Albarracín—An “Eagle’s Nest” With a Difference
“Visit one of the most beautiful towns in Spain, visit Albarracín.”—José Martínez Ruiz, Spanish writer also known as Azorín, 1873-1967.
ALBARRACÍN is a unique town. What makes it so? First of all, its geography, then its history, and finally its delightful surroundings. For these reasons, in 1961 the Spanish government declared this small town in the province of Teruel a national monument. And in 2005, a group of tourist representatives selected Albarracín as “the most beautiful town in Spain.”
Nestled in the mountains of central Spain, Albarracín is an ancient town of some 1,000 inhabitants. Surrounding it are green meadows watered by several rivers and a mountain range that shares its name—Sierra de Albarracín.
A Source of Food and Water
In ancient times, the abundance of game in the Albarracín area attracted settlers, whose cave paintings show that they were fine artists and keen observers of nature. They drew many huge bulls and other animals, which they colored using a white pigment that has been seen only in this area. Scholars think that these caves, where scenes of daily life were portrayed, were used as meeting places for religious or social activities.
Even today, deer, wild boar, and small game abound in the nearby reserve of Montes Universales. And the Guadalaviar (Arabic for “White River”) is one of the best trout rivers in Spain.
In 133 B.C.E., the Romans subjugated the local Celtiberian tribes and founded several villages in the Albarracín region. In the first century C.E., Roman engineers built a 12-mile [18 km]-long aqueduct (1). It is considered to be one of the most complex of the Roman public works projects in Spain. Roman religion too left its mark. A carving on a Roman gravestone found in the town of Albarracín indicates that emperor worship was practiced here.
Prosperity Under Muslim Rule
The Moors had overrun this region by the ninth century, and it is believed that the name Albarracín is derived from the name of the Muslim settlers who came here, the Berber clan Banu Razin. In the Middle Ages, Moors, Jews, and nominal Christians lived together with mutual respect and tolerance. As a result, this was the most prosperous period of Albarracín’s history.
Artisans of Albarracín produced beautiful objects, and evidently the practice of medicine also flourished here. A set of surgical tools that was unearthed indicates that local surgeons even operated on cataracts. Albarracín continued under Muslim rule until the end of the 12th century, when it passed to Roman Catholic hands. It is noteworthy that this seems to be the only occasion in Spanish history when such a political change occurred peacefully.
How does Albarracín look today? A visitor can still meander through the medieval town, since no modern sections have been added.
An Astonishing Silhouette
Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955) described Albarracín as “the city that thrusts its astonishing silhouette into the heights.” This description is apt, since the town is perched on an outcrop of rock that stands some 4,000 feet [1,200 m] above sea level and is surrounded by a deep gorge, which serves as a defensive moat. This natural fortress has protected the town throughout the centuries and has earned Albarracín the nickname Eagle’s Nest.
While strolling through the narrow, cobbled streets of the town, the visitor will spot fascinating architecture of a bygone age. Some of the best examples are the Corner Balcony, the Blue House (2), and the Julianeta House (3). The latter almost appears to perform a balancing act at the junction of two streets.
Houses from the period are constructed of wood and plaster, materials that weigh much less than stone—an important factor if you are building on top of a hill. Their small windows with lace curtains and iron grilles (4) also attract a visitor’s attention. The overlapping eaves, carved wooden balconies, and unusual door knockers, often shaped in the form of animals, add a further touch of distinction.
Any who suffer from vertigo should be careful not to look down when entering one of the hanging houses. Because the town was built on an outcrop of rock and building space was limited, inhabitants built some of their houses right on the edge of the cliff.
A Moorish castle crowns the hill above the town, where the original nucleus of Albarracín once lay. The Torre del Andador is part of the original wall built by the Arabs in the tenth century. Later constructions were the Gothic cathedral, dating from the 16th century, and the horseshoe-shaped town hall, with its rounded-arch porticoes.
Natural Treasures in the Vicinity
For nature lovers Albarracín has even more to offer. The surrounding mountain range has a great diversity of ecosystems, with abundant flora and fauna. Fountains, springs, and waterfalls grace the wooded mountains. And those who camp here can enjoy the spectacular starry nights.
Several families of Jehovah’s Witnesses reside in this area. The beautiful surroundings they live in remind them of the Bible promise that under God’s Kingdom obedient mankind will live in a worldwide paradise. This is the good news that they endeavor to share with their neighbors.—Psalm 98:7-9; Matthew 24:14.
Each year more than a hundred thousand tourists walk through the narrow streets of Albarracín. If you come to Spain, why not visit this unique “eagle’s nest” hidden in the mountains?
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ARTISTIC TREASURES DISCOVERED AT ALBARRACÍN
Silver ointment jar. Moorish King Abdelmelic had this jar made for his wife Zahr, meaning “Flower” in Arabic. A gold engraving on it says in part: “Perennial blessing . . . , divine help, and guidance toward goodness and justice.” It is considered one of the best silver treasures of Hispano-Arabic art.
Fish carved in rock crystal. The fish is adorned with scales and has a silver mouth and fins of gold. It is also decorated with pearls and rubies. So intricate is the carving that experts believe one craftsman could not have completed it in his lifetime.
Jar: Museo de Teruel. Foto Jorge Escudero; crystal: Sta. Ma de Albarracín Foundation
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2 Blue House
3 Julianeta House
4 Iron grille
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© Ioseba Egibar/age fotostock