The castle of Monzón, the last Templar stronghold in Aragón

When the Pope Clement V yielded in the Templar matter to Philip IV of France, known as The Fair, the Military Order had its days counted. After the first arrests in France, confessions were extracted under torture. Thus, the pontiff decreed that the Templars be arrested throughout Europe. During 1308, Jaume II of Aragon gradually took over the fortresses of the Temple of his kingdom. He did so reluctantly and treated the captives well. However, the castle of Monzón did not surrender. The Huesca stronghold, the last Aragonese stronghold to fall, fell on May 1309.

A castle of Moorish origin

Long before the heroic resistance of Monzón Castle, it was part of a Moorish square. It was developed in the 9th and 10th centuries. First in the Umayyad period and then as a point of interest for several Taifas, such as those of Huesca and Zaragoza. The latter was the one to which it was most attached. This medieval fortress barely preserves its original elements. The main one is the so-called Keep. Overlooking the old Monzón, it is located in the center of the southern part of the enclosure, where most of the attractions await.

Castillo templario de Monzón

Templar Castle of Monzón. | Shutterstock

The structure is related to certain nearby Moorish towers, such as the Trovador in La Aljafería in Zaragoza. It has a perfectly square floor plan, each side with 10 meters of extension. It currently looks flatter than it did in the Middle Ages. Modern reforms cut it out to avoid making it an easy target for artillery. Be that as it may, throughout history it has been the nerve center of the place.

In the 11th century it passed into Christian hands for the first time. It was Sancho Ramirez, King of Aragon and Pamplona at the time, who took it over with his son, the future Peter I. This was a blow to the table of the small kingdom, which was living a stage of expansion. Cinca River, which largely controls Monzón, was a key battle front. The exchange of hands was common, with two periods of Muslim rule confirmed. The first was from 1126 to 1130 and the second from 1136 to 1141.

Castillo templario de Monzón Sala capitular y Torre del Homenaje

Chapter Hall and Keep. | Shutterstock

The great Templar fortress of Monzón

Alfonso I The Battler laid the foundations for the future of the castle of Monzón. The monarch dedicated his life to war and bequeathed his kingdom to the Military Orders. This intention did not become effective, but it consolidated the relationship between Aragonese and warrior-monks. After the third conquest of the fortress, Ramiro II decided to secure the situation and gave it to the Knights Templar.

Before this the place had had various additions of which hardly any record remains. For example, a church was erected on the southwest segment of the hill on which the building stands. Outside the walls, it was dedicated to St. John. It was discovered through archaeological work in 2000 and there are hardly any remains of the foundation. However, instability prevented the building from being completed.

Castillo templario de Monzón

Templar Castle of Monzón. | Shutterstock

The year the Templars took control was 1143. It was they who raised a mixture of fortress and convent, following the Cistercian precepts of their order. As a result, most of the spaces that can be visited today were created. For example, the chapter house, a mass with hardly any exterior decoration that reaches 35 meters in length. Under it a well-protected cistern was built. At the southern end of the complex a dormitory tower was built for the brothers of the Temple.

Near the previous landmark is the Tower of Jaume I. In the 12th century, when it was built, its function was that of a dungeon. The Templar castle had already had that purpose during its Moorish era and would maintain it in the future. However, the name does not come from a seclusion, but from the fact that it was the lodging of a king and child. The young Jaume I, who would end up being nicknamed The Conqueror, was educated by the Templars of Monzón between August 1214 and June 1217. His tutor was the Master of Aragon, Guillem de Montredon, a faithful servant of the monarch throughout his life.

En primer plano Torre de Jaime I a la derecha y torreón de dormitorios a la izquierda

In the foreground, Jaume I Tower on the right and the dormitory tower on the left. | Shutterstock

Also a Templar work is the church of San Nicolás, martial and with a straight aspect. Like the rest of the place, it mixes both final Romanesque and initial Gothic. Its semi-hexagonal apse is particularly striking. In this way, it served both defense and worship. The whole, completed with enormous walls and a very fortified access, made the castle of Monzón impregnable. During this period, the city hosted the Cortes de Aragón several times, in the local cathedral. A sign of its importance.

The last Templars’ Castle in Aragon

As it has been said at the beginning, the destiny of this fortress was similar to the rest of the Templar enclaves in Aragon. While Peñíscola, Miravet or Tortosa fell during 1308, Monzón resisted until the spring of the following year. This is why it is one of the most epic points associated with the Order of the Temple in northern Spain. Jaume II’s army was unable to take control by direct action. For this reason, he proposed a successful siege.

Contrary to popular belief, the most recent studies do not point to a fateful end for the Aragonese Templars. Clement V left it to each kingdom to decide what to do with the imprisoned knights and their servants. Such actions were interpreted as certain regret for leaving the order sold out before Philip IV of France.

Catedral de Monzón

Monzón Cathedral. | Shutterstock

After a brief period, the castle of Monzón was left in the hands of the Hospitallers, the Knights of Saint John. The movement of the border to the south and the lack of conflicts meant that during the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries it was put on hold. In the latter, the chapter house was adapted to serve as a barracks. However, its characteristics were not excessively adapted to the new forms of warfare.

A modern fortress for Monzón

During its history the castle of Monzón did not leave aside its military character. During the War of the Reapers, in 1642, it fell into the hands of France. It took one year to return to the hands of Philip IV of Spain. This episode made it clear that its strategic value was still relatively important, as it dominated the Cinca River along with places like Barbastro. The improvements that would turn it into a modern fortress took place from then on.

However, it was during the War of Succession when the transformation was more pronounced. It passed through austere and Bourbon hands. Under the flag of Philip V, around 1710, bastions were built, the walls were fattened to make them resistant to cannons and the triple access door was reinforced. A zigzag staircase made it difficult for possible assailants. Likewise, the Keep was cut back, as mentioned above. Its final appearance had been achieved.

Baluarte frontal del Castillo de Monzón

Frontal bulwark of Monzón Castle from the ramp. | Shutterstock

Again powerful, its garrison was unable to withstand the onslaught of Marshal Suchet during the Napoleonic conquest. Years later, General Copons besieged the castle of Monzón in 1813. The French planted themselves and the resistance was Numancia. They responded to the excavation of tunnels by the Spanish by making their own. A war of moles that prevented the blasting of the wall.

During February 1814 the luck changed. The intrigues of Juan Van Halen, a military man known for having served in various armies without being accused of treason, caused the French to fall. Without the mediation of blood, a series of documents from the Frenchman who had served Joseph Bonaparte made them abandon the squares of Monzón, Lleida and Mequinenza. Until the end of this 19th century it became an artillery barracks.

From a bastion to a monument

Already in the 19th century, in its last years, several reforms were undertaken in the castle of Monzón. It returned to have a service associated with the war during the Civil War. Then, the stables, excavated in the rock of the mountain, were antiaircraft refuges. The Cinca was one of the key frontiers between the coup leaders and the eclectic republican forces. Once the conflict was over, in 1941, it was declared a National Monument.

Rampa de acceso al Castillo templario de Monzón

Access ramp to the Templar Castle of Monzón. | Shutterstock

In 1997 new works settled the mountain itself, as well as houses around it and parts of the castle itself. The new century brought interesting additions to the fortress. For example, in 2000 the remains of the church of San Juan outside the walls were uncovered. It also managed to hold the title of Property of Cultural Interest and suffered effective musealization in the first decade of the 21st century. Furthermore, it is an indispensable part of the celebration of the Homage to Guillem de Montredon, which recalls historical events related to the Templars and the tutor of Jaume I. The good connection with the A-2 facilitates its tourist aspect.

 


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