The Templar castle of Miravet, the fortress that led the Valencian reconquest

On the right bank of the Ebro River, a few kilometres from its mouth on the Mediterranean in the province of Tarragona, there is an imposing figure, the Templar castle of Miravet. Of Islamic origin, it was these knights who made the fortress, together with those of Tortosa, Monzón and Gardeny, the leading elements in the reconquest of the Valencian territories. Its story, a true adventure in times of war, contains battles, intrigues, princesses and kings.

Vista aérea del castillo de Miravet

Aerial view of the castle of Miravet. | Shutterstock

Knights Templar and the Crown of Aragón

The history of the Templar order in Spain is intimately linked to the Crown of Aragón. Alfonso I the Battler, King of Aragón and Pamplona, bequeathed his kingdoms to the Knights Templar on his death; thus offering them a unique opportunity to intervene in Aragonese politics. Although the highest nobility prevented many of their intentions, from that moment on their role was decisive in all those undertakings to conquer and administer the territories in Muslim hands that gradually extended the Kingdom of Aragón.

Detalle de los retratos de Petronila de Aragón y Ramón Berenguer IV

Detail of the portraits of Petronila de Aragón and Ramón Berenguer IV. | Credited to Francisco Camilo and Andrés Urzanqui in copy of the original by Filippo Ariosto

Ramiro II, brother of Alfonso I, was chosen by the nobility to succeed him. His devotion to monastic life led him to marry his daughter Petronila, barely a year old, to the Count of Barcelona, Ramon Berenguer IV. He left the crown in his hands. One of his first decisions was to make a pact with the Templars so that they would receive privileges over the conquered lands in exchange for preserving their dominion in Aragonese lands.

This pact marked the beginning of the agreement between the monarchy, the nobility and the Military Order to conquer or reconquer, depending on which way you look at it, the Moorish territories of the entire eastern part of the peninsula. The last strongholds were Siurana and Miravet, which resisted the siege of the Christian troops until 1153. The atmosphere, inherited from Alfonso I, was that of a true crusade.

Vista del castillo desde el Ebro

View of the castle from the Ebro. | Shutterstock

The importance of the Castle of Miravet

After the reconquest of Miravet, the Templars began to build the new fortress on top of its Muslim predecessor. The result was one of the best examples of a Cistercian Romanesque castle-monastery in the whole of the peninsula. In short, it was a question of reinforcing the defensive lines that the rivers naturally exerted in the Kingdom of Aragón. The fortresses of Tortosa on the Ebro, Monzón on the Cinca and Gardeny on the Segre formed a defensive line. A genuine leading point for the reconquest of the Valencian territories.

The Knights Templar, aware of the importance of dominating the natural passes of the rivers, applied the same model to other fortresses on the peninsula. A good example is that of Gormaz on the Duero, despite its caliphal origin. During the reign of Jaume I, the bastion of Miravet became the provincial headquarters of the archive and treasure of the Crown of Aragón; and it was then that the great conquests were made south of the Ebro.

Vistas desde del castillo de Miravet

Views from the Castle of Miravet. | Shutterstock

In 1307, after Jacques de Moley, the last Grand Master of the order, was captured, the persecution of the Templars began. They became strong in some squares, including Miravet. The tragic siege lasted approximately one year until December 1308, when they capitulated to the King of Aragón, Jaume II. Six of them resisted for one day and finally met their deaths when they tried to protect the archives of the order in the tower.

With the disappearance of the Templars, their splendour began to decline. The Knights Hospitaller took control of the castle until well into the 19th century. Throughout this period, it was a silent witness to a variety of conflicts. Among them were Segadors, War of the Succession, Carlist Wars and the Spanish Civil War in the 20th century. In 1990 its ownership passed to the Generalitat de Catalunya.

Fragmento del muro de la fortaleza

Wall and tower. | Shutterstock

The castle nowadays

A visit to the castle will reveal the austerity of the Cistercian Romanesque style; which follows similar patterns to those of Poblet, Santes Creus and Vallbona de les Monges. An image of the house and castle of God on earth, with a great ornamental simplicity. The visitor can get an idea of how well it was prepared to resist long periods of siege and bloody battles. With a 25-metre wall, which rises directly from the rocks of the hill where the original fortress was built, there are a number of elements that the Templars used to turn the place into a stronghold. Access is via the barbican. This is an access ramp that, due to its angle, prevented direct attacks on the entrance; and which leads to a large walled terrace distributed over three levels.

Patio de armas del castillo de Miravet

Parade ground. | Shutterstock

In it, you can find the remains of warehouses and even a stable. A door leads to the interior of the castle, specifically to a parade ground. Around it, there is a cistern, the kitchen, a large dining room, a barn, a cellar and a warehouse. On the upper floor, the private rooms of the inhabitants and the church. It has a basilica floor plan and a barrel vault roof. A spiral staircase leads to a large terrace where it is possible to enjoy incomparable views.

It is necessary to buy a ticket to enter the enclosure. The visit can be made by yourself. However, it is highly recommended to hire a guided tour. This includes other places in the village; besides letting you discover and understand the importance of the Castle of Miravet.

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