PROVENCAL IS THE OFFICIAL LANGUAGE HERE
The Val d’Aran is a small independent region, which comes under the administrative jurisdiction of Catalonia.It comprises the upper course of the Garonne river, on the northern slopes of the Pyrenees. This deep valley is of glacial origin and is surrounded by towering mountains, at the foot of the Maladetta, a group which includes some of the highest Pyrenean mountain peaks.
The Val d’Aran is separated from Spain by this natural barrier (and was only opened up by a tunnel at a much later date), it communicates with France which it faces due to its geographic conformation, though the Garonne valley. This area was historically contested between the neighbouring Spanish counts and the Count of Comminges, these lands which in religious terms came under the dioceses of Comminges, however came under the rule of Aragon, on the decision of Pope Clement V in 1308. The generally secluded position of Val d’Aran has meant that it has been able to largely preserve its local traditions, and its Occitane language which is here one of the official languages.The Val d’Aran numbers 39 villages grouped into three “terzieri”(the territorial division used in the valley). The administrative capital is Vielha.
A COMBINATION OF THE RUSTIC AND THE REFINED
Almost every village has its own Romanesque church. On proceeding in a North- South direction it is possible to see the most interesting. Firstly in Bossost, in the Bas Aran, we can see the church of the Assumption of Mary (12th century), featuring a basilica plan with three naves and three apses decorated with blind arches. The south end features a portal decorated with a marble tympanum depicting Christ the Pantocrator, surrounded by the symbols of the Four Evangelists, the sun and the moon. There is a second portal at the north end: the tympanum of which depicts a Chrism, a frequent theme in the local sculpture. The building is dominated by an elegant Romanesque bell-tower.Vielha in Mijaran, includes an ancient quarter called “Eth cap dera vila”; and has been classified as a historic monument; here it is possible to see some fine houses: Co de Fedusa, Co de Burganol, Co de Rodes….
The church of Sant Miquel (12th-13th century) belongs to the period of transition between the Romanesque and Gothic eras.Of particular note is the Gothic “Retablo”(sculpted panel) and a splendid Romanesque Christ sculpted in wood, an element of a Deposition known as the “Christ of Mijaran”. The commune also has a number of other churches, such as that of Sant Peir in Escunyau, with a beautiful sculpted portal and Romanesque baptismal fonts. Sant Tomas de Casarilh with another Romanesque Christ, Sant Feliu de Vilac with a portal decorated with ancient sculpted work, and Sant Peir de Betlan featuring the most ancient apse of the valley (11th century).
The commune of Naut Aran (High Aran) is an extensive commune the centre of which is Salardu. The church of Sant Andreu of this village belongs to the Romanesque transition period (late 12th, early 13th century). It also contains another magnificent wooden sculpture, of the Christ of Salardu, probably also the work of the Master of Migaran.
The same commune also boasts a further two Romanesque buildings of basilica plan, Santa Maria de Cap d’Aran and Santa aria d’Artiès, with wonderful Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque interior decorations. The village also contains certain interesting ancient houses.
In view of the high surrounding mountains, and its lush vegetation thanks to oceanic influence, Val d’Aran has been also termed “The Switzerland of Spain”. It features a host of modern ski resorts, with the best snow conditions in the whole of Spain. However its recent tourist development has not significantly altered the intrinsically pastoral character of the valley, although agriculture is in decline in this area. Most of the villages having preserved their traditional architecture.
Therefore the Aran valley, proud of its traditions and its Provençal language in particular, derived from Gascon, has jealously preserved its natural and cultural heritage and appears to have struck a happy balance between modernity and tradition.