Route of the Knights Templar
Old Lleida Cathedral
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The mystery of the Knights Templar
Until the church authorities ordered its dissolution in 1312, the mysterious Knights Templar owned vast properties in the region of Aragón, Catalonia and Valencia for nearly two centuries. On the way to the Mediterranean, a group of castles, fitted out as visitor centres, will help us to understand more about who these soldier monks were.
The town of Monzón is the starting point of this route, for which we'll need our own car (it covers 25 kilometres in total) and two or three days at least. On the top of a hill we can find the magnificent Moorish origin castle, rebuilt by the Knights Templar in the 12th century. King James I of Aragón spent his childhood here.
The five Templar constructions inside the walled site are especially interesting, built in the Cistercian Romanesque style (12th-13th century): the keep, the chapterhouse-refectory, the temple, James I Tower and the dormitories. In Monzón we can also find the collegiate church of Santa María del Romeral, which is Romanesque (12th-13th centuries), with added Gothic, Mudejar and Baroque elements.
Then we'll head towards the city of Lleida, 51 kilometres away. Cereal fields, vineyards and, especially, fruit trees, can be seen along the way. In Lleida, the Knights Templar owned lands governed by Gardeny Castle. Today we can find part of the walls, the convent church of Santa María and a large two-storey tower-room.
Other important buildings in Lleida are the two cathedrals, the Seu Vella (Gothic, 13th-14th centuries) and the Seu Nova (Neoclassical, 18th century); and the remains of the Moorish origin La Suda Castle (9th century), rebuilt in medieval times (12th-14th centuries). If we are travelling in May, we'll also be able to enjoy its popular gastronomic festival, L'Aplec del Caragol, where we'll be able to try snails, cooked in different ways.
The route continues towards Miravet, 84 kilometres away. Its Moorish origin castle, (11th century), later on belonged to the Templar during the 12th and 13th century. Situated on a hill that strategically dominates the Ebro River, it is made up of a double walled site, with its bailey, different rooms, the hall and the Romanesque Church of Sant Martí.
Then we'll travel 36 kilometres to get to Tortosa. Its old town is dominated by the remains of its medieval Templar castle, or La Suda Castle. Built on a promontory, its origin is Moorish (10th century) and it preserves several Gothic rooms (14th century), together with part of the walls that went down towards the town (Portal de Remolins gate, 14th century).
The town has other Gothic buildings such as the Cathedral of Santa María (13th-15th centuries), the Episcopal Palace (14th-15th centuries) and the palaces of the Oliver de Boteller (15th century) and Despuig (15th century) families. It is especially interesting to visit this town when the Renaissance Festival is on, in which the buildings are adorned and people dress up in period costumes. Next to Tortosa we can also find the Delta del Ebro Nature Reserve.
The last part of the route is by motorway along the Mediterranean coast for 67 kilometres, until we get to the town of Peñíscola. At the top we find the Romanesque-Gothic Templar castle built between 1294 and 1307 on the old Moorish fortress. Benedict XIII lived there during the Western Schism (15th century).
Peñíscola has also been a film set: several scenes from "El Cid" were filmed there, with Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren, on the life of El Cid Campeador. The fortress was like the city of Valencia in the 11th century.