The city of Teruel is located in a remote mountainous region, 3002 feet above sea level, in the province of Aragón — but only a 2-and-a-half hour train trip from Valencia. I decided to explore! The scenery from the train was impressive — towering mountains, lush valleys, and arid high plains, dotted with towns and villages that seemed more than a little lost in time.
With a population of approximately 35,000, it is a very friendly place and easy to explore.
Teruel is known for its Mudejár architecture, jamón de Teruel (Teruel ham), black truffles, a tragic 13th century love story (Los Amantes de Teruel), and rock outcrops containing some of the oldest dinosaur remains on the Iberian Peninsula.
In the history of contemporary Spain, Teruel is remembered for the Batalla de Teruel (The Battle of Teruel), fought in and around the city during the Spanish Civil War between December 1937 and February 1938, in the midst of the worst Spanish winter in twenty years. The two sides, Republicans and Nationalists, suffered over 140,000 casualties between them. It was a decisive battle of the war, giving the Nationalists a major victory. Ernest Hemingway visited the front lines of the battle as a journalist in December of 1937.
La Plaza del Torico (The Plaza of the Little Bull) is the traditional heart of the city and there, in the center, is El Torico (the little bull), a fountain surrounding a statue of a little bull (and he is very small!) — the symbol of the city. Legend has it that when the Christians re-conquered the territory of Teruel in 1171, they sent bulls with burning torches on their horns to force the Moors out. At the end of the battle, a single bull remained standing under a star. The Christians thought it was a good sign to build a city around where the bull stood.
Teruel is famous for its Mudéjar architecture, a convergence of Gothic, Romanesque, and Islamic styles, which emerged as an architectural style in 12th century Spain and Portugal. It is defined by the use of brick and glazed ceramic tile designs. Teruel’s four bell towers, El Salvador, San Martín, San Pedro and la Cathedral de Santa María de Mediavilla, as well as the ceiling of the cathedral plus church and cloister of la iglesia (church) de San Pedro, have all been named World Heritage sites by UNESCO. The cathedral, with its ceiling adorned with kings, warriors, musicians, priests, dragons, and religious motifs, and the iglesia de San Pedro, are truly magnificent.
Los Amantes de Teruel (The Lovers of Teruel) is a 13th century romantic tragedy. The legend is as follows:
There were two important and wealthy families in the city of Teruel, the Marcillas’ and Seguras’. Diego was a Marcilla and Isabel a Segura. The two fell in love as childhood playmates but when they were at an eligible age to marry, Diego’s family had fallen on hard times. Isabel’s father, being the most wealthy man in Teruel, forbade the marriage. Diego, however, was able to make an agreement with her father in which he would leave Teruel for five years to try and build up his fortune. If Diego was able to gain wealth within that time he would be able to marry Isabel.
Diego was not heard from for five years and on the day the fifth year past, Isabel’s father married her to Don Pedro de Azagra from the nearby town of Albarracín. Right after the wedding ceremony there was a commotion at the Zaragoza gate. The watchmen informed the village that Diego Marcilla had returned with great riches and with the intent of marrying Isabel. Diego ran to the feet of Isabel and pleaded her to marry him. Isabel refused, saying it was impossible. Then Diego pleaded for just one kiss so that at least he could go on in the world, but Isabel refused.
Upon hearing this, Diego could not bear the separation between himself and his love, and with a sigh, he died on the feet of his beloved Isabel. The next day, during his funeral, Isabel arrived in her wedding dress. She proceeded to walk to the front of the church and place a kiss on the man whom she had refused — but in doing so Isabel herself died, falling prostrate on the body of the man she loved.
Today it is possible to visit the tombs of Isabel and Diego in the Mausoleum of the Iglesia de San Pedro. I was told there that many Spanish couples, with a devotion to the romantic legend, travel to Teruel become engaged at the lovers’ tombs (Goths take note!). There is a live reenactment of the legend, Las Bodas de Isabel de Segura (The Weddings of Isabel de Segura) held every third weekend of February.
Many people visit Teruel for its impressive Mudejár architecture, but there is also a remarkable amount of Modernisme (Art Nouveau) design in the city.
Jamón de Teruel (Teruel ham), famous for its rich flavor, is cured in the mountainous environment for a minimum of 14 months and is really delicious! Teruel has a variety of great tapas bars and restaurants. During my visit, these were my favorites:
Portal de Guadalaviar (Calle El Salvador, next to Hotel Reina Christina)
La Barrica (Calle Abadia 5)
Restaurante Venecia (Calle Sta. Cristina, 2)
All photos © La Gringa Ibérica