History and Traditions
The Valle de Tena set in the higher basin of the Gállego river is indeed one of the most alluring in the Pyrenees. The geological gateway to this valley is at the narrowing at Santa Elena locally called the “Zoque” and was formed by the moraine left behind by the glacier travelling south. Nearby are a dolmen, a small fort and the hermitage. A handful of villages mark this pretty valley and with the benefit of hindsight we can study the past through the clues in the houses, churches and dusty old archives….Búbal, Piedrafita, Tramacastilla de Tena, Sandiniés, Hoz de Jaca, Saqués, El Pueyo de Jaca, Panticosa, El Balneario, Escarilla, Lanuza, Sallent de Gállego and Formigal. These villages and their communities are in some cases vibrant and growing and in others are trying to ward off rural depopulation. Megalithic remains found in the areas of Piedrafita, Tramacastilla and Sabocos are proof of primitive settlements in the valley.
The thermal waters of Panticosa were enjoyed by the Romans however there is little evidence to suggest that the Romans actually got as far as the other remote little settlements. The process of civilization may have come rather with Christianization. It is thought that under Carolingian influence, during the Muslim age these valleys were places of refuge for rebels including Muslims and soon became known as places with respect for freedom at least by the Christians. The 11thC saw the valley under the reign of a nobleman from Navarra, Sancho el Mayor who ruled over the area separating it from Aragon, however it was temporary as on his death these lands were considered part of Aragon once again.
Originally the village limits weren't defined as they are today, they were groups of houses around a church rather like a parish called a “vico”. In Panticosa for example there were two distinct vicos, San Salvador and Santa María that had their own financial administration and the two areas can even be perceived today. Likewise in Sallent where the original names of the vicos are still used today like: Casadios, Zarratiecho and El Paco.
Since the Middle Ages the valley has been considered as one administrative unit governed by a council of representatives from all areas like a small parliament, referred to as the brotherhood of Tena in the 15thC that later went on to become the General Board of the Val de Tena, presided over by the Judge. At that time the Val de Tena was made up of 12 towns divided into 3 "quiñones" or associations. They were Sallent composed of Sallent and Lanuza, Panticosa comprising of Panticosa, Hoz, El Pueyo and Exena and La Partacua including Tramacastilla, Saqués, Búbal, Polituara, La Artosa, Estarluengo, Piedrafita, Escarilla and Sandiniés. Estarluengo whose actual location is today unknown and Exena disappeared in the 16thC. In more recent history, during the seventies Búbal, Polituara, Saqués, and La Artosa had to be abandoned to make way for the reservoirs.
The quiñon had powers in pasturelands, animal husbandry, bridge construction, road maintenance etc. The remaining archives make reference to the close relationship with the communities on the French side of the mountains particularly Ossau and San Sabin which indicates a certain type of unity based on shared interests and economies, even at times in contradiction to their own national policies.
Having royal privileges maybe explains why this area was a clash point or barrier for many attempts at enemy invasion whether they were French English or Gascons, depending on the moment and changes on the French side.
The controversial Antonio Pérez, secretary to Philip II escaped though this valley and it was here that the failed invasion of Aragon started to avenge the death of Justice Juan de Lanuza and the quashing of the of the Aragon tribunals.
Tales of witches and old smugglers also form part of the magical and factual history of the valley. Centralism and modernity put an end to the scope of self-rule and new configurations did away with the old communal ways of the vicos.
In today's world the borders have come down and the mountains no longer represent a communication barrier or a symbol of isolation. The decline of the rural traditional ways of the past have come about in parallel with progress in terms of new businesses, hydroelectric plants and tourism that have transformed the land and the way of life.
The arc of the archives of the Valle de Tena is an emblematic symbol of unity among the 3 quiñones. It had three locks and each quiñon had one key so it could only be opened in unison.