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turismosobrarbe.comComarca de Sobrarbe

The Region

A little bit of History

A little bit of History

History has left several landmarks all over Sobrarbe, showing us the prints of the passing of mankind from the Pre-historic period to our present times. Cave paintings, dolmens and other findings prove that this area was already inhabited in the Neolithic Age.

In the 6th century, St. Victorian, the Italian hermit, arrived at Sobrarbe and became Abbot of St. Martín ofe Asán's Monastery. Later, that place was named St. Victorian's Monastery and it became a great spiritual centre in Sobrarbe. It is situated in Los Molinos, at the foot of the Ferrera Hills.

At the beginning of the 7th century, gold currency was coined in Boltaña and Gistaín for the payment of troops fighting against the Franks.

Muslims invaded Spain, and Sobrarbe County stood between two big empires; northwards, the Carolingian Empire, and southwards, the Muslim Empire. At that time, Boltaña became the capital of a wide territory named Barbitania.

The scarce documents found making reference to the history of this county enabled, during the 14th and 15th centuries, the making up of several myths, such as the Kings of Sobrarbe, and legends about the miraculous conquest of Ainsa and about its privileges. Current historians, after refusing those myths, think that it was a territory ruled by indigenous leaders, under some Hispanic-Muslim control, and afterwards, from the 9th century, under the Carolingian rule.

The Reconquest period entails that from the 10th century, the Ara Riverside is under Navarrese-Aragonese rule, and the left bank of the Cinca River, under the Ribagorza Counts rule. At the beginning of the 9th century, under the rule of King Sancho III the Great, and after Almalik's loots, Almanzor's son, who rioted the Christian settlements of this area, the border with the Muslim Empire is reinforced with the building of some fortresses, such as Boltaña, Buil, Monclús and Aínsa. In 1017, King Sancho III of Navarre recovers this territory, to give it to his son, Gonzalo, together with Ribagorza territory. Gonzalo ruled only 10 years, until 1044. After his death, this territory is inherited by his brother, King Ramiro I, the first King of Aragon. King Ramiro I conquered to the Muslims the southern part of Sobrarbe: Surta, Olsón, Mediano, Samitier, Abizanda, Pano and Clamosa.

Aínsa was given some privileges in 1127 by King Alfonso I, and from the 13th century, it became part of the Aragonese Legislative Courts, becoming the capital of the county and taking on its representation.

Bad times are about to come. The Black Death, in 1348, killed more than half of the population, so the next century is devoted to demographic recovery, though there are also some international wars between Aragonese and French kings, and other local conflicts between noble families.


For centuries, the main economic activities in this area would be stockbreeding and subsistence agriculture. Seasonal migration of livestock was very often used in this county, with a harsh weather. Summarizing, a self-sufficiency economy will mark this area for many centuries along its history.

From the end of the 16th century, an economic revival would be experienced, linked to the mining in the Bielsa and Chistau Valleys. Iron was the main mineral extracted, but it was also extracted lead in Bielsa and cobalt in Gistaín. In Bielsa and Salinas, blacksmith's were open, and they needed huge amounts of charcoal, which improved wood collier's quality of life.

As a consequence of this activity, Bielsa became an important economic centre, where money circulated fluidly since its iron enjoyed good prestige.

During this period, many struggles against lords would take place, which caused the building of many fortified houses with towers.

At the end of the 18th century, some learned travellers came to visit this county, appealed by its history and landscape. Joseph Traggia, Lasierra Brothers and the Priest Faci were the first ones visiting this area. On 10th August 1802, the French erudite on the Pyrenees, Ramond de Carbonnières, his guides and an indigenous shepherd reached the summit of Monte Perdido.

During the 19th century, Sobrarbe is wandered by specialists on the Pyrenees, travellers and learned people, who spread the natural beauty of the county and published important graphic works on geography, nature, villages and the way of life in Sobrarbe. Lucien Briet, A. de Saint-Saud, E. Wallon, Franz Schrader, A. Lequeutre and Mallada are the most remarkable ones.

A variety of circumstances, including the spreading and preserving task developed by Lucien Briet and Pedro Pidal, enabled the declaration, on 16th August 1918, of the Ordesa Valley as a National Park.

In the 19th century, important changes happened affecting life in these villages. Grasslands used to be managed by Shepherd Communities of the valleys, but they lost their autonomy. From then on, the government would be responsible for the management of this and other aspects of the life in the valleys, as a consequence of the administrative fragmentation into municipalities.

In 1833, Boltaña judicial district was constituted, comprising the whole Sobrarbe County. In the second half of the 19th century, road and railway networks would be improved. In 1885, the Barbastro-Boltaña road is finally ended, after 25 years, and though it was initially planned to reach Broto.

The 20th century brought substantial changes with big advances, but also with big disasters. New roads were planned and old ones were fixed. The country was being industrialised, even the province of Huesca, but Sobrarbe County stayed quite unaffected. However, a new phenomenon would rise: immigration, leaving a deep mark in this county. Many villages started being abandoned. Meanwhile, other towns out of this county grew quickly, such as Barbastro, Monzón and Huesca.

During the Spanish Civil War, an important episode took place in Sobrarbe, known as La Bolsa de Bielsa Battle, where the 43rd division of the Republican Army was isolated and trapped by Nationalist troops. It caused a violent battle, many villages were set in fire and most civilians were forced to cross the border and to stay in France as refugees.

During the Second World War, Spanish population was in dire straits. Mountain passes were the only way to cross the border for those people trying to flee in both directions. As a consequence of the isolation of resistance fighters in Sobrarbe, the county was heavily militarized, with the permanent presence of Francoist troops and the requirement of safe-conducts in order to walk around the countryside.

Rural depopulation is one of the characteristic phenomena of the 20th century. In 1920, the census in Sobrarbe County reported 22761 inhabitants; meanwhile it registered 6820 inhabitants in 2000. The most important migration movements took place during the 1960's and 1970's, as a result of the attraction towards urban areas offering better opportunities for jobs, education, housing and transportation. Hydraulic planning with the building of reservoirs and reforestation programs, such as the one implemented in La Solana, speeded up the depopulation process.

A striking case was the building of the Mediano dam, at the end of the 1960's. The village, after which it was named, was sunk under the waters of this reservoir. There were other reservoir plans, which finally were not executed, such as the Jánovas reservoir and the plan to flood the Añisclo Canyon at the end of the 1970's, which was not finished because of the institutional and popular refusal. People in this area were mobilized in order to preserve this landscape. Building works were stopped in 1982, and the National Park was enlarged and renamed as the Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park (13th July 1982 Law).

In the 21th century, though very slowly, the population of this county is growing and Sobrarbe faces it future with optimism. Stockbreeding and farming are the main activities of its inhabitants, but service industry is also being developed, and tourism is on the increase, restructuring the economy. Sobrarbe enjoys a rich and valuable cultural and natural heritage, banking on sustainable development according to the guidelines in the Local 21thC Agenda.