Tradition and modernity living together in harmony
Morella is in the northern extreme of the Valencian Autonomous Community, just 60 kilometres from the coast. In the eyes of visitors, it appears to be enveloped by the charm that is transmitted by its strategic position, which fills the landscape, and the centenary city walls crowned by the robust castle at an altitude of more than one thousand metres.
Few towns have a heritage that is so rich in history, archaeology, art, festivals, cuisine and nature. Morella and its surrounding areas offer a world of their own in which tradition and modernity live together in harmony.
Comarca: Els Ports
Autonomous community: Valencia
Area: 413,54 Km²
Population: 2.504 inhabitants
Population density: 6,06 pop. per km²
Location: 40°37′09″N – 0°06′02″O
Altitude: 984 MASL.
Distance: 103 km. from Castelló
Morella has witnessed the main historic events over the centuries. A town for passing through, a crossroads, between the Valley of the River Ebre and the Mediterranean, linking Catalonia, Aragon and Valencia, it has seen episodes of all the civilisations that have lived in it. From prehistoric times, Neolithic times, the Bronze Age, Iberians, Romans, Muslims, Jews and Christians all saw this place as an impenetrable stronghold. The whimsical shape of the city, its castle and walls have been the setting through which figures such as Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, El Cid Campeador, who fought two battles in this comarca at the service of the Muslim king of Aragon in the 11th century, have passed
CULTURE AND TRADITION
SANT ANTONI, LA SANTANTONADA
The festivities in Morella start every January with Sant Antoni, one of the most ancient, attractive and beautiful events held in the Valencian Autonomous Community. From Morella, you can follow a Santantonades route in nearby villages, as the celebration lasts throughout January and February and the festive days cover a complete weekend. In Morella, the festival is held the weekend after Sant Antoni’s saint’s day (17th January). This is the festival that is most enjoyed by country people, a mediaeval festival that combines religious and pagan traditions, diverse activities related to life in the country, farm work, harvest, slaughtering pigs, preparing cold meats, as performed in the Llaurà and the Mondongo. El Contrabando is also performed, a parody of meetings between border guards and smugglers.
This is one of the most amusing, popular festivals of the year. Morella Carnival is a tradition that dates back to life in the walled city. The people of Morella dressed up to criticise current affairs and the authorities and it was held from the Sunday to the Tuesday before the beginning of Lent. Carnival is unique, because it is a different kind of weekend; because it has brought back the critical, sarcastic and very funny side; because of the number of people that make fancy dress costumes with great imagination and because one of its identifying features is its complete organisational freedom.
True to the religious calendar, celebrations start on Palm Sunday with the blessing of these symbols, which in Morella are branches of rosemary, in Sant Francesc Convent. For some years now, a group of young people from Morella have promoted the Rompida de la Hora, a tradition of unison drum beating to commemorate the death of Jesus Christ, following the traditions of the neighbouring towns in Teruel. On Good Friday, there is a performance of the Way of the Cross, known as Les Creus, which goes round the castle. Processions in Morella are characterised by their solemnity, austerity, and the black costumes of the Cofradía de los Dolores, the brotherhood that organises it. In the Holy Thursday procession, Nazarenes or curolles, carry a Mystery in their hands, a symbol that represents the passages of the Passion of Christ. It should be pointed out that this procession is one of the few ones in the Valencian Autonomous Community that preserves the pace of all the Passion Mysteries. The Holy Burial procession takes place in the evening of Good Friday.
RELIGIOUS PILGRIMAGES, ROGATION DAYS
When spring arrives, Morella looks to the sky and the land. It is time to celebrate a full calendar of religious pilgrimages, rotllos and primes. On the first Saturday in May, the most important one is celebrated, the pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Our Lady of Vallivana, to honour the patron saint of Morella. Hundreds of people walk the 25-kilometre route between the town and the sanctuary, next to the N-232. The following day, Sunday, they also return on foot. It is a tradition that is very deeply rooted and that is held every year in May, except when Morella celebrates the Sexenni. Every sixth year, this pilgrimage becomes even more solemn and is held in August. The people of the town go to the Sanctuary to take the image of Our Lady of Vallivana for the Sexenni Festival. The image remains in the town until October, when it is taken back to the Sanctuary.
CORPUS CHRISTI IN MORELLA
The celebration of Corpus Christi in Morella is, along with Valencia, the oldest one in the Mediterranean. Its origin dates back to 1358 and still preserves the wide range of biblical scenes. It is held on the Sunday after Corpus Christi as marked by the Catholic calendar. On the evening before, the Saturday, La Degolla is represented, showing the massacre of the Innocents. The participation of children is prominent, and they wear a special garment which is red and white and hold a wooden sword that they stain with saffron and water. The children’s rejoicing fills the streets of Morella, accompanied by a series of biblical characters.
INTERNATIONAL ORGAN MUSIC FESTIVAL
For more than 25 years, between the first and second weeks of August, Morella has been celebrating an International Organ Music Festival based on concerts played on the monumental organ in the Archpriestal Church of Santa Maria la Major. Built by the organ maker from Cretes in Teruel, Francisco Turull, it is one of the most important, impressive instruments of the Valencian School. Turull started to build the Morella organ in 1717, and finished the work in 1720. This baroque piece consists of four thousand pipes and has a great organ and a choir. In addition to being able to enjoy its sound as part of the festival, the organ is also played at the Morella festivals and at most of the Sunday church services.
In mid-August every year, the Sant Roc festivals are held. They are the summer festivals, street festivals, “bulls in the town”, bullfights, charanga bands, orchestras and numerous activities that bring together the people of Morella and visitors. In August, there are several leisure offers every week. Cultural August, the Youth Week, the Sant Roc festival and the Sport and Health Week, which is usually held at the end of the month.
MORELLA TRADE FAIR
This is held during the second weekend in September. Livestock has always been very important in the life of the people of Morella. The produce of the land has always been transformed for the industry by the people of the country from small family farms. For centuries, in the close to four hundred farmhouses in Morella, people have depended on the annual agricultural cycle: sowing, harvesting, fruit, making flour, bread, wine, and so on. As well as the life-cycle of animals, pasturing, slaughtering, making cheeses and preserves, and wool, something that enriched Morella, particularly in the 19th century and early 20th century, when it had a significant textile industry.
Morella Trade Fair continues to be a large trade centre and one of the most important meetings for Castelló and neighbouring Aragon and Catalonia, as well as being a point of interest for tourists.
Eating in Morella is like taking a trip to the flavours of the past. It involves recognising the work of the people who have wisely preserved products and the local breeds, generation after generation, thereby maintaining the cultural traditions of the town. The cuisine of this land is the reflection of the humility of its people and the generosity of their territory thanks to the products that are obtained from the countryside.
The Maestrazgo Mountain Range is a unique territory, which has been inhabited since ancient times by shepherds, farmers, warriors and nobles who left their expertise in the vegetable gardens, palaces, castles, legends and traditions and in the way of feeding the inhabitants of their lands
The typical dishes in Morella are based on top-quality fresh produce and reflect the history marked in the territory. They are prepared simply, but using tried and trusted recipes that have led to a large variety of traditional dishes that can be found all over the area.
Delicious casseroles prepared using hearty stocks and stews with a marked shepherding tradition, that transmit the flavours of yesteryear, and help people cope with the harsh winter so characteristic of the place. Morella is known for the great variety of traditionally prepared meat products, as well as for typical dishes with wild mushrooms, depending on the time of year at which they are collected.
However, without a doubt, truffles are the star ingredient in modern cuisine in the area, and they are collected between November and March. In local shops, it is easy to find this product all year round.
The presence of thousand-year-old olive trees in the Maestrazgo Mountain Range is also worthy of a mention, which have lasted all this time thanks to the dedication of the farmers that take care of these highly appreciated trees which provide us with top-quality virgin olive oil.
The dairy products, cheeses prepared in a traditional, artisanal way using mediaeval moulds that give them a clear definition and that are easily recognisable in local markets.
Other products, such as honey and almonds, are the basis for the traditional desserts that are prepared by the master bread makers who still make bread in wood-fired ovens today.
ENVIRONMENT AND NATURE
Morella is a wonderful place in which to learn about and enjoy nature. The landscape spreads through a sea of mountains, forests, gullies, places of great beauty which are also dotted with a rich cultural and artistic heritage: hermitages, farmhouses, bridges, dry stone constructions and walls, boundary crosses, etc.
The cycle of nature is special in Morella because of its strong contrasts, from naked winter and the arrival of the snow through to the explosion of colours and aromas of spring and summer with a whole host of aromatic herbs and wild flowers, and autumn, which in the mountains boasts its yellow, brown, red and ochre tones, the flavour of its wild mushrooms and truffles. A countryside that radiates calmness; that encourages you to visit and discover it. To enjoy it with your senses and to stop off in places in the Morella district, such as Roser de Xiva, La Pobleta forests, the giant, open Herbesset mountains, Ortells and its plant life next to the bed of the River Bergantes. Or discover almost magical places such as the River Les Corses or Cérvol, the Vallivana forests, the gully of the Bota bridge, the Font de la Donzella spring, the Esperança spring or the villages of La Llàcua and Salvassoria.
As far as wildlife is concerned, the skies of Morella are filled with numerous bird species, from golden eagles, Eurasian eagle-owls, short-toed snake eagles, Egyptian vultures, owls, Eurasian hoopoes, falcons, crows, doves, and in particular, griffon vultures. The Spanish ibex is the animal that most prevails in Morella, along with the wild boar. The land is also inhabited by hedgehogs, wildcats, moles, badgers, weasels and ferrets, squirrels and foxes.
FOLLOW THE WALLS OF MORELLA
Outside the walled town of Morella, what is known as the Paseo de Ronda or the Segunda Alameda has been created. It is a hiking path that goes right around the town walls and the outskirts of the urban centre. It is a route that goes round the town and enables you to discover attractive places and different panoramic views of the Morella area and of Els Ports comarca. This route can be started at any of the gates that lead into the city, although most people prefer to start at the Sant Miquel Towers.
Another relaxing, fascinating walk is L’Albereda de Morella, an urban route that links the Porta dels Estudis and the Porta de la Nevera gates and that goes round the back part of the city. This walk enables you to admire the attractive silhouette of the castle, as well as an excellent panoramic view of Els Ports mountains. In L’Albereda, there are the unique primary school, secondary school buildings and the Jaume I Sports and Leisure Centre, as well as the municipal swimming pool. It should also be pointed out that this route allows for the possibility of strolling near the castle, in an attractive pine forest.
THE ADVENTURE FOREST
Pereroles forest is one of the most emblematic, best-loved natural spaces of the people of Morella. 13 kilometres from Morella, next to the Torremiró mountain pass, and reachable from the N-232, there is a large pine forest with different, attractive routes. Pereroles combines a spectacular natural environment, the calmness of the mountain, stays in its refuges and the possibility to experience intense adventures, from collecting wild mushrooms in autumn or doing sport all year round, such as hiking, mountain bike routes, etc. These refuges, apart from being in a beautiful setting, have avant-garde, functional interiors.