Albarracín, a marvel perched on a rock

Located in Teruel, this is one of the most beautiful villages in this province. It is perched on the slope of an abrupt rocky crag, itself surrounded by the Guadalaviar River. The mountain range of the same name completes a spectacular ensemble.

Albarracín | Shutterstock
Albarracín | Shutterstock

Despite its small size, what you see in Albarracín takes more than a day. Its historic old town has been declared an Asset of Cultural Interest and is, without doubt, a must see. In addition to contemplating its cultural heritage, it is worth enjoying a day in the nature in the Natural Park of Los Pinares de Rodeno. To continue the trip, an interesting option is the waterfall of Molino Viejo and Calomarde. Those who prefer the urban environment have the city of Teruel not far away.

Origin of Albarracín, a fascinating history

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The Albarracín complex is located where the Roman Lobetum was once erected. This city would be the seed of the Visigothic Santa María de Oriente. In any case, the first Arab denomination was Alcartam, in spite of what was renamed as Albarracín in the 11th century. The term comes from the Berber dynasty of the Banu Razin, who ruled it between 1104 and 1110.

From the 10th century onwards, the place saw the construction of its walls and the first fortress: the Torre del Andador. These enabled the Banu Razin to develop an important Taifa. Such a kingdom would fall into the area of influence of Valencia with the arrival of the Almoravids.

In 1170 it remained in the hands of “El rey Lobo” of Murcia thanks to a cession of the Christians. Later it passed to the Navarrese knight Pedro Ruíz de Azagra. Together with his descendants they established a prosperous independent lordship of Castile and Aragon.

The famous legend of Doña Blanca dates from this period. She was the younger sister of an Aragonese king, who had to go into exile in Castile because of the restlessness of his sister-in-law the queen. On her way to her destination she stopped in Albarracín, staying in what is now known as the Torre de Doña Blanca. She died inside it and is still buried there.

Views of Albarracín | Shutterstock
Views of Albarracín | Shutterstock

In 1172, the Azagras established the diocese of Albarracín, which was joined to that of Segorbe between 1258 and 1577. Later the town became part of Aragon after the conquest of Peter III. Its defensive system was reinforced, while outside the town cloth and yarn manufacturers were progressively installed. In 1502, at the behest of the Catholic Monarchs, the Moors opted for conversion to baptism.

During the War of Independence, Albarracín was an important focus of resistance. As a consequence, the French bombed the textile facilities in the districts. This initiated a strong economic decline. Also, during the First Carlist War it was an insurgent stronghold. This provoked battles that led, in 1839, to the transfer of the bishopric to the city of Teruel. Finally, in the 20th century, it was severely punished by both sides in the Civil War.

Old Town of Albarracín

Playa Mayor in Albarracín | Shutterstock
Playa Mayor in Albarracín | Shutterstock

The local heritage ensemble has captivated artists of the prestige of Ignacio Zuloaga or Azorín. The latter, as an advertising slogan, said: “Visit one of the most beautiful cities in Spain, visit Albarracín”. And it is not for less, the historical set of Albarracín is declared Cultural Interest Site, being one of the most beautiful towns in Teruel.

The start of the route to see Albarracín can be made in the Plaza Mayor, which dates from the 11th century. The Town Hall is located here. This is a building from the 16th century with a U-shaped floor plan. It has a notable arcaded gallery with semicircular arches on its lower floor. It is extended to create a viewpoint over the river. The Albarracín coat of arms is installed on the upper floor.

Houses in Albarracín | Shutterstock
Houses in Albarracín | Shutterstock

From the Plaza Mayor a series of narrow and steep streets emerge. They are full of picturesque corners of great heritage attraction. For example, there are numerous palaces and manor houses that show the richness of the city. The Casa de Monterde is crossed at its bottom by a vaulted street. The family coat of arms and the ironwork on the windows and balconies stand out from its façade.

Another example of civil construction is the Casa de la Julianeta. This is one of the most iconic buildings in the city. Located in the Portal de Molina, one of the entrances to the walled enclosure, it is famous for including few vertical lines in its architectural layout.

Cathedral of San Salvador

Cathedral of Albarracín | Photo: Shutterstock
Cathedral of Albarracín | Photo: Shutterstock

The Cathedral of San Salvador is part of the historic centre of Albarracín. It is built on top of the old mosque and is the result of the remodelling carried out during the 16th century. Its tower is finished off with tiles. It also has Roman archaeological remains embedded in it. Also noteworthy are the High Altarpiece, the work of Cosimo Damian Bas, and that of San Pedro. The tomb of Bishop Gabriel de Sora, who died in 1622, deserves attention.

Located in the centre of the village, it stands out among the houses in a majestic way. This is a consequence of the complicated orography of Albarracín; which is located on an elevation that surrounds the gorge of the Guadalaviar River. All of this influenced its construction, which had to be adapted to give rise to a single-nave church with side chapels and a large, slightly higher, main chapel with a polygonal apse.

Other temples

Church of Santa María | Photo: Turol Jones
Church of Santa María | Photo: Turol Jones

The Church of Santa María has the honour of being the oldest religious building in the city, as it predates the 12th century. It was probably built as a Mozarabic place of worship during the Muslim domination. It was part of the fortified enclosure of the walls of Albarracín, being at this time a Visigothic church. This temple was destroyed by a fire in the 15th century. Nowadays it has interesting Mudejar elements in its exterior walls, embedded in the 16th century construction by the French master Pierre Vedel.

The Church of Santiago | Shutterstock
The Church of Santiago | Shutterstock

The structural simplicity of the facade of the Church of Santiago contrasts with the richness of its High Altar. It has a late Gothic style. It seems that the dedication of this church is the result of the friendship between the Azagra lineage and the Order of the Knights of Santiago. Another temple to see in Albarracín is the Hermitage of San Juan, built on the site of the old Jewish synagogue, as it is located in the district of San Juan, which was formerly Jewish. It was restored by the Santa María Foundation and serves as an educational classroom for schools.

Bishop’s Palace

Bishop's Palace | Shutterstock

Attached to the Cathedral of San Salvador is the Bishop’s Palace. It was built in the 16th century, but during the 18th century it underwent many reforms and extensions, so its appearance changed. The result is its current Baroque façade. It is the former official residence of the bishops of the city. It has a magnificent interior staircase that leads to the prelate’s quarters. Inside is the Diocesan Museum, whose collection includes tapestries, a Noguera processional cross (14th century) and a famous rock crystal fish (16th century).

Walls of Albarracín, towers and fortress

The walls of Albarracín surround the town and date from between the 10th and 13th centuries. Its perimeter is completely visitable. The three fortresses of the medieval town are still to be found within them. For its part, the Albarracín fortress is a castle and original archaeological site from the medieval period. Located in the old town, although of its three gates only one remains today, it is located in the same walled enclosure. It is the only fortress that can be visited in the Sierra de Albarracín region.

Walls of Albarracín | Shutterstock
Walls of Albarracín | Shutterstock

The Torre del Andador is the oldest fortification to be seen in Albarracín, pre-dating the wall itself. It is located at the highest point of the town. However, the most famous fortress is the Torre de Doña Blanca, which is part of the walled enclosure. With a square floor plan, it is surprisingly 18 metres high. It is made with strong masonry walls. It is considered one of the three castles of Albarracín, together with the fortress (that is, the castle itself) and the tower of El Andador.

Toy Museum

To complete this tour you have to visit the Toy Museum. This one boasts a curious collection of playful artefacts from past times. Also interesting are the Museum of the Forge and the Museum of Albarracín.

Useful information

Coordinates

40° 24′ 23.4″ N, 1° 26′ 49″W

Distances

Teruel 38 km, Zaragoza 181 km, Valencia 182 km, Madrid 271 km.

Parking

At the entrance from the A-1512 road, in the Puentes street.

Elevation

1171 m.

Inhabitants

1093 (2013)

Here are the main fiestas to see in Albarracín: Hogueras de San Antón (mid-January), Fiesta de los Mayos (from 30 April to 1 May), Fiestas Mayores (from 8 to 17 September).

Another notable event to see in Albarracín is the Ciclo de Conciertos de Albarracín (between March and December).


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