Loarre Castle is quite a special place due to its history; it is not only one of the oldest castles in Spain, but also a fortified abbey. Originally built as the line of last defence in northern Huesca (Aragon) against the Moorish invaders. Then it was converted into a fortified religious site, and then expanded over the next century into the fortress that can be seen and visited today.
The castle is built on a rock outcropping that overlooks the plain of Huesca; large population centres such as the cities of Huesca and Zaragoza can be seen on clear days from the walls, which made this place the perfect site for a castle and provided much-advanced warning of hostilities from the Moorish invaders. The original castle was three towers surrounded by a curtain wall when it was built during the reign of Sancho V of Aragon (and later Pamplona), which he built as a forward base of operations in order to reconquer Huesca. His son, Peter I, then gave the entirety of the castle to Augustinian monks, who added a large chapel for their worshipping needs.
Further structures, like the outer wall, were added in the 12th and 13th centuries, which makes Loarre special. Apart from being one of the oldest castles, it was continually expanded over the next few hundred years after its initial construction, which was not usual during this time period due to the very fluid and moving frontiers between the Christian and Moorish (Muslim) lands.
The castle/abbey is built completely in the Romanesque style, although some of the architecture is unique due to the castle’s location on the rocky outcropping, the advantages of which were incorporated into its design. For example, the chapel that was added during the period where the monks controlled the castle/abbey is quite for cathedral chapels during the time and is in a weird shape. Instead of being the traditional cross shape that cathedrals usually follow, there were no transepts (the bits that stick off the side) and the far wall of the nave (the long part of the cross) is not flat but diagonal as it is the former outer wall of the original fortification. Additionally, the choir area was put underneath the altar and using physics, the voices of the choir were projected into the chapel.
Due to the castle’s location, space was at a premium during its design and construction. The location of the chapel addition, for example, was done with an ingenuity that did not diminish the defensible value of the fortification. The main gate was also built in such a way that attackers would not be able to rush up to break it down but rather had to go around corners. The main entrance was also built for defence, being quite steep and having two-tiered stairs, meaning that the central section sat a full stair lower than the sides, giving gate defenders the advantage of height. The interior of the castle is also quite twisty (to stop headlong charges) and one of the towers was considered the last place of refuge. It was only accessible by a wooden bridge (which has now been replaced with a modern access way) where soldiers could retreat, burning the bridge in their wake, and wait to be rescued.
Today, Loarre Castle is visitable year-round. Entrance for an adult is €4.50, whereas reduced tickets are €4, children are €3 and disabled visitors access the site for free. My personal recommendation is the guided tour that is offered (English, French, Spanish and maybe other languages), which gives you a wealth of information on the both the castle’s and area’s history.
If you have looked at the pictures in this post and thought ‘hmm, this looks familiar somehow’, you may be thinking of the film Kingdom Of Heaven, which came out in 2005 and featured the Castle of Loarre as its main setting.
Here are some more images from the castle: