Climate

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The climate, cold and dry, except in the areas near the Mediterranean sea, is profoundly linked to the geographic characteristics of the province, with a high elevation. Its location in the Iberian Mountain Range is the reason that approximately 62% of its territory is above 1000 metres elevation, in some zones reaching 2.000 metres.

It is, then a Mediterranean climate of mid-sized mountains/continental Mediterranean This means contrasts in temperature depending on

  • The elevation
  • The time of the day, on the same day
  • Exposure: sunny or shady zones

Generally speaking, we can say that:
In winter, the most extreme minimum temperature can reach 20 degrees below zero, although normally the temperature oscillates between -4 to 13 above zero.

Springs are mild with sunny mornings and cool afternoons when the sun sets. The temperatures range from 18 to 22 degrees Celsius.

The warmest months extend from mid-June until almost the end of August with temperatures that can reach 38 degrees in the sun. This temperature is milder at higher elevations (above 1000 metres), in the evening and of course, near the sea.

September and October are very similar to April and May, although cooler and less sunny.

Rainfall:

In general, they are scant, with the most rainfall in the months of April and May and at the end of October and November. In Summer there may be heat storms at the end of the day. In some cases, these are brief but torrential.
In any case, rainfall ranges from 400 mm in the lower zones (Beceite, Molinos, Montoso) to 800 in the highest (Villarluengo, Cantavieja).

Labyrinth of Silence

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Labyrinth of Silence. Without a doubt, one of the most treasured values of the Maestres Area is its tranquillity and solitary character which often gives the hiker the impression of being the first person to set foot on these paths.

Far from the main roads, the Heart of Spain finds in these lands a true example of abandoned landscape, surroundings and, at the same time, a delicate balance between nature and man.

But the landscape is also memories; it reconstructs memories and casts shadows from other times: villages lost in history, kilometres of walls of dry stone, the remains of the splendour of livestock farming, country houses left to an uncertain fate in the middle of the countryside, innumerable places where the silence speaks.

The population density is currently at 2.5 persons per square kilometre, which the European Union defines as deserted. This demographic characteristic, aggravated by the continual drain of migration and the aging population which makes succession of generations difficult, conditions economic activity enormously.

Sceneries

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Sceneries. The effects of the climate, type of ground relief, and man´s intervention have created a landscape of vegetation with great contrasts unique to the mediterranean mountainous areas.

The areas that are most elevated and bare of vegetation ”moorland” are covered by types xerophytic type, with great profusion of aromatic plants (thyme, lavender, sage. Rosemary, etc.) This upper layer corresponds, however, where there has not been deforestation in the past, to the dominion Pinus silvestris with thickets of boxwood and creeping sabine. Here in autumn, the appreciated and coveted robellon (mushroom) abounds. These pines are often the object of forest exploitation.

In some areas, they alternate with pastures and grazing land which, in turn, have sustained the raising of livestock from time immemorial.

Médium elevations are occupied by mixed masses of good European black pines alternating with kermes oak groves in the warmest exposed areas and quercus in the wettest exposed areas.

River banks are another of the Mediterranean ecosystems of the zone. Exuberant and leafy, they constitute an oasis of coolness and shade contrasting with the dry and sunny limestone plateaus.

Geological Landscape

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Geological Landscape. For 180 million years, this territory was covered by sea water.

The instability of the earth’s crust with powerful vertical movements and posterior advancing and receding of the water left a landscape with a great variety of rock and types of sedimentation.

From this landscape, the passing of time and the process of erosion have completed the picture of rugged relief, with singular contrasts: ravines, folds, crests, steep hills or plates.

Some places of great natural beauty:

Pilgrims, bull and party

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Pilgrims, bull and party. The multitude of hermitages scattered throughot the territory are the site of numerous spring festivals. Associated with processions and miraculous passages, the purpose of these festivals was to honor nature, fight droughts, and favour good harvest. Of particular importance is the Villarluengo Prilgrimage to the Hermitage of Saint Peter of Montoro which is celebrated in April.

The bull is another protagonist of the festivals. In the morning or afternoon the “encierros” are held in which the animal runs through the streets of the village. At night the ”embolado de fuego” is carried out, in which several flaming balls are placed on the bull’s horns.

In addition, the symbol of the city of Teruel is a bull: The “Torico”.

In winter, the most important festival is Saint Antón, linked to the protection of animals and the symbology of the struggle between good and evil – theatrical presentations of “diablets”, in which fire is one of the main protagonists in the form of bonfires. Of particular importance are the playing in Mirambel and Valderrobres.

Cakes, cookies and nut wine

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Confection and pastry are rooted in ancient traditions, many of them inherited from Islam in Spain, such as ”turrones”, almond ”mantecados”, ”tortas(cakes) de alma”, ”cuajadas” (curds), ”almojábanas”, flans, ”cabello de angel”(”angel hair”) pastries: Cakes, cookies and nut wine.

There is a long winemaking tradition in the areas of Matarranya in the province of Teruel (Fuentespalda, Cretas and Valderrorres) and in the area around Sant Mateu, in the province of Castellon. These are fruity, full-bodied wines, mainly red, (based on the ”Garnatxa” variety) which reach up to 14º and serve as the base for the excellent walnut liqueur or ”nogado” wine.

In this liqueur, the wine is blended with eau-de-vie and walnuts gathered on the magical night of “San Juan”- the summer solstice – Its final decanting into bottles must be carried out only during a waning moon.

Ham, oil, and cheese

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Ham, oil, and cheese. An important and unique element of the culture of the Maestrex Area is the gastronomic culture. Of particular importance due to their excellent quality are the meat products, because of the high quality of the meats as well as the climate: cured bull meat, goat´s feet, meat products in oil and pickled (spicy pork sausage, pork ribs, pork loins, rabbit and partridge).

Enjoying a well-deserved fame for its peculiar aroma and taste are the hams, cured naturally, and the cheeses of Tronchon, praised in the book Don Quixote, made with both goat’s and sheep’s cheese. Also worthy of mention is the tasty lamb – ”ternasco” – no older than 2 months with the peculiar taste acquired from the pastures with abundant aromatic herbs (thyme, rosemary, etc.) where they are raised.

Olive oil is used at the table both at breakfast as well as at dinner, providing a profound and special taste.

Civil War and Maquis

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Civil War and Maquis. From the French maquis=scrubland vegetation. This was the expression used by the Corsicans when, in their flight from justice, they took refuge in the mountains.

Maquis was the name given to the republican guerrilla movement which continued the armed fight against Franquism in Spain, once the civil war had ended, which thrived in the lands of Maestrazgo, Abarracín and Matarranya, where the G.A.L.A. (Guerrilla Association of Levante and Aragon) was founded.

The origin of the maquis in Spain was small bands of the popular republican army soldiers, militia, deserters, and others who could not or would not leave the country after the fall of the legitimate government of the republic. At first, they went from being soldiers fugitives from the repression of the Franquist regime alter the war to being small armies of organized guerrillas with clandestine support in some villages and behind the French border.

The maquis moved mainly through the mountainous areas of the entire Peninsula, as in the mountains it was more difficult to locate and ambush them. They knew the areas they moved in perfectly, occasionally going into villages and towns to contact allied agents, obtain supplies, or carry out attacks against military or civil objectives, mainly kidnappings or killings of military officers, civil guards, and especially traitors.

The propaganda of the Franco government, which labelled them bandits, the vacating by the civil guard of large mountain zones where they found support, even evacuating entire villages by force for years (some are still abandoned today), the creation of counter-guerrilla groups by the civil guard and the army, who ambushed and infiltrated guerrilla groups and the large reward offered for betraying a guerrilla, a collaborator or sympathizer, gradually brought about the end of this antifranquist movement.

Many guerrillas and collaborators were judged in an irregular manner and shot or jailed for many years in subhuman conditions. Many guerrillas were also killed by the civil guard in the same places where they were arrested, allowing them to flee and shooting at them in their flight.

Nevertheless, the maquis of the GALA were active from 1949 until 1954.

Islam in Spain

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The “Marca” was the territorial and administrative division that the Muslims made in order to control the territory better. In Al Andalus Islam in Spain there were three marcas: the Superior Marca, with Zaragoza as its capital, and occupying most of the land that is now Aragonese, along with other Navarran, Riojan, and Catalan lanas; the Middle Marca with its capital in Toledo, occupying the southernmost part of Aragon (Teruel and Albarracin) and the Lower Marca in the southwest part of the Peninsula.

Around 714, the Arab Tarik established what would be the first urban settlement, a small Muslim village located in the highest part of the hill, and it was called Tirwal, which means watchtower or military bastion. It later belonged to the Taifa Kingdom of Albarracin. Islamic presence in Aragon dates back to 714, extending to 1171, year of the conquest of the Teruel territories. According to legend, the armies of the king came to the place where the city of Teruel is today located, after following a fierce bull above which a star moved at the same speed. The origin of the name of the city is not clear. There are those who say that it came from the name of Tirwal, and others say that it comes from joining the Aragonese words Tor (Bull) and Uel (Star).

Teruel and Albarracín were a kingdom that was independent from the Cordovan Caliphate which belonged to the family of Beni Razin, who gave it its present name. With Ibn Ammar this territory attained great splendour as a centre of culture and refinement.

Templar

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The Christian Reconquest of the territories and their necessary repopulation and maintenance was placed in the hands of the Military Orders. In 1196 The Templar acquired dominion of these places carrying out a number of ”Encomiendas” or ”Baylías”, territorial divisions united by rigid organizational discipline, headed by the figure of the ”Maestre”(Master). The name Maestrazgo comes from this word.

Collective bellicose activities, exemptions, taxes immunity for criminals and assassins. The border with Islam became a place of refuge for people fleeing from their past: murderers, thieves, debtors, people with no family ties. A ”war-oriented society” arose, which would serve as the foundation for the structure of the territory and its economic exploitation.

The Order of the Temple was dissolved in 1308 and after violent revolts in the area, its possessions were acquired by the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem or of the Hospital.

Dry Stone : ancient style

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A peculiar element of the region, and not only in the geological sense, stone and the way it has been used for centuries, has lent its name to a building style known as ”Piedra Seca” (Dry Stone). It involves a system characterized by the use of stone without any type of mortar.

Among the most common structures, we can find the walls separating properties and land terracing. Stone huts or refuges are another singular and genuine element. Built by shepherds and farmers, they are the result of ability, constructiveness, necessity, and self-sufficiency.

Heritage – Architecture

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Heritage – Architecture: The towns of El Maestrazgo and Matarranya are one of its main features, reminder of the prosperity and splendor of the past.

As we know them today, they owe their origin to the period of the Christian Reconquest and subsequent repopulation process. It was in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries when the old kingdom of Aragon secured its borders in the face of the Muslim danger of the neighbouring kingdom of Valencia. This strategy of advancing and of rapid occupation was put in the hands of the Military Orders –mainly the Temple-.

Finally, the mountainous character of the territory, and its difficult accesibility, form the basis of urban planning or town design, which has continued practically unchanged to our days:

  • Places of great beauty set upon spurs or rocky shelves.
  • Existence of a partially or totally walled perimeter.
  • Urban network of narrow streets.
  • Centrally-located parish churches – in the midst of the population – some of them monuments made into points of interest.
  • Notable buildings, of later origin and styles –gothic, renaissance, baroque-.