17th August 2021: Towards the Pyrenees, via the cathedrals {Spain, summer 2021}

The total driven distance today was around 450 km, but we did that in three legs with with two visits in-between.

The first stop was Huesca, in the province of the same name, in Aragón. After ditching the car (and having our first Sat-nav disagreement for the trip), we walked towards the city centre. The first thing we peered into was a little grocer’s shop Ultramarinos La Confianza, which dates back to 1871 and is reported to be the longest-running grocer’s in Spain. Unfortunately, due to Covid restrictions there was a queue outside and we could only see it from the outside.

We proceeded to the cathedral of the Lord’s Transfiguration Catedral de la Transfiguración del Señor, a Gothic-style building that stands in the centre of the town, just in front of the council hall. The cathedral has only one tower which used to be crowned by a spire, but that was lost during the civil war. The main gate is decorated with carvings of the Apostles.

However, we did not enter through the main gate, but the lateral one which gave us access to the religious museum of the cathedral Museo Diocesano de Huesca. The museum has several art pieces from different periods, and gives access to the Gothic cloister of the cathedral, and to older structures, among them, a peek into the original Romanesque cloister.

Adjacent to the cathedral stands the Bishop’s palace, also part of the museum. The most impressive part is the hall called Salón del Tanto Monta , which sports a Mudejar wooden ceiling carved and polychrome in 1478, restored twice since then. The wording “Tanto Monta” refer to the Catholic King Fernando, indicating that he had as much importance in his wife’s kingdom as she did – I’ll get into that history titbit another day though.

We finally walked into the cathedral itself, which is presided by the high altar made from alabaster and sculpted in the 16th century by Damián Forment, the most important sculptor at the time.

Again due to Covid, we could not visit the council hall and see the painting that illustrates a rather sordid legend – the king Ramiro II called upon some treacherous noblemen under the excuse to show them “the greatest bell in the kingdom” and beheaded all of them. Some of the legends add that he used one of the severed heads as a clapper. The town hall hosts a painting by José Casado del Alisal depicting this side of the legend, even though it has been long debunked. What was open was the little church in the convent Monasterio de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, though the most interesting part of the monastery is the building itself, in a very characteristic style using bricks that reminds of the Mudejar style.

The next stop was another monastery San Pedro el Viejo, one of the oldest Romanesque buildings in Spain. The church was used as Royal Pantheon and some of the old Monarchs of the former Kingdom of Aragón are buried there. Though it has been completed and renovated in different styles, the cloister dates back to 1140 – albeit some of the capitals have been “cloned” in restoration.

The inside of the church has been populated by Baroque chapels (urgh). However, some of the original polychromy can still be seen.

These are the main sights for the town of Huesca, so we decided to go on. We tried to find a place to have lunch, but most places were closed as the local festival had just finished. Searching, we ended up passing by and underneath the Porches de Galicia, a covered street considered a historical landmark, but there is no actual information on it that I could find.

On our way out, we walked past the fountain Fuente de las Musas, representing the Greek Muses.

The second leg of the journey took us to Jaca, where we visited the cathedral and the Diocesan museum. The cathedral of St. Peter Catedral de San Pedro Apóstol, a predominantly Romanesque building (with, of course, Baroque decoration), although the wooden ceilings have been replaced. The building itself was completed around the year 1130. The altar holds the organ and is richly decorated with frescoes.

The adjacent museum Museo Diocesano de Huesca, also called the Romanesque Museum, which contains a large number of Romanesque paintings that have been collected from the different churches around the area, and sculptures from the period. It also yields entrance to the cloister, which has a small garden populated with roses, bright purple thistles, and tiny shy lizards that ran away as I peered in.

It was a little too late to enter and walk around the old fortress Ciudadela de Jaca, the military museum, so I just walked around it. Unfortunately, the star shape is not appreciated from the ground, so take my word for it – it is star-shaped. Due to droughts, however, the moat is devoid of water, and it has been turned into a… deer park.

So after this we drove off to the final destination of the day, the small village of Torla-Ordesa, which is the entryway to the Pyrenees area on the Huesca province, particularly the nearby national park Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido.

We had a bit of an organisation issue here. Because the park is a National one, there is zero reliable information from the administration itself – it turns out that to reach the park you need to take the bus from the visitor’s centre in Torla-Ordesa, you cannot get there on your own (lovely for Covid times, don’t you think?). Furthermore, the park has top capacity which is measured by the buses that depart from the centre – around 30 buses, which is usually reached around 10 am in summer. This made us change all our plans. So we set the alarm for 6:30 am to get an early start, and went to bed.

As mentioned before, driven distance was around 450 km. Total walking distance: 7.5 km.