The Monastery was built during the transition from Romanesque to Gothic.
The monks lived in this Monastery for more than 600 years.
The foundation of the Monasterio de Piedra is related to two historical facts. First, it is part of the repopulation phenomenon of the second half of the 12th century. Second, it is also a brilliant chapter of the expansion of the Cistercian Order through the Iberian Peninsula. In 1186, Alfonso II of Aragon and his wife, Sancha of Castilla, donated the Castle of Piedra (Castrum Petrae) to the monks of Poblet in order to found a new Cistercian monastery there. Between 1186 and 1194 the monks of Poblet made the necessary preparations and on May 10, 1194, blessed by the abbot Pedro Masanet, ruler of Poblet between 1190 and 1196, 12 monks left the Catalan monastery. Leading the trip was Gaufrido of Rocaberti, who would be Piedra’s first Abbot. Gaufrido probably was the son of Viscount Jofre, brother of Viscount Dalmau, a relative of the archbishop of Tarragona (Ramón de Rocaberti), and the bishops of Zaragoza and Gerona (Rodrigo and Pere Rocaberti respectively). His powerful relatives fully protected and enhanced the new foundation.
The initial intention of the First Abbot was to establish a subsidiary community of Poblet somewhere not predetermined, in the southern territories of the Kingdom of Aragon. There were three different locations before finding the final one. At the end of 1194, they started settling in Santa María de Cilleruelos, very close to Peralejos (Teruel). There they began to build a monastery, which they finally abandoned and transformed into a priory, keeping it in use until 1835. Today you can still visit a hermitage and some remains of its prioral rooms.
Between two styles: from Romanesque to Gothic
The construction of the Monastery is carried out in the transition years from Romanesque to Gothic. The typical architectural style of the Order, Gothic Cistercian, is very present: sober, austere, simple and bright architecture.
In May 1195, Alfonso II ratified the donation of Piedra to the Cistercian monks granting them complete control and jurisdiction over these territories, that is the pure and mixed empire, with civil and criminal jurisdiction, executed in the name of the King. The scroll of the donation is kept in the National History Archive (Madrid) and it includes the obligation of the monks to pray an annual mass for the soul of the monarch and his relatives.
Between 1195 and 1203 a problem related to the legacy of Piedra is documented, which explains the construction and abandonment of the third Monastery, called “Piedra Vieja”. On the bank of the River Piedra there was a castle that, at some point in the 1120’s, was donated to the Malavella family. In 1200, Juan de Malavella renounced the inheritance rights that could correspond to him over the Castle of Piedra. Thereafter, the Cistercian monks remained as only owners of the round estate of the manor, about 30 km2, divided between the current terms of Nuévalos, Ibdes and Monterde.
The monks settled on the bank of the River Piedra in a provisional monastery called “Piedra Vieja”, built of wood and adobe. The “Piedra Nueva” monastery was the fourth and final location of the Abbey. The buildings began to be constructed in 1203. In 1218 the works were advanced enough so that the monks could occupy the buildings. On December 16, 1218, the community Transfer Ceremony was held from “Piedra Vieja” to “Piedra Nueva”. The Consecration of the Abbey was presided over by the fourth Abbot of Piedra, Jimeno Martín, as well as by the archbishop of Tarragona, Asprago de la Barca, who acted on behalf of the King Jaime I. Also the bishops of Zaragoza, Sancho Ahones, and of Albarracín, Domingo Ruíz de Azagra, (this last one, professed monk in Piedra), leaded the celebration. On the site where Piedra Vieja was, the monks built a hermitage called Santa María de los Argalides, which headings show that it was renovated in 1755, under abbot Inocencio Pérez rule.
Privileged Witness of Spanish History
Today the old Abbey Church is in ruins due to the years of neglect that in the 19th century all the buildings of the complex suffered after the last Confiscation.
Piedra met three confiscation processes. During the War of Independence, in 1808, a decree of King Jose I ordered the suppression of the community. The monks were expelled in 1809 and the French army sacked the Abbey and used it as a hospital. In 1814, after the war, King Ferdinand VII allowed the surviving monks to rebuild the community. In 1820, during the liberal triennium, the Monastery was again suppressed, its assets were inventoried, nationalized and, some of them, auctioned.
In 1823, after the entrance of the “100,000 Sons of San Luis”, the community was restored again. In 1835, Regent Queen María Cristina, being Isabel II under-aged, admitted the promulgation of the decree for the dissolution of male Orders and the confiscation of the Church goods, with the intention of selling them to obtain the necessary resources to finance the liberal army that was supporting her daughter during the First Carlist War.
The decree of Mendizábal of 1835 was the true end of the community of Piedra. Its goods, inventoried, were auctioned in Ateca, Zaragoza and Madrid during the 1840s and 1850s. The convent buildings were administered by officials between 1835 and 1843, until they were auctioned and acquired by Don Pablo Muntadas Campeny for 1,250. 000 reais (spanish coin at that time).
It was in the following years when Don Juan Federico Muntadas, son of Pablo, transformed the existing orchard into a landscaped garden and the convent buildings into a hotel with hydrotherapy facilities, to which he added the construction of the first fish farm built in Spain, part of which you can still see today during your visit to the Historic Garden Park.
From then until today, Piedra has become a first-class tourist destination. The acquisition of the buildings by the Muntadas family, the transformation of the Monastery into a Hotel and the new tourist uses that were given to the whole monastic complex have probably halted its degradation and preserved it in its current state. Listed as a National Monument on February 16, 1983 (today, Site of Cultural Interest in the category of Monument), Monasterio de Piedra is today one of the most amazing places in Europe. Also, is worth to mention that in 2011 it was awarded with the Tourist Merit Medal by the Government of Aragon.