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30 mayo 2024

Caves, waterfalls and pilgrimages of legend: ten magical places to visit in Aragon

Caves, mountains, watercourses, trees, special stones and the stars are some of the elements associated with stories and legends of power in Aragon.

San Juan de la Peña, the pilgrimage of Santa Orosia or the viewpoint of Santa Bárbara are some of the most magical and special places in Aragon.

Lamias, witches, singular trees or mountains with vertiginous legends, run throughout the autonomous community of Aragon. The seduction of the water courses of the Monasterio de Piedra in Zaragoza, the mysticism and witchcraft around the cave of Las Güixas in Huesca, or the power of the stars in La Fresneda (Teruel), are part of the many corners that make up the magical Aragon. An Aragonese imaginary that will be very present in the International Meeting of Ocultura, to be held in the Auditorium of Zaragoza from 9 to 12 November 2023, and which will present the Decalogue of Magical Spain, a text signed by 56 authors that will allow us to recognize the places of power or special places in our environment. A guide to approach the spaces considered magical by our ancestors that in Go Aragon we have used, with the help of writer and journalist Javier Sierra, as a compass to delve into the stories and legends that populate the three Aragonese provinces.

San Juan de la Peña and the spaces that stand behind the legend

San Juan de la Peña. Photo: Aragon Tourism
There are places that give rise to legends, but there are legends that endow spaces with that special halo. This is the case of San Juan de la Peña, whose cult began after the discovery by a young nobleman, named Voto, of the lifeless body of Blessed Juan Atarés, a discovery that gave rise to the cult of San Juan de la Peña, explains Javier Sierra. After the encounter, the young Voto decided to leave for Zaragoza, sell all his possessions and, together with his brother Felix, retire to the cave, where they both began a life of hermitage.

In the Royal Monastery of San Juan de la Peña have been buried many of the kings of Aragon and Navarre, and legend has it that the Holy Grail remained in this monastery before its final custoria in the Cathedral of Valencia.

Calcena and the toponyms that hide sacred histories

Calcena. Photo: Tourism of Aragon
The very names adopted by localities and spaces also hide clues that hint at the existence of a special place. This would be the case, Sierra points out, of the town of Calcena in Zaragoza. According to tradition, this municipality could also be related to the history of the Holy Grail, since it is believed that in its passage through Aragonese lands, this sacred object could also have been guarded in this town. “Its name comes from `Cáliz de Cena’, and seems to refer to the Holy Chalice that today is venerated in the cathedral of Valencia”, says the Aragonese author.

The pilgrimage of Santa Orosia and the strength of ancestral festivities

Hermitage of Santa Orosia. Photo: Aragon Tourism
Also related to the Holy Grail is the pilgrimage of Santa Orosia. “There are festivities and elements of these that have ancestral roots, often magical, and that have reached our days marking a place. A famous case is the pilgrimage of Santa Osoria to Yebra de Basa. It is said that the saint protected the relic of the Holy Grail, and that her followers hid it in this spectacular enclave where a waterfall hides an almost secret hermitage during the thaw,” explains the winner of the Planeta Prize.

The Santa Bárbara viewpoint or the magic that comes from the stars

Santa Bárbara viewpoint in La Fresneda (Teruel). Photo: www.lafresnedaweb.com
The astronomical orientation of an enclave also determines on many occasions its choice as a sacred place for human beings. This is the case of the viewpoint of Santa Barbara, in the Teruel town of La Fresneda, explains Javier Sierra, “jewel of Matarraña where, since the Bronze Age, alignments with the sun and the moon were observed on special dates of the year”.

A privileged sky for observation that, according to archaeological remains, has been the object of observation for millennia. A singularity that has given rise to legends and unique corners that has earned the town of La Fresneda its inclusion in the Network of Magical Villages of Spain.

The Salto de Roldán and the power of the mountain

Salto de Roldán, in Huesca. Photo: www.huescalamagia.es
The unique mountains have also given rise to all kinds of legends and stories that have left an undoubtedly magical aftertaste in many of them. Most of the time, explains Javier Sierra, they are “cliffs separated from mountain ranges that have generated legends and gossip to explain their shapes”.

Like the attractive silhouette of the Salto de Roldán, located in the natural park of the Sierra and Canyons of Guara. Legend has it that the knight Roland, nephew of Charlemagne, after his failure in the conquest of Saraqusta (now Zaragoza), was cornered by his pursuers in the vicinity of these cliffs. According to Huesca la Magia, due to the harassment to which he was subjected, he made the decision to look for a way out by ascending the crag of Amán, which ends in a cut whose gorge runs along the Flumen river. As narrated in Huesca la Magia, Roland then pulled hard on the reins, stopping the steed just at the edge of the cliff. The pursuers were sure to give chase to the French nobleman, but he, to the surprise of those who were cornering him, pulled his mount and threw himself into the void. Legend has it that the horse made such an impressive leap that, instead of plunging into the void, he managed to reach the other end, stamping his footprints, still visible according to some, on the rock of San Miguel.

The cave of the Güixas and the mystery born from the heart of the earth.

Cueva de las Güixas, in Jacetanía de Huesca. Photo: Aragon Tourism
Skies and mountains are always generators of impossible legends, but if there is a form of nature that has given rise to amazing stories, that is undoubtedly the case of caves. And Aragon is no stranger to this reality. One of the examples of this love for the magic of caves is the cave of Las Güixas, located in the municipality of Villanúa in Huesca. According to Javier Sierra, this cave is located near the dolmen of Villanúa, and has been inhabited uninterruptedly since the Neolithic. Many stories of witches are associated with this cave, which emerged in the Quaternary (about 30,000 years ago). According to handwritten documents and oral legends, explained www.turismovillanua.es, this cave has always been a place charged with energy and mystery that regularly hosted meetings and witches’ covens from the 15th to the 18th century. “The most important of these women was Guirandana de Lay, sentenced to death in 1461 as a sorceress and poisoner,” they said.

The Monastery of Piedra and the healing gift of the watercourses

Grottoes of the Park and Historical Garden of the Monasterio de Piedra. Photo: www.monasteriodepiedra.com
Water is a symbol of life and that is why watercourses have traditionally been linked to “healing or the presence of fairies, lamias or pagan divinities of water,” explains Javier Sierra. In the case of Aragon, the greatest exponent of this belief is the Monasterio de Piedra, in the Zaragoza region of Calatayud. A complex in which a 13th century Cistercian monastery is surrounded by a park in which waterfalls and caves generate a very particular atmosphere. In this place, “the hydraulic architecture of the monks sought to create a mystical sensation in whoever was near, which even inspired a novel by Paulo Coelho,” says the writer from Teruel.

The Pilar of Zaragoza or the liturgical cult

Area of the column on which rests the image of the Virgin of Pilar in its Basilica, object of devotion. Photo: https://benditayalabada.blogspot.com/
Stones with a special component have also been the object of human worship. These are the so-called liturgical cults, as is the case of the area of the stone of the column on which rests the image of the Virgin of Pilar in her Basilica, in Zaragoza. The so-called Holy Column is kissed by devotees and pilgrims, and symbolizes, as explained in the blog Bendita y Alabada, the conduit that unites heaven and earth. This pillar, they comment in the same blog, evokes the pillar of fire that night guided the Israelites through the desert.

A cult that is not exclusive to Catholicism, as there are many other key sacred stones around the world, explains Javier Sierra: the Kaaba in Mecca or the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, “which protects a mother rock with strong biblical links,” explains the Aragonese author.

The Carrasca de los Tolones and the dendrolatrous cult.

Carrasca de los Tolones. Photo: Government of Aragon
Mountains, water courses, caves and special stones have always attracted the mystical attention of human beings, but also living beings with which humanity has a deep bond. This is the case of trees, in what has come to be called the dendrolatrous cult. “Sometimes they are trees, entire forests or sacred plants. In recent years trees have been singled out, such as the Carrasca de los Tolones, in Peracense, Teruel. They have done so for their ecological value, but many carry ancient traditions that sacralize them,” says Javier Sierra.

In Aragon, the writer continues, this dendro-latrous cult is even seen in its coat of arms. “There is a tree with a cross of fire on top: Sobra-arbe, on the tree. Sobrarbe. And this gives an idea of their presence in Aragonese lands,” he concludes.

The Old Town of Belchite and the presence of strange phenomena.

Old Town of Belchite. Photo: https://belchite.es/
Next to the current town of Belchite are the ruins of the so-called Pueblo Viejo, bombed and razed to the ground during the Civil War, and which can currently be visited through day and night guided tours. An enclave that, as Javier Sierra explains, has been the object of pilgrimage since the eighties of the last 20th century. Since then, “psychophonies with noises from the Civil War that devastated the place” have been collected, he says.

Such as those that the Aragonese author was able to record together with other researchers. According to www.belchite.es, the teams of the program Cuarta Dimensión, “the first program in Aragón dedicated to science and mystery”, explained on the website, “three decades ago, managed to capture after several hours of recording the psychophonic sounds of the cruel conflict that was fought in the town of Zaragoza during the Spanish Civil War. Bombs, shrapnel and war planes were reflected in those tapes to the astonishment of those who carried out that work. That psychophony of Belchite went around the world, awakened consciences and promoted research and has not ceased to give surprises to all those who have approached the place with respect and admiration”, they comment.

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