Roda de Isábena, Spain – Defence against the Moors

Set at the top of a hill in the mountainous region of Huesca, a village known as the Roda de Isábena overlooks the valley of Isàvena. Nestled at the very top, you can access it by one road or two footpaths. In fact, parking for the village is found at the bottom of the hill and along the access road). The town itself has roughly two “larger” roads (meaning a modern car might be able to squeeze through) running approximately NNE-SSW and twice that number intersecting them at various angles (and down which no cars could fit). The effective ban on cars means that you have to walk everywhere on slightly uneven cobblestone streets; at a leisurely pace, you can walk around the perimeter of the town in about 10 minutes. This is one of the things that I would definitely recommend doing there, if only for the views.

In addition to the long and winding road that climbs the hill, it has a long and winding history. Roda de Isábena sits on a natural chokepoint to the valley of Isábena; it was a point of natural defence between the counties of Zaragosa and Ribagorça when the Moors controlled the former and the Christians controlled the latter.

At this point, Roda de Isábena was also the political and religious capital of the region, which is why, although the town is small by today’s standards, it hosts a (former) cathedral, symbolising its importance at the time.

As the Muslims were pushed farther away from the area, the importance of Roda de Isábena lessened. The county of Ribagorça incorporated it, eventually forming part of the Kingdom of Aragon.

Today, Roda de Isábena boasts a population of just 40 people. It attracts people for two reasons: its hilltop architecture/layout and the cathedral.

Cathedral of Roda de Isábena

As part of its importance, a Cathedral was built on the hilltop in the 11th and 12th centuries in the Romanesque style. Moorish invaders had destroyed an earlier cathedral (from 819). Its full name is the Cathedral of Saint Vincent of Roda de Isábena; it was built to support the seat of the Bishop of Roda, which it did until 1149. At this time, the bishopric moved to Lleida. It was at this time that the cathedral (which, by definition, is the seat of a bishop) lost its official status. Regardless people still refer to it as a cathedral to this day.

As the only real ‘tourist attraction’ in Roda de Isábena, you should definitely visit the cathedral during any trip to the town. Tours occur five times a day (11:15, 12:30, 13:30, 16:30 and 17:30. There is also a tour at 18:30 from July-September). Visitors are only allowed to enter with a tour and have to leave by the time the next tour starts or the mid-day siesta, during which the cathedral closes. During the tour, which lasts for about 45-60 minutes, the history, architecture and religious artefacts are explained along with stories relating to the cathedral. The language of all tours is Spanish; the tours are the only way to access the interior of the cathedral and the cloisters.

Want a luxury meal? The cathedral also has an upscale restaurant serving dinner on specific days. I can not recommend it personally as it was not open, but if you are looking for an upscale restaurant in the town, this is where you will find it.

Plaza de Pons Sorolla

Located just north of the Cathedral is the Plaza de Pons Sorolla, which contains a viewpoint that looks northwards towards the Pyrenees mountains. It is from there that I took the featured image for this post.

But what else is there to do?

Within the town, the answer is not much. The town has houses (as any human settlement would) and some apartment-style small hotels, like the Balcón de Roda where we stayed. Throw in a few, small restaurants and the town is full.

The area of Huesca, in general, is somewhat out of the way. It is located north and slightly east of Zaragoza and extends up to the border with France. The capital of the county of Huesca, which has the same name, is the smallest provincial capital in Spain with approximately 50,000 inhabitants. This somewhat more remote area, rather than boasting man-made interests, offers an abundance of nature, especially for connoisseurs of hiking and climbing.

Here are some more images from around the town and the cathedral:

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