Loarre Castle and the Reconquest of Spain

Trip Start May 12, 2010
Trip End May 28, 2010

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Flag of Spain  , Basque,
Thursday, May 20, 2010

Our route, this morning, dropped us south again, out of the Pyrenees and onto the plains of Aragon. Our objective was the castle of Loarre, sited dramatically on a hillside overlooking the fertile farmlands of the Ebro River basin. The castle was first conceived in the early 11th century when Sancho el Mayor, King of Navarre (which included the county of Aragon) started the fortifications as part of his strategy to retake lands from the Moors.

One of the dominant themes of this Adventure is the Reconquest. Moors crossed from North Africa early in the 8th century. By the end of the century, nearly all the Iberian Peninsula was in their grasp, and they were only one history-changing battle away from crossing the Pyrenees and dominating France. 

The Reconquest was the response of isolated Christian kingdoms in the north towards their new Islamic overlords. It was a complicated jab and parry, ebb and flow movement by a disunified smattering of people groups with shadowy identities - ill-defined "Christian" kingdoms and counties with roots in the combined Celtic/Iberian heritage.

Another theme of this Adventure is the phenomenon of regionalism throughout Northern Spain. The expected nationalism to the concept of "Spain" is replaced, in much of the north, by regional languages and loyalties. To date, we've started in the autonomous region of Catalonia (Spain now has 17 autonomous regions), where Catalan is the official language, not Castilian Spanish. We moved north in Andorra, a separate nation but with strong ethnic and linguistic ties to Catalonia. 

From there, we drove west into the Pyrenees valley of Aran, where we encountered another language and heritage, this time based more upon French influence and the medieval French region of Occitania. Now, we are in Aragon, another autonomous region of the modern nation of Spain, but also one of the medieval Christian kingdoms of northern Spain that rallied to push back the invasion of the Moors and Arabs between the 8th century and the 15th century.

I'll be working on these two concepts with Nacho throughout the remainder of the trip. Who were the people involved in the Reconquest and is their identity linked to the Regionalism we see still today in northern Spain??

From Loarre Castle, we drove north to the Monastery of San Juan de la Pena and heard more of Aragon and Navarre. It seems this monastery became the  Westminster Abbey of Aragon and Navarre - all the nobility and royalty of the golden age of these two Kingdoms aspired to be buried in this sacred place, established a couple of centuries before Loarre.

We finished our day in Basque country, and the charming city of San Sebastian on the Bay of Biscay. To the outsider, the city is not conspicuously "Basque", but we noticed a distinct different in the countryside as we drove north. The landscape transitioned from dry plains and sandstone bluffs to rolling, tree-covered hills. Farm buildings were larger and generally white with red or green shutters. I'm excited about sharing the French Basque village of Sare with our group on tomorrow walk! 

Dan Friesen
Walking Adventures International
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