The county of Barcelona, jewel in the Crown of Aragon

By  David Nogales, Ancient and Medieval History Professor. Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.

In the northeast of the peninsula, where the Emperor Charlemagne had established the so-called Hispanic Brand at the end of the 8th century, a new reality would take shape named Catalonia by a Pisan chronicle for the first time at the beginning of the 12th century. The road that separated one moment from the other had been long and the changes that would accompany this passage were profound. The first steps had been taken by Wifredo the Hairy (so called because, as an old chronicle tells us, "he had hair on certain parts not usual in a man's body"), who would be appointed in 870 Count of Urgell and Cerdanya by the Frankish King Charles the Bald and only eight years later Count of Barcelona by his son, Louis the Stutterer. With this, Count Wifredo retained an important part of the Hispanic Brand in his hands.

At his death in 897, the territories he had ruled as a delegate of the Frankish king were to be divided up among his sons as if they were private property, in a manner not very different from what was happening elsewhere in the former Carolingian Empire. The main branch would be the nucleus formed by the counties of Barcelona, Girona and Osona, the latter with its capital in the current Vic (Barcelona). All these territories would never again be under the sovereignty of the Frankish kings, who, in fact, would be forced to formally recognise their autonomy in the so-called treaty of Corbeil of 1258. 

Among the counties that had integrated the Hispanic Brand in Carolingian times, the county of Barcelona would end up standing out. Its owners (who would draw the genealogical lines of the House of Barcelona for more than five centuries) would increase their domains from the 10th century onwards, thanks to the resignation of relatives, conquests, alliances or purchases. In this way, the counts would gradually extend their influence both southwards, under Muslim control, and northwards, beyond the Pyrenees. The process was slow and not always easy, as some lords were reluctant to disappear. Thus, the Aran Valley would remain in the hands of the French Count of Cominges between 1213 and 1313, and the county of Pallars Sobira would enjoy autonomy until the end of the 15th century.

One event, however, would be bound to change, above all others, the history of Catalonia: in 1162 the title of the county of Barcelona fell to the King of Aragon, Alfonso II the Chaste, born of the marriage between the Count of Barcelona, Ramon Berenguer IV, and Petronila of Aragon, daughter of the Aragonese King Ramiro II. From that moment on, the history of the county of Barcelona would be linked to the history of the kingdom of Aragon and, later, to that of the brother kingdoms of Valencia and Mallorca, founded in the 13th century after the conquests of King Jaume I. All these territories would form what historians have called since the 19th century the Crown of Aragon: a monarchy made up of a group of kingdoms, states and lordships that, although they were under the common figure of the King of Aragon, they retained their own institutions, laws and borders.

Within the framework of this monarchy, if the Kingdom of Aragon was the soul of the Crown, Catalonia was its heart. Until the end of the 14th century and the beginning of the 15th century, the principality, as it would be called, at least since 1350, was the most populated territory of the Crown and its economic engine, thanks to its intense commercial and naval activity. This importance would manifest itself in the role that the bourgeoisie of Barcelona, united with the Catalan nobility, had in the impulse of the project that would lead the Aragonese kings to build a maritime Empire extended over the Balearic Islands, Sicily and Sardinia, the Italian area and some parts of Greece. Thus, the citizens of Barcelona collaborated with their ships and money in the royal projects and, thanks to the monopoly granted by Jaime I of Aragon to Barcelona, their ships came to have control of the commercial routes that, from Barcelona, went to North Africa, Syria or the Byzantine Empire, trading with fabrics, spices or slaves. In this way, the Catalans would become the most visible face of the Aragonese Crown in the waters of the Mediterranean.

This weight of Catalonia in the Crown of Aragon was also manifested in the importance achieved by Catalan, which became, together with Aragonese and, later, Spanish, one of the languages, perhaps the favourite of the Aragonese kings, especially before the 15th century. A language in which, as well as narrating the deeds of the kings of Aragon, some of the most beautiful pages of Hispanic literature would be written, such as the verses of the Valencian poet Ausiàs March or the chivalrous stories of Tirant lo Blanch by the also Valencian Joanot Martorell. El Velloso, Ramon Berenguer IV or Alfonso II would thus weave a story that would be the foundation of Catalonia, of the Crown of Aragon and of the future Hispanic Monarchy. 


The route includes some castles linked to the history of the principality of Catalonia. It begins at the castle of the Dukes of Cardona (Barcelona), probably founded by the Franks, originally linked to the figures of Wifredo el Velloso and Ramon Berenguer IV, and since the 10th century it has been the property of one of the great families of the Catalan aristocracy: the Viscounts, then Counts and finally Dukes of Cardona, whose pantheon is located in the castle church, the former collegiate church of San Vicente, one of the culminating works of 11th century Catalan Romanesque. After leaving Cardona, the route continues towards Lleida, the former capital of the Muslim Taifa kingdom of the same name, conquered by Ramon Berenguer IV and Armengol VI of Urgel in 1149. The city would become the seat of the first university of the Crown of Aragon, founded by King James II in 1297, and in its royal castle a key event in Catalan history would take place in 1150: the wedding of Ramon Berenguer IV and Petronila of Aragon. The route then heads for the castle or farm of Riudabella (Vimbodí i Poblet, Tarragona), a territory also conquered by Ramon Berenguer IV, and donated to the Cistercian monastery of Santa Maria de Poblet, the pantheon of the Aragonese kings. In this place, the monks of Poblet established between the 12th and 13th centuries a farm that was to serve as a space for agricultural production and rest, in which the intervention of the abbot Delgado allowed, in the 15th century, the construction of some of its buildings, among them, a chapel, although the current appearance of the complex corresponds to a reform of the 19th century. The route ends at the Zuda Castle in Tortosa (Tarragona), built in the 10th century during the reign of Caliph Abderraman III, and the centre of the ephemeral Taifa kingdom of Tortosa. After the conquest of the city by the Muslims in 1148 on the initiative of Count Ramon Berenguer IV, the castle of La Zuda would be linked to the noble family of the Montcada and would be donated to the Order of the Temple, passing, after the extinction of this military order, back to the Aragonese kings, who, like James I of Aragon, resided for long periods in the fortress.

Where does the route take place?

  • Castle of the Dukes of Cardona
  • Castle of Riudabella
  • Zuda Castle in Tortosa

Know castles and palaces in this route

How would you like to travel back in time to the Middle Ages? At the Parador de Cardona, you will feel as if that is just what you've done. The hotel is a beautiful medieval castle with centuries of history, standing high atop a promontory and watching over the charming town of Cardona. On this 9th-century fortified site, you can also visit Minyona Tower and a lovely church, both dating from the 11th century. We have taken great care with the décor to ensure that the castle retains all of its charm and so that the fosses, towers, walls and gothic elements can be seen in all their glory. Panoramic views of the town and the lands along the Cardoner River are visible from anywhere you look out, a gift to which you will awaken each morning.

Cardona has retained all the charm of a medieval town. It is filled with incomparably beautiful spots and narrow side streets that you will want to explore every inch of. Here you can pay a visit to Montaña de Sal Cultural Park, an old salt mine with spectacular interior galleries, where you can tour the museum and see the old shaft machinery. The different folds and veins of the salt deposit and the wide variety of minerals contribute to the spectacular nature of this site, making it unique in the world. You will love it.

The Parador de Cardona is the ideal setting-off point for hiking or bicycle trails, including Los Molinos de la Sal (The Salt Mills), which runs past three old stone mills beside the Cardener River. Other nature trails you can enjoy include the Vía Salaria (Salt Road), the Camino de los Monjes (Monks' Trail) and the Camino de la Frontera (Border Trail), which will guide you along the paths that once ran around the territories on the former border with Muslim Al-Andalus.

At the Parador de Cardona, we offer you a one-of-a-kind experience: you will be reunited with tranquility, nature and history and enjoy all the delights of Catalan cuisine. If you visit us, you are sure to return.






The origins of Riudabella go back to prehistoric times, as evidenced by the existence of different sites in the area. The beginning of the building is located in the Iberian period, since in this location an Iberian defensive tower was found. Later in this same building there are different references to the settlement of a considerable Roman villa.

Towards century XII, after the Saracen occupation, Ramón Berenguer IV reconquests these territories and fields for the monks of the Cisternian orden who founded the Monastery of Santa Maria de Poblet, and were in charge to develop different farms dedicated to the agricultural operation and the care of its surroundings.

Between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, Riudabella becomes an important "farmhouse" where they build on the existing elements, a fortified farmhouse with different rooms dedicated to accommodation, prayer and agricultural work by monks such as the cultivation of the vineyard and the elaboration of wine, honey and saffron. That explains the existence in the premises of an important "Celler" or winery of the time.

In the fifteenth century the abbot Delgado made several buildings and a chapel. Throughout the sixteenth-eighteenth centuries the monks made improvements.

During the period of the confiscation of Mendizábal, Pedro Gil i Babot, father of the great grandfather of the current owner, bought the farmhouse. The restoration was made during 1860 and it was when the buildings were rebuilt with a neo-medieval style, turning Riudabella into a castle.

It started as an agricultural farm and summer residence of the family, for private use, but over the years, the new concerns of society as well as economic changes in general, have made the family rethink and decide to open our home to the public,to be able to preserve it and face the costly maintenance that this type of buildings imply.

In that sense, it seemed more appropriate to open a topic "rural tourism" because of the unique environment in which the Castell de Riudabella is located. We started in 1992 with an apartment for 6 people in a wing of the castle and little by little we were adapting the adjoining facilities to provide pool and garden service.
Then we opened another apartament for 2 people.

With this idea, we continue working at this time. Our dream, would be to turn the Castell de Riudabella into a landmark of historical tourism, with a maximum of 20 people staying in apartments for 2/4 pax. located in different places outside the main building (garages, stables, huts ...) and keep the main building it to give special meals, hold events and meetings.

We also offer our guests the opportunity of a private guided tour of the castle with an explanation of its history and that of our family.

We have also adapted some rooms in the old barn, to offer them to celebrate weddings, events, business meetings... and thus expand the offer.

Our last great milestone will be to recover the old romantic garden and include it in our tourist offer and enjoy a privileged environment

More than two thousand years of history make up the cultural and historical heritage of Tortosa, a city which has been declared an area of artistic and historical importance. Located on the Ebro River, near the mouth where the delta begins, Tortosa enjoys a Mediterranean climate and charm. The Parador is situated in the spectacular Zuda Castle, overlooking the city from high above, offering a combination of monumental beauty and the attractions of the various natural areas that surround it. At this inviting hotel, you can enjoy the seasonal swimming pool, a cozy dining room with Gothic windows, comfortable guest rooms and magnificent views of the banks of the Ebro along the river's final stretches.

In Tortosa, you will discover a city with a special charm. Beautiful Santa María Cathedral, the Jewish quarter, the open-air sculpture museum of sculptor Santiago de Santiago, and Mirabel Castle are just some of the lovely sights it has to offer. A wonderful way to explore Tortosa is by following a walking or bicycle route around the walls and fortifications, beginning at the Parador and visiting the fortified complex known as the Avanzadas de San Juan, Inmaculada Square, the wall-walk and Célio Tower.

Its streets, artistic and cultural heritage, the scenery offered by the Ebro Plain, and the people, cuisine and festivals make this city unique. If you come to Tortosa during the second half of July, you will experience the Renaissance Festival, when thousands of locals dress in period costume and there are daily performances in the streets, transporting Tortosa five hundred years back in time.