The village of Aínsa sits at the confluence of two rivers, the Cinca and the Ara, in the foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees in Huesca, Aragón. It is an area of immense natural beauty, whose sublime mountain scenery attracts hikers and climbers from far and wide. A few kilometres to the north, a great snow-streaked crag (known as the Peña Montañesa) towers high above the village, creating a spectacular backdrop.
Aínsa’s history stretches back to the 11th century, and its medieval character runs deep through every stone. It’s one of those curious, bewitching places that time seems to have completely passed by.
Ainsa’s two main streets – Calle Mayor and Calle Santa Cruz – are especially picturesque. Many buildings still have their ancient, impregnable looking wooden doors. In places, the facades are brightened with plants and flowerpots – pretty splashes of red, green and magenta against the grey medieval stone.
The heart of the village is the magnificent Plaza Mayor. This historic square dates from the 12th century – when it was the site of various important fairs and markets. It has an unusually broad, rectangular design, and is flanked on two sides by Romanesque arcades which shelter cafes and restaurants. Every arch is slightly different in shape and size, resulting in an endearingly rustic, ramshackle effect.
At the north end of the square is the Church of Santa Maria. A simple, austere building with an inviting, tranquil cloister, it was built in the Romanesque style and consecrated in 1181.
Part of what makes Ainsa such a wonderful place to visit is the splendour of its natural surroundings. It is surrounded by three natural parks (Ordesa y Monte Perdido, Sierra y Cañones de Guara and Posets-Maladeta) which makes it the perfect base for exploring the Pyrenees. The beauty of the local landscape can easily be appreciated while walking around the village. Here is the view from an archway that adjoins the church:
And this is the view from the top of the church belltower, which looks south across the village’s tiled rooftops, toward the Cinca Valley, where the two rivers merge and feed into the glittering blue Embalse de Mediano, one of the largest man made lakes in Aragón.
Created by the deliberate flooding of the valley in 1969, the reservoir takes its name from the hamlet of Mediano that was submerged beneath the waters. The only building that survived the inundation was the 16th century parish church, whose bellfry can still be seen protruding from the surface today – an eerie reminder of the community that was lost.
During the 8th century this part of Aragón marked the northern limits of Al Ándalus. Historians can’t agree whether Aínsa itself fell to the Moorish invaders, but many key battles were fought in the nearby hills, and the details of that distant conflict still resonate in the village’s ancestral memory.
According to legend, in the year 724, the Christian troops, under the leadership of King Garci Ximenez, were inspired to victory over the Moorish armies by the appearance of a burning cross atop holm-oak tree. A little way outside the village, a tiny shrine (the Cruz Cubierta) marks the spot where the vision is said to have occured.
Every two years at the beginning of September, the local inhabitants celebrate a festival known as the La Morisma which involves a dramatic reenactment of those same legendary events. The fiesta has been held for hundreds of years, and is performed by up to 300 villagers on Aínsa’s Plaza Mayor. The symbol of the cross and the oak can also be found on Ainsa’s coat of arms.
To the west of the Plaza Mayor stands Aínsa’s 11th century castle. Its walls and battlements are incredibly well preserved, and its huge parade groundprovides the setting for an annual music festival (the Festival del Castillo de Aínsa) held in July. Of its four towers, one now houses an eco museum, dedicated to the flora and fauna of the Pyrenees
Ainsa Location Map