower of La Asunción Church in Muniesa; the Church of Santa María la Mayor in Montalbán, one of the most interesting Mudéjar churches in Aragón, and the tower of La Asunción Church in Albalate del Arzobispo.

The Slerra Of Albarracín

The town of Albarracín, full of narrow streets and reminiscent places, lies on the banks of the River Guadalquivir in the mountains called Montes Universales at a height of 1,170m. It is 37 km from Teruel. In Visigothic times it was known as Santa Maria de Oriente and in the 11C it was an Arab seigniory paying tribute to El Cid Campeador. After that it was independent under the seigniory of the Azagres family who called themselves "vassals of Santa María and lords of Albarracín". Its streets, squares and palaces preserve the medieval atmosphere and style. Its typical character and attraction for tourism is such that as a whole it is officially protected as a sight of national importance. A large part of its powerful walls are still preserved and its 16C Renaissance Cathedral is of great interest. The church has a good collection of Flemish tapestries of the same period. Near the town there are the prehistoric shelters called abrigos of El Callejón and El Navazo with stoneage paintings in the style of the Spanish east coast.

In the mountains we find Bronchales, a summer resort at a height of 1,750 m. There are many springs, and the place is the point of departure for countless excursions to picturesque areas. A ceramic factory of terra sigillatta hispanica dating from the second century before Jesus Christ was discovered in its vicinity. Orihuela del Tremedal is another mountain village at a height of 1,660 m, surrounded by magnificent pine forests. It has a beautiful 18C parish church. The Renaissance grilles and wrought iron of the residential houses are famous. Other villages in these mountains are called Frías de Albarracín, Guadalaviar, Griegos, Villar del Cobo, El Vallecillo, Terriente and Calomarde. There are thousands of hectares of pine forests and meadows, steep canyons and prehistoric caves, countless springs which are the sources of rivers such as the Tagus, Júcar, Guadalaviar or Turia, Cabriel, Jiloca, Gallo, etc. At the source of the Tagus in Fuente García within the township of Frías de Albarracín - next to the place where the three Provinces of Teruel, Cuenca and Guadalajara converge a monument was built in honour of "Father Tagus" by the Teruel sculptor José Gonzalvo.

Lower Aragón

The centre of this region and its fertile orchard lands is Alcañiz with close to 12,000 inhabitants. It lies on the banks of the River Guadalope in the middle of a prosperous agricultural area. The most sumptuous building of the town is the Baroque Collegiate Church of Santa María la Mayor with its impressive portal. On the huge, magnificent square called Plaza de España, the centre of life in Alcañiz and one of the most enchanting Spanish squares, stands the Gothic Lonja (auction hall) in the style of the Italian quatrocentro. The 16C Town Hall has a beautiful Renaissance portal. Of greater importance from an archaeological point of view is its castle, which used to be the seat of the Order of Calatrava in Aragón. The oldest part is 13C Romanesque with paintings of the same period. There are other rooms in the Gothic style with interesting murals. At Valdealgorfa 12 Km from Alcañiz is the Cave of El Charco del Agua Amarga with prehistoric paintings of the most important realistic east coast group in Lower Aragón. Worthy of a visit are Beceite with its countryside of rugged beauty; Valderrobres and its Pena reservoir; Bercel with the Gallipuente reservoir; Molinos and the Palacio de Cristal caves; Calaceite with its sights and lovely urban layout; and for reasons of their paintings, Iberian settlements and archaelogical remains: Alacón, Alcaine, Alcorisa, Alloza, Azaila, Calaceite, Cretas and Mazaleón.

El Maestrazgo

The region of El Maestrazgo in the eastern part of the province consists of high mountains, deep gorges and stark countryside. It is rugged and varied, steep and wild, sweet and attractive: El Maestrazgo with its cyclopean profile resembles a gigantic ship crossing an imaginary sea of rocks with eagles circling above and produces feeling long lost in the darkness of time. There is unforgettable scenery, as for example along the road from Cantavieja to Ejulve passing through Cañada de Benatanduz, Villarluengo, Pitarque and the Organos of Montoro, roads on the edge of tremendous precipices, such as the bed of the River Pitarque with its background of pine forests, meadows, junipers...

Especially outstanding in this region are Cantavieja, Cabrera's impregnable headquarter in the Carlist Wars, with its arcaded square reminiscent of the Middle Ages and the huge church; Iglesuela del Cid with beautiful town houses and a Town Hall on the site of a former fortress; Mirambel, the walled enclosure of which is still preserved; Villarluengo on a rock on the edge of precipice; Beceite, a typical Aragonese village, and the game preserve of the capra hispanica in its township; the area of El Parrizal, one of the most beautiful places in Spain; Peñarroya de Tastavins, which is known as the Albarracin of Lower Aragón because of its beauty; and in the Lower Maestrazgo: Mora de Rubielos with a splendid 12C Gothic Collegiate Church and a castle of the same period, both officially protected as sights of national importance; and Rubielos de Mora, a village completely encircled by a wall, with houses and their coats of arms, a Renaissance church and a convent of Augustine nuns. Alcalá de la Selva is a beautiful summer resort in rugged surroundings. It lies at an altitude of 1,396m and includes the Shrine of La Virgen de la Vega, widely venerated in the region. It has a very lovely, well-kept urban layout and is a good example of how sights and popular architecture should be restored and saved.

River Jiloca

Along the wide, beautiful plain watered by the Jiloca, the following places deserve attention: Luco and its Roman bridge; Calamocha with its residential houses and another Roman bridge; and Cella, a place connected with El Cid, which has a famous fountain of enormous size.

Hunting and Fishing

The province has two large game preserves: one of the Capra hispanica and moufflons in Beceite and another of red deer in the mountains of Albarracín. There are plenty of hares in the plains. Game is plentiful in the whole province, especially quail. Boar is found in great numbers in the sierras of Formiche, Mora, Cantavieja and Valderrobres. There is also a lot of river fish, especially salmon trout in the Rivers Guadalaviar, Guadalope Alto and Apelluz. The marvellous countryside of La Estanca de Alcañiz receives many visitors and there it is possible to shoot wild duck when they migrate south. Winter sports can be practised at the Winter resort of Valdelinares at an altitude of 2,000 m in the Gúdar Sierra. A 20 cannon snow factory has been built to guarantee snow throughout the skiing season. Apart from the normal runs, there are long-distance circuits and a run for sledges.

Gastronomy

The cooking provides food corresponding to the climate, especially grease and meat. In the rural areas the food is based on pork: lean pork (magras) black pudding with rice or onion, etc. The ham from Teruel deserves its good name since the winter cold cures it in a natural way and gives it a special taste. Another two typical Teruel dishes are garlic soup and lamb (cordero a la pastora). As regards desserts, there is a wide, tasty range of sweets made with almond, nut or coconut of exceptional fineness in the region of Alcañiz. The wines are strong, generally rough and have a high alcohol content. From the banks of the Jiloca there are wines of a quality very similar to those of Cariñena. In the Lower Aragón they are more like those from the Priorato with a high alcohol content of between 16 and 19 degrees. A large part of the gin produced in Spain comes from the junipers of the Mosqueruela Sierra.

Fiestas

A part of all the celebrations everywhere in the province is the jota, a typical song and dance performed in a masterly fashion. Other features are the bull, the popular mock bullfights, the bull with balls on its horns or the tied-up bull or even a card-board imitation of a bull which is burnt. In the first fortnight of July, Teruel celebrates its typical Vaquilla del Angel, with numerous attractions, among them especially those related to the bull (the tied-up bull, mock bullfights, popular dances, peñas vaquilleras etc.); a literary contest about the Lovers, the famous Ham Celebrations, which take place in the second of September and centre on this food speciality, and those of St Valentine - February 14th - in praise of the Lovers of Teruel. Around the middle of September Albarracín celebrates El Santo Cristo de la Vega. Also very popular are the typical "Mayos". In the first fortnight of September Alcañiz fairs and celebrations with a romeria (a festive-religious excursion) of the Virgin of Los Pueyos. The Holy Week processions including over 1,500 drums and bassdrums is famous.

Mora de Rubielos and Rubielos de Mora celebrate in September with mock bullfights and bulls with horns adorned with balls. Híjar, Calanda, Alcañiz, La Puebla de Híjar, Andorra, Samper de Calanda and Urrea de Jaén celebrate Holy Week with processions, drum sessions and drum contests. The Holy Week celebrations in Híjar are officially qualified as of interest to national tourism.

Handicrafts

The Teruel ceramics tradition has not been lost in our days. It used to be very famous in the 13C and 14C. Lovely examples of that period can be found in the Provincial Museum and in private collections. Teruel has been declaraed a Pilot Province of the Crafts. Representative crafts are among others ceramics, wrought iron, marquetry, wicker, embossing and textiles.

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