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Aragon is the fourth (out of seventeen) largest region of Spain and makes up a tenth of the whole area of Spain. It has a population of some one and quarter million, but at a very low density (24 compared to the national average of 76 a square kilometre).
The region is an important central gateway between Spain and Portugal and the rest of Europe, as it has nearly one hundred miles of frontier with France. This strategic importance was underlined when Zaragoza, the regional capital, was chosen as the Expo City 2008 with the theme of “Water and Sustainable Development”.
The region of Aragon has three provinces:
Culture and heritage
Aragon has a rich artistic, institutional and political heritage mainly due to the different peoples, cultures and physical environments that have made up its past. This dynamic mosaic is most easily seen its architecture, especially in the Mudejar tradition, best seen in Teruel and Zaragoza, which were declared as of world importance by the UN in 1986, as they reflected so well the richness of the Christian, Moorish and Jewish cultures in these cities.
Rome, as ever, left a firm architectural footprint, still to be seen in the bridges, aqueducts, mausoleums and robust defensive walls – particularly in Zaragoza.
The heritage of Islam is to be seen everywhere but most remarkably in the Palacio de la Aljaferia in Zaragoza. During the 11th century a number of small and beautiful Romanesque churches, with a strong Moorish influence, were built in the Serrablo district.
During the Middle Ages the Christian kings built the Monasterio de San Juan de la Peña, as a symbol of their return. This was a period of classical architecture, of confidence clearly shown in military and civil buildings, in lay out of city centres, as well in churches, of which the best examples are: San Martin, San Pedro and El Salvador in Teruel.
Festivals, traditions and cooking
In Aragón festivals are celebrated with intensity, whether solemn or joyful. In the former is the deeply felt and moving processions of Semana Santa (Easter) which follow traditional routes with solemn music. Among the latter are the jovial Patron festivals which attract many visitors each year, especially the Fiestas de Zaragoza in honour of the Virgin del Pilar.
Aragonian cooking uses a lot of local products that are the basis of traditional dishes that are modified from village to village, However, nearly all of them make full use of: meat, vegetables, fish and greens, though the traditional recipes are being adapted to today’s different lifestiles. But no-one has abandoned the tastes and aromas that have bubbled from the pots and pans over many decades.
The kingdom of Aragón emerged in the 11th century and reached its full maturity under the Crown of Aragón, even though its origins can be traced back to pre-roman times.
The development of the regional community of Aragón, from the valleys of Echo and Canfranc in the 8th century to the present day, owes much to certain crucial political events, as, indeed, it does for the rest of Europe.
Events such as: Compromise of Caspe, expansion of the Aragon court to the Mediterranean, leadership of Fernando II and his grandson Carlos I, Mudejar culture, Spanish Enlightenment, War of Independence and the Spanish Civil War. Aragón leadership nowadays is seen in the development of regional powers and in cultural and commercial activities, such as Expo 2008.
Aragón has given to the world politicians, philosophers, scientists and artists. Men such as: Marcial, Avempace, Miguel Servet, Gracian, Goya, Ramon and Cajal, Buñuel, Carlos and Antonio Saura among others.
Countryside and wildlife
A local saying has it that in Aragón all roads lead to somewhere beautiful and surprising. In a landscape that has lakes and meadows in the high mountains; hidden valleys: wooded mountain ranges; awesome rock faces; precipitous ravines; deep lagoons and unforgettable steppes - then perhaps the claim is not too incredulous.
And this landscape is full of wildlife. From species that are endangered, such as the handful of bears to the large colonies of rock vultures or the largest concentration, in Europe, of cranes in Gallocanta, one can appreciate that such a diverse ecosystem produces an extraordinary number of habitats.
The region has one national park, Ordesa y Monte Perdido and four wildlife parks which have areas of both beauty and rarity, such as Monasterio de Piedra.
There are also five folk or cultural parks which combine history, art and crafts. The exhibits and organised events are put on against a backcloth of a very special landscape, such as Rio Vero y San Juan de Peña en Huesca.
Sport and activities
Aragón is well suited, because of its climate and landscape, to provide the full range of tourist activities and sports. It has rock faces that reach to the sky, legendary forests, year round snow in hidden valleys, lakes and tarns, winding canyons, precipices and daunting mountain ranges, all surrounded by seemingly everlasting plains and steppes, criss-crossed by paths for the intrepid walker.
This is a countryside that beckons the adventure sport enthusiasts. Activities such as mounteneering, climbing, ravine descending – all allow you to enjoy nature at its most raw and pure.
Other activities, like bungy jumping, rafting, paragliding and all kinds of treks, either on foot, bike, horseback or 4 x 4 are all available.
Winter sport enthusiasts can choose among several well-known ski resorts for skiing, snow boarding and all the facilities for après-ski:
Getting there and around
The region is well connected by rail and road. The airport is at Zaragoza.
The A2 autoroute connects to Bilbao, and in the opposite direction to Barcelona and the whole of the Mediterranean coast. The N11 links the region to Madrid.
There is an extensive network of local roads within the region where you can enjoy driving the way it used to be!