The Lovers of Teruel

In the early 13th century, Juan Diego Martínez de Marcilla and Isabel de Segura fell in love, but, in the manner of some other star-crossed historical lovers, there was a catch: Isabel was the only daughter of a wealthy family, while poor old Juan Diego was, well, poor. Juan Diego convinced Isabel's reluctant father to postpone plans for Isabel's marriage to someone more appropriate for five years, during which time Juan Diego would seek his fortune. Not waiting a second longer than the five years, Isabel's father married off his daughter in 1217, only for Juan Diego to return, triumphant, immediately after the wedding. He begged Isabel for a kiss, which she refused, condemning Juan Diego to die of a broken heart. A final twist saw Isabel attend the funeral in mourning, whereupon she gave Juan Diego the kiss he had craved in life. Isabel promptly died and the two lovers were buried together.

It has long been thought that the two mummified bodies in Teruel's mausoleum – first discovered in 1555 – are those of Isabel and Juan Diego. For years they were somewhat distastefully displayed upright in a wooden cabinet, then later in glass-lidded sarcophagi, before being placed in their current more dignified tombs in 1955. Stoking the romance of the legend further, recent carbon testing has verified that both bodies did indeed die in the early 13th century of natural causes. Broken hearts?

Aragonese Mudéjar – The Ultimate in Christian-Islamic Fusion

Many Spanish buildings are hybrids, but few cityscapes can equal the dynamic Christian-Islamic hybridisation of Teruel, Spain’s capital of Mudéjar.

Mudéjar is an architectural style unique to Spain that arose out of the peculiar history of the Reconquista, which saw towns and villages fall successively from Muslim back into Christian hands between the mid-8th century and 1492. Skilled Muslim architects and artisans living in the newly conquered lands were employed by the Christians to create their new buildings, applying Islamic building and decorative techniques to basic Christian models.

Different nuances of Mudéjar can been seen over much of Spain, but the style reached its apex between the 13th and 16th centuries in a rough triangle of land between Teruel, Zaragoza and Tarazona. The regional inspiration probably came from Zaragoza’s Aljafería, a Moorish palace that had been taken over and fortified by Christian king Alfonso I in 1118.

Aragonese Mudéjar borrowed from both Romanesque and Gothic, but used terracotta brick rather than grey stone as its main building material. In Teruel a splendid quartet of bell-cum-lookout towers is adorned with graceful arches and decorated with glazed tiles in geometric patterns. The impression is not a million miles from the Almohad minarets of Morocco.

Unesco Listing

Teruel’s Mudéjar architecture was listed by Unesco in 1986 and, in 2001 the protection was extended to include monuments in Zaragoza, Tobed, Cervera de la Cañada and Calatayud.

Developments within Teruel Mudéjar

Of Teruel's four surviving Mudéjar towers (there were originally five) El Salvador and San Martín, built in the early 14th century, display more elaborate decoration than the 13th-century San Pedro and cathedral tower. The two later towers are also different in form, in that they both comprise one tower inside another, with a staircase in the intervening space – on the model of Seville's Giralda and other minarets built by the Almohad dynasty. Almohad styles reached Teruel with Muslim artisans from Valencia after the Christians conquered that region in the mid-13th century.

Mudéjar Revival

Mudéjar had died out by the 17th century, but it re-emerged briefly in Teruel in the early 20th century, reinvigorated by Gaudí-inspired Modernistas such as Pau Monguió (who also designed many of Teruel’s art nouveau buildings). The sweeping Escalinata and the decorative portico on the cathedral both date from this period.