Once one of the most important kingdoms in Europe, Aragón sits in the northeast corner of Spain. While its fortunes rose and fell with the times, as all noble societies do, much of the rich heritage remains today. The best way to discover the culture of Aragón is through its festivals, architecture, and art.
Festivals honoring wine and food play an integral role in the life of the Aragonese. It’s easy to see why, given the region’s abundance of fresh ingredients, fascinating cuisine, and indigenous grapes. In fact, Cariñena, a village in Aragón, is also a wine appellation and a grape – the only place in the world to share a name with a wine. Located in the Ebro Valley, Denominación de Origen Protegida (DOP) Cariñena is renowned for its rocky soils and old vines. This distinct combination produces delicious, fruity, and food-friendly wines made from the local Garnacha (Grenache) and Cariñena (Carignan) grapes, offered at great value.
A popular festival held annually in September, Fiesta de la Vendimia celebrates the annual grape harvest. In 1585, King Philip II visited Cariñena; in his honor, the villagers filled the village water fountain with wine. The residents continue this tradition each year in the act known as the Exaltation of Wine. After the treading of grapes, the Fuente de la Mora again flows with thousands of gallons of wine for the day.
In the town’s aptly named Plaza del Vino (wine plaza), festival goers can taste wines from the surrounding vineyards. Those arriving from Zaragoza can catch a ride to the event on the Campo de Cariñena Wine Bus.
Zaragoza’s biggest cultural event is the Fiestas del Pilar. The festival runs annually in October and pays homage to the city’s patron saint Virgen del Pilar. The revelry runs nearly ten days with parades, music, flowers, and fireworks. In a unique cultural moment, hundreds of people visit the Plaza del Pilar square, dressed in traditional garb, to leave an offering of flowers for the patron saint.
Architecture buffs will find Aragón dotted with castles and churches. A style of construction and ornamentation called Mudéjar represents the intersection of culture, religion, and politics from the 12th century. Aragón possesses a wealth of Mudéjar-inspired buildings which UNESCO recognized in 1986 when declaring the city of Teruel a World Heritage site.
The term references the Mudéjars, the Muslim population who introduced Islamic decorative styles into the Iberian Christian kingdoms. Ultimately, this blend of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian cultures, all of whom coincided in the 12th century, led to some of the most exquisite ornamentation to endure today. The intricate aesthetic, often found on large towers, features a façade of red brick decorated with ceramic glaze. In Teruel, look for the cathedral tower and tower of San Martín. In Zaragoza, one of the best examples is the Aljafería Palace, a medieval fortress featuring Islamic motifs.
Aragón’s most famous artist remains Francisco Jose de Goya y Lucientes. Born near Zaragoza, Goya began painting at age 14 as an apprentice. He would develop into one of the great masters of Spanish painting, known for his dramatic use of light. Some attribute the change in his style from playful Rococo to haunting and somber themes to an illness that left him deaf.
Aragón continues to inspire artists, chefs, and winemakers, while endearing all who visit with its charming towns, delicious food, and lively festivals. Of course, when visiting Aragón is out of reach, one can savor a taste of the region with a wine from Cariñena.