Castle of the Week 90 – Castillo de Loarre

Castillo de Loarre is breathtaking.
It is one of Spain’s best preserved Romanesque castles. The castle has withstood time on a rocky prominence in the southern foothills of the Pyrenées, and lies northwest of Huesca. Time appears to have stood still as it rises from the grey rocks, guarded by its silent towers. The castle has retained its glory due, partly, to the remoteness of its locale at the base of the Pyrenées. The foothills are filled with pine trees, scrub bushes, almond groves and olive trees; the hint of herbs scent the air of the beautiful valleys and there are breathtaking views as you look out from the castle.

The origins of Loarre can be traced back to ancient Rome, before the birth of Christ. Historians believe Loarre was the site of Calagurris Fibulariensis whose people offered Julius Caesar their aid by sending men to fight in the battle of Lérida in August 49 BC.

By 1016 Loarre is being used as a border fortress by the King of Aragon, Sancho el Mayor III. The oldest remaining part of the castle was built by him between 1015-1023, as a defense against the Muslim powers of Bolea and Ayerbe.

The castle was used as a royal residence for about 100 years. This early part of the castle contains the primitive chapel, ward, well, Tower of the Queen and the keep (torre de homenaje). The keep is 22 meters high with a crenellated top and walls that reach a thickness of 2 meters. Loarre’s location gave it a mark of strategic importance, as it was one of several castles in a line of defense that covered the region of Huesca.

From approximately 1062 to 1070, Loarre was under Muslim rule. King Sancho Ramírez retook and expanded the castle in 1070-1071. During this expansion the beautiful Romanesque church was built. King Ramírez also provided the means for Loarre to become an Augustinian monastery. The position of the castle was within 20 miles of the pilgrimage road that ran from Jaca to Puente la Reina.

The castle plan flows over the rock on which it rests, following the landscape. During this time in history it shows an unparalleled sophistication of design, with the smooth and detailed appearance of its construction.

The church of San Pedro is a work of art, containing a spacious nave whose four main pillars converge to hold the inner dome of the cupola. The craftsmanship and detail that was taken in making the chapel fills you with awe. The interior is well lit by carefully placed windows which illuminate the dome, nave and the semi circular apse. Beautiful Romanesque columns, 82 in total for the main chapel, are capped with astounding artwork. They depict flowers, birds, animals, plants, beautiful patterns and designs. A semi circular crypt lies below the apse and can be entered by a staircase below the chapel. The crypt also contains Romanesque columns, a total of 18, with the same detailed art as the chapel above.

As I researched this castle I was awestruck at the overwhelming detail that was used in the construction. Loarre has a unique window called the Queen’s Lookout; it gave the kings and nobles a spectacular view of their surrounding landscape.

King Sancho Ramírez continued to use the castle till around 1094, after which Loarre lost its importance as a royal residence, and became a seat for royal governors.

Sancho Ramírez and Pedro I may both have claim to parts of the constructed outer wall. It was believed to be mostly constructed in the 13th century to provide protection to the village that sprang up around the base of the castle. From 1294 to 1413 the castle was relatively peaceful. It survived a siege attempt in 1413-14 to become a barony. Again the castle fell into a peaceful period.

Beginning around 1844 a renewed interest in the castle began and by 1906 it had become a national monument. It is open to the public year around and can be visited by contacting the castle or the office of tourism. Loarre Castle recently was filmed in the motion picture The Kingdom of Heaven. It will be interesting to see the transformation this castle will undergo as director, Ridley Scott, films the epic motion picture and transforms the landscape below the castle walls into a thriving ancient city. The interior of the Chapel of San Pedro was converted for a room for scenes of the movie, due out in 2005.

Write-up courtesy of Lady Arcola
Special thanks to the Spanish site Castillo de Loarre
for the best online resource of information and pictures of the inside of the castle.
Special thanks also to Mot’s European Castle Page and also to Burgenwelt for the use of the pictures in this article.