Here I go...

Finding magic under the stars of the Camino Santiago de Compostela

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Aragones Route - Arres to Ruesta

On the morning of October 14, I left at dawn.
Looking back over my shoulder at the village of Arres
was like looking back through time with the old stone buildings
sitting like jewels on the top of the hill.
Photo by Journeyman13
One of my favorite times to walk is dawn. 
Watching the sun rise over the mountains in the still of the morning is healing to me.  

I stopped off at the bar on my way out of town. 
They were open for coffee, and I bought a bocadillo de tortilla for the road.

The night before I asked Felix, the hospitalero at Arres,
how far it was to Artieda.
He told me it was 18 kilometers. 
My guidebook said 15 kilometers. 
I would bet money that Felix was right!  
The guidebooks often fail.

So this day I simply put one foot in front of the other, 
followed the yellow arrows, 
and eventually I knew I would arrive in Artieda.

Artieda sits at the top of a hill where in the 12th century 
there stood a castle. 
The road goes up an around, up and around 
and it is quite a hard climb. 

The road in Artieda is beautiful, and all done in stone.

Photo by jemonbe
Following the arrows to the very top, 
I found the albergue and restaurant.

The lady in charge was not very friendly as she showed me my bed. 
(although her son was friendly)
She roughly barked at me not to put my backpack on a chair. 
She gestured and pointed!
She wanted it on the floor. 
I'm sure this is because of the bedbug problem,
and I wouldn't think of putting my mochila on the bed, 
but I'm also not going to put it on the floor. 
I told her I'd keep it with me
and kept in on my shoulders. 
She wasn't happy. 
The charge for staying was 10 Euros.

The rooms were dark, and didn't really look clean.
I saw no sign of other pilgrims here.
 I was hungry and they were serving food in the restaurant. 
The Menu del Dia was $9 and it smelled pretty good, 
so I asked to be seated. 
Instead of seating me in the main dining room with other patrons,
she put me in a corner back in a dark room 
and handed me the same menu the others were reading. 
I thought, "ok, she's treating me like a pilgrim, 
and I AM a pilgrim, so I will be thankful." 

Soon, another weary pilgrim came to the door.
He asked if he could fill his water bottles.
Her son started to take the man's water bottles,
but the woman screamed at him, and refused.
She literally chased him off! 

That was enough for me!  
What a shame this shrew-like woman
could ruin the ambiance of such an ethereal place!

I had no desire to spend any more of my money here. 
I paid my bill, picked up my mochila, 
and walked out.
She glared at me as I literally shook the dust from my feet, 
as the Good Book instructed the apostles.

As weary as I was, I continued my walking 
down, down, back down the hill and on to Ruesta,
hopefully to find more friendly digs.

All along the path I kept seeing signs saying, "Yesa, No!"
I thought, "What the heck does this mean?"


In Ruesta, I discovered the answer.

A note to those traveling this path:
As you approach Ruesta,
you find yourself following the trail through a sort of tunnel of vegetation. 

After an hour of fighting the mosquitoes in the tunnel,
I decided to break out
and was thrilled to find a road running parallel 
to the left of the pilgrim path
OUTSIDE the buggy tunnel. 

I followed this dirt farming road all the way to Ruesta, 
happy and bug-free!

There I met a nice hospitalero 
and drank beers with a biker dude named Antonio. 
He was a real character. 
He wore a denim vest, one earring, and some of his teeth were missing. 
Reminded me of the Hell's Angels of my childhood.
But he was a sweet and friendly guy.
He was also the local Bard, and knew a lot about the history of Ruesta. 

A Bit of History:
Ruesta is situated in the province of Zaragoza, in the high part of the Cinco Villas region, at the gates to the Pyrenees in Huesca and Navarra.

From the year 850, the kings of Navarra, to control and defend the territory annexed, had to build a castle in this central and strategic position. Between 905-925 Ruesta appears in historical documents as a Royal Headquarters,  defending the zone between Yesa and Arrés. Although a lot of authors attribute a Muslim origin (911) to the construction of the castle of Ruesta, they have confused Ruesta with the castle of Cercastiello (known like Rueita or Royta) of similar name.

The castle was destroyed by Almanzor in the bitter campaign of 999. Between the years 1016 and 1018, the monarch Sancho III reconstructed the castle of Ruesta. In his will (1035), it appears as one of the four main defensive enclaves of Aragon (beside Samitier, Petilla and Loarre), conceded to his successor to the throne. In 1056 the King of Navarra conceded Ruesta to Ramiro I. It is documented as headquarters of royal possession between the years 1024 and 1190.

Between the 11th-13th centuries, Ruesta became a city-market, endowed with an important Christian and Hebrew community devoted to regional and border trade. Ruesta had four churches and two hospitals for pilgrims, founded all by the Navarro and Aragonese monarchs.

In 1098, the King appointed to the the Jews of Ruesta a special tribute, called the Lezda de los Judios. Before 1249, the Hebrew community was concentrated in the neighborhood of the castle, with the obligation to keep the fortress in good condition. In 1294, they guarded and administered the castle and the oven, earning their incomes from those oven, and soon created a monopoly. In 1381, their positions were taken away and given to Spanish people. The Jewish community was extinguished  in 1492, by means of expulsion or forced conversion.

This forced conversion was interesting to me, 
as it is a well-known fact that the Jews who converted to Catholicism in Iberia 
were given "tree" names. 
My last name, Carvalho, means "oak." 
If my last remaining paternal uncle were willing,
I suspect we'd find Jewish roots in our DNA.

The village of Ruesta fell victim to the numerous and destructive invasions 
that affected all of Spain in the 12th-15th centuries, 
and in1381 the king Pedro IV sold Ruesta to Pedro Jordán of Urriés 
(Lord of Ayerbe and of Sigüés) 
along with the castles and places of Artieda, Pintano and Osia. 

This sale was revoked (temporarily) in 1385. 

In 1412-1416, the last known warden of the castle was Sancho Escudero, 
who earned his income by baking in the common oven.

In the 19th century, Ruesta boasted 100 houses of families 
who farmed the fertile land along the river below the village. 
There is at least one historical medieval hospice known to have been here,
associated with the Iglesia San Jacabo. 

Beyond the bridge at the exit of Ruesta was a fountain called the Fuente de Santiago.   
 The Romanesque rural paintings that were once in the church here,
are now held in the museum at Jaca. 

Walls of the military castle still stand 
and you can see the arrow slits along the sides.
You can also see Coats of Arms 
on what remains of the mansions belonging to 5th – 19th Century Nobility.

In 1959, the village was abandoned 
when the construction of the Yesa reservoir caused the flooding 
of the agricultural land on which the local people depended for their livelihood. 
It was a terrible hardship for many families
who still remember the move with anger.

From the Tourism website:

In June 1988 the Confederación Hidrográfica del Ebro (The Ebro Waterways Confederation) gave the Confederación General del Trabajo de Aragón (General Work Confederation of Aragón) permission to use Ruesta. This agreement formed part of the CHE’s policy for the recuperation of villages that were abandoned following the construction of reservoirs. 

In November 1992 the agreement was extended for a further 50 years. Apart from the urban centre, the agreement includes several hundred hectares of land around the village.
The CGT in collaboration with The Aragonese College of Architects carried out a rehabilitation programme in various stages. In August 1993 the first phase was concluded in the centre with the recuperation of a building, the old Casa Valentín, which was to be used as a hostel. In 1995 a second hostel was opened in Casa Alfonso. Both hostels form part of the Camino de Santiago network.

In the year 2000 the centre for the study of the Camino de Santiago was opened. Amongst other things, you can see a study of the flora and fauna of the area. A cultural centre was also opened in the same year. There are meetings room, rooms for audiovisual presentations and a library. 

On the banks of the river there is a camp site with 16,000 square metres and a capacity of 200 people. It is completely covered by trees and surrounded by vegetation. The camp site is crossed by an old Camino de Santiago route and you can see the remains of stone cobbles and a bridge over the river. The village also has a bar, a shop and terraces where you can enjoy wonderful views. 

The proximity of the Yesa reservoir and the possibilities to go on excursions in the surrounding area and nearby valleys make Ruesta a good base from which to explore nearby places of historical interest such as Sos del Rey Católico and Uncastillo. You can take a short trip on foot or by bicycle to the nearby hermitage of Santiago de Ruesta, the hermitage of San Sebastián, or  the viewpoint at Vidiella. 

Throughout the year and especially at weekends there are many courses and leisure activities ranging from short courses on percussion and African dance to magic and juggling. Likewise, holiday camps are organised with different educational programmes and guided trips for groups and associations. 

Antonio didn't feel so positive about these changes!
He said it was the YESA dam's fault
that the people of this valley had lost their livelihood to begin
with and now "they" wanted to extend it again. 
People who had been uprooted when he and I were 7 years old
were now going to be uprooted again in their old age.
That's why all the "NO YESA!" signs I saw along the road. 

I'm not sure how this will turn out,
If you speak Spanish, there is a website with current information 

The village is in ruins,
but it is easy to imagine how beautiful it once was.
I can only hope walking this route of the Camino
will serve to stimulate interest in this incredible hilltop village
and cause people to want to restore the buildings
as has happened in many other Camino Frances villages.

Here are some photos of Ruesta taken from the internet:
Approaching Ruesta

Ruined walls

An old footpath

Through the window

Ruesta under clear skies
As the biker story teller finished his tale, 
so I also finished my beer, paid for my bed
(9 Euros including dinner), 
and was directed to the albergue portion of the ruins.

The room where I slept had been recently refinished 
and was very clean. 
It was filled with metal bunkbeds, 
and the sheets were clean.

There, much to my surprise, 
who did I see but my French friends from St. Celia!

We hugged and hello'd and had a nice visit.
I enjoyed a nice hot shower and did my wash,
then went exploring in the ruins.

Dinner was very good, 
and right before bedtime, 
Andrew, a young American man, appeared.
It was great to meet another American on the Camino,
I see so few!

We all shared a bottle of wine,
thanks to the generosity of Michelle and Michael,
and laughed as we shared our stories
of the mean hospitalera in the village before.

Apparently, she had also chased off Andrew
when he stopped to ask for water!

The French couple had spent the night there,
and wished they'd traveled on.

So, stay in Artieda at your own risk.
Perhaps the lady was just having a bad day.

The wine hit the spot,
and we all had a very good sleep
in the ruins of this special ancient village.
Except for Andrew's snoring in the room next door,
the night was dark and silent.
Photo by Martin Zalba/Internet
See my AnnieWalkersCamino website at 
for more information about
Guided Walks on the Camino Santiago 
and on other Pilgrimage Trails of Europe

1 comment:

  1. Wow Annie - you put so much work into this post! Very informative, thanks!


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