Huesca: in search of Knights Templars and the Holy Grail
Turismo de Aragón
Monzón Castle, where James I the Conqueror was educated under the guardianship of the Knights Templar.
The Grail was thought to have been hidden in the monastery of San Juan de la Peña.
Turismo de Aragón.
Peña Telera peak. Tena Valley. Huesca.
Sallent de Gallego, the site of the Witches' Festival.
There are certain stories and legends that we all find endlessly fascinating. Who were the Knights Templar and where did they live? What was the Holy Grail? Have witches ever existed? We suggest visiting a place that will give you the answers to all these questions, and a chance to explore some incredible mysteries. The place is Huesca, in Aragon, where you'll also find some spectacular landscapes due to its location in the Pyrenean mountains. Here are three routes guaranteed to bring history to life.
Route of the Templars
The Order of the Temple has always been shrouded in mystery. These famous warrior monks were persecuted by order of the Pope, and in the 13th century they chose Aragon and the lands of the Cinca River as one of the last redoubts in Europe where they could survive. The goal of learning more about all their possessions makes the perfect excuse for a trip around the towns and monuments in this area. The route you can take goes through several towns like Fraga, but there is one place that is particularly worthwhile: Monzón. Here you can visit the castle where the Infante Don Juan, the future James I the Conqueror, was educated under the guardianship of the Templars. In fact this castle has numerous passageways used by the Templars when they came under siege. Can you imagine them passing through here with their flaming torches? If you choose to spend the night in this area, on waking you'll be able to see the dawn over the Cinca river, with the view of Monzón castle in the background. Another attraction is the mediaeval market and the great parade of Knights Templar held one weekend in May. It's like going back to the 13th century. And if you're keen to visit more towns and villages, we suggest Cofita (its church of Santa María Magdalena contains Templar engravings and a cross of Malta), Belver de Cinca (with the dungeons that served as prisons for the last Templars) and Chalamera (where the last Templars resisted attack in the form of balls of fire launched from catapults). And as you're in Aragon, another option is to travel from Huesca to Teruel, which was also under the power of the Knights Templar. In fact in the Maestrazgo region (about 250 km from Monzón) you'll find the Templars' Tower, a four-storey visitor centre dedicated to the Order. One recent new attraction in this area is the Templar set menu laid on by several restaurants at weekends –an original way of finding out what the Knights Templar ate in the 13th century. Do you fancy marinated fillet of venison? How about a sundae of "three whites" (curds, cottage cheese and cream) with figs and honey? (More information at www.turismomaestrazgo.com)
Route of the Holy Grail
Let's start by explaining exactly what the Holy Grail is: the cup used by Christ and his disciples at the Last Supper, which over the centuries has become a relic and a genuine object of devotion which is sought by everyone. There are currently several chalices in existence which are said to have possibly been the Holy Grail, but it looks like the one conserved in Valencia Cathedral has a good chance of being the genuine one. But where did the Grail travel before reaching Valencia? Exactly, –you've guessed it– through Huesca. We suggest taking a legendary route around the places in Huesca where it was traditionally held to have been kept. History recounts that the Holy Grail fell into the hands of Saint Lawrence and that it was he who delivered it to a family in Huesca before he was martyred on a gridiron. That was the start of the wanderings of the Holy Grail around Aragon, until in 1076 it came to rest in a spectacular monument in the heart of the mountains, which is definitely well worth a visit: the Monastery of San Juan de la Peña. The Grail was apparently hidden there until 1399, and it was here that the monks decorated it with gold and precious stones. Legend has it that the custodian monks who looked on the chalice lived for over 100 years. This place may also have served as the inspiration for characters like Lancelot, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Everything in this monument seems to be steeped in an air of mystery (it conserves a replica of the Holy Grail in Valencia), and at the end of June, a Royal Brotherhood of Knights even swears in new members with blue capes. It is also set amid fabulous landscapes. For the best views it is well worth going up to the viewing point at the Balcón de los Pirineos. Other places in the area worth visiting include Jaca (the old cathedral at one time conserved the Grail), the city of Huesca (home of the event entitled "Sites of Saint Laurence and the Holy Grail", with lectures and guided visits) and Bailo (in September it hosts the festival of the historical re-enactment of the Holy Grail, featuring a mediaeval market, magic, archery and much more).
If you're in search of mystery, this is one option not to be overlooked. The area known as the Alto Gállego is famous for numerous events related to witchcraft that took place in the 16th and 17th centuries. So great was the fear of supposed witches at that time that people known as professional "witch spotters" came forward to identify them. Many women were condemned, and both they and their families were deprived of all their rights. Today all that is far in the past, and the whole area is an inviting place with landscapes to take your breath away. For example in the Tena Valley you'll find peaks that soar as high as 3,000 metres, along with numerous charming villages. However on your journey you're sure to see signs that remind you of that time. You'll pass through places like Orna de Gállego (with its Fuente de la Bruja, or witch's fountain), Acumuer (according to legend a barber who was a wizard convinced three mountain people to fly with him to visit the witches of Tolosa), Biescas and Santa Elena (with places like the Garganta del Diablo (devil's gorge) and the Puente del Diablo (devil's bridge), and a place where it is said that a young man made a pact with the devil to win a woman's love), Hoz de Jaca (with its Huerto de las Brujas (witch's garden) and its Encantada –or enchanted– cave) and the Betato Forest (located near Piedrafita, and said to be teeming with goblins. It has been associated with witches' covens). All over the Pyrenees you'll find an abundance of stories about witches, and if you look carefully you may see some "espantabrujas" (literally "witch-scarers") left in fireplaces to ward off evil, and protective crosses over the doors. On your journey through the valleys you'll see plants considered to have magic powers, such as stinking nightshade and belladonna, whose berries were used by women to dilate their pupils and make them appear more beautiful. One tip. If you plan your trip in June you'll be able to see the Witches' Festival in Sallent, featuring storytellers, enchanted obstacle courses, the route of fear, the magic market...
Have you found this information useful?