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 became a fortified religious site and expanded over the next century into the fortress you can visit today.
The castle stands on a rock outcropping that overlooks the plain of Huesca; you can see large population centres such as the cities of Huesca and Zaragoza on clear days from the walls. That combination made this place the perfect site for a castle and provided an advanced warning of hostilities from the Moorish invaders. The original castle included three towers surrounded by a curtain wall when constructed during the reign of Sancho V of Aragon (and later Pamplona). He built it 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, appeared in the 12th and 13th centuries, which makes Loarre special. Apart from its status as one of the oldest castles, it continued growing over the next few hundred years after its initial construction. This was unusual during this time period due to the very fluid and moving frontiers between the Christian and Moorish (Muslim) lands.
The castle/abbey’s architecture is in the Romanesque style, although some of the architecture is unique. This was due to challenges arising from the castle’s location on the rocky outcropping, the advantages of which added to its design. For example, the chapel added when the monks controlled the castle/abbey is a very 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 is underneath the altar; using physics, the voices of the choir project 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, shows great ingenuity. It did not diminish the defensible value of the fortification. The main gate stands so that attackers would not be able to rush up to batter it down directly; rather they had to go around corners. The main entrance is very defensible; it is quite steep and has two-tiered stairs. During a siege, this means 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 defenders could retreat to one tower for a final stand. This tower was only accessible by a wooden bridge that soldiers could burn in their wake, awaiting rescue.
Today, Loarre Castle is visitable year-round. The entrance for an adult is €4.50. 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, which gives you a wealth of information.
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:
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