About Monasterio de Piedra
Nestled amid acres of dramatic parkland crisscrossed by waterfalls, streams and idyllic natural pools, Monasterio de Piedra is a picturesque medieval monastery in the municipality of Nuévalos, in the province of Zaragoza in Northeast Spain.
History of the Monasterio de Piedra
The Monastery, whose name translates literally as ‘The Stone Monastery’, was founded in 1194 when Alfonso II, the king of Aragon, donated a castle and the land surrounding it to thirteen Catholic monks from the Order of the Cistercians. The castle dated back to the period of the Muslim Caliphate of Córdoba (929-1031) and had been a Muslim defensive stronghold during the battles against the Christian kingdoms of Northern Spain.
Monasterio de Piedra was constructed over 23 years using materials from the castle and the wall which enclosed it. At the time, the conquest of the region by Catholic forces in 1120 was a relatively recent memory, and the Catholic kingdoms’ campaign to re-conquer Spain (‘la reconquista’) was still underway. In this context, the vast building project served as a symbolic means of proclaiming, consolidating and reinforcing Catholic identity and Catholicism’s public presence.
The monastery was built during the transition from Romanesque to Gothic art, and is characterised by an austere and simple architectural style. It does, however, contain various baroque elements, which were added in the eighteenth century.
Cistercian monks lived in the Monasterio de Piedra between 1195 and 1835. They had to abandon the building on three occasions: in 1808 during the War of Independence; during the Liberal Triennium of 1820-23; and finally in 1835, when the building was expropriated by the Liberal Government as part of its disentailment policy (which involved the suppression of Spain’s male religious orders and the expropriation and sale of their property). During the latter two periods, many of the monastery’s statues and images were decapitated in anticlerical attacks.
The Monasterio de Piedra today
Today, Monasterio de Piedra is privately owned and open to the public. The extensive grounds have been relandscaped into a formal park – look out for the Lago del Espejo (Mirror Lake). The parkland can get extremely busy at weekends, particularly in the summer, so bear this in mind whilst planning a visit, and allow several hours to explore the grounds thoroughly.
There’s also a hotel, two restaurants, a spa, wine museum and an exhibition on the history of chocolate, so you’re unlikely to find yourself bored. The monastery itself is open daily from 10am to 5pm.
Getting to the Monasterio de Piedra
4 days a week, a bus runs from Zaragoza to the monastery, leaving at 9am and returning at 5pm. If you don’t get on this, you’ll need a car to reach the monastery: it’s about a 90 minute drive from Zaragoza via the E90, A2 and A202.