The town has excellent communication links and a rich cultural heritage, exemplified in the castle, parish church, the Mare de Deu de Gràcia sanctuary, the Medieval aqueduct, ice houses, the beautiful old quarter and many other attractions.
The town of Biar is on the slopes of the Sierra Mariola range, surrounded by a series of mountains forming a kind of amphitheatre. They are all over 1,000 metres in height and include Reconco, Penya Tallada, Alt Reó, Penya la Blasca and Fenessosa.
The local geography is split into three clearly defined areas: the gullies and low-lying land along the Vinalopó river, the foothills that stretch from the river up to the mountains and the mountain ranges or sierras.
Half the area is made up of forest land with large swathes of pine forest, which is one of the town’s main tourist attractions.
Neighbouring towns to the north are Beneixama, La Canyada and Camp de Mirra, to the west Villena, to the east are Banyeres de Mariola and Onil, and to the south, Sax and Castalla.
The climate is predominantly Mediterranean with some typically Continental features, not particularly hot summers and cold winters. There may be several snowfalls in a year, with up to 30 cm recorded in exceptionally cold winters.
Although the current town centre developed in the Moorish era, there is evidence of settlements in the area dating from pre-historic times. With the Christian conquest, the town became part of the Kingdom of Valencia under the Almizra treaty and played an important frontier role in conflicts with the dominion of Villena and with the rest of Castile.
From the 16th century onwards the area underwent a period of economic and demographic crisis from which it did not start to recover until the mid-18th century. In the 20th century, industry began to come into the area, especially the textile and footwear sector, and nowadays the main source of income is mainly concentrated in the tourism and services sector.
The town preserves a striking set of historic monuments and some impressive natural heritage, including several ancient trees.
The castle was built in the 12th century. It is included on the Castles of Vinalopó route and is one of Biar‘s major attractions. It was given the status of National Monument in 1931 and is now an Asset of Cultural Interest. The 12th century Almohad dome still survives.
The castle interior is arranged around a central courtyard, with a whole series of rooms used for defending the fortress and for housing the castle warden and his family, the servants and the garrison.
By the 15th century the castle complex included the sentry room or guardroom; the casa de fora or outhouse, used as a barn; the palau nou or new palace for the warden and his family; the rebost or larder for storing food supplies; the cuina or kitchen with its huge fireplace; the casa dels forns or bakery; the capella or church dedicated to Santa María Magdalena and Santa Quiteria and the dining room.
The complex was dominated by the main tower, the Torre Maestra, which was used to store weapons and the castle’s military equipment. The roofs over these rooms enabled rainwater to be collected for storage in the tank that was excavated from the rock and can still be seen today.
After the Christian conquest of Biar led by Jaime I in February 1245, the castle remained an important part of the defence system along the southern border of Valencia, owing to Biar’s outstanding strategic military and political location in relation to Castile.
What else to see in Biar
Puente de les Fanecaes and Cruz de Xàtiva are in a setting from which you can contemplate one of Biar‘s most characteristic and beautiful landscapes, with the castle in the background.
The Puente de les Fanecaes bridge carries traffic along the road linking Biar with Banyeres de Mariola. It was built in 1887 with masonry margins, parapet and buttresses. It also has a barrel-vaulted stone arch.
The Cruz de Xátiva cross, also known as La Creueta, is one of the stone crosses that were traditionally placed outside towns and villages, usually at crossroads or at the start of a road.
The Castile door, or Arco de Jesús (12th and 13th century) is a pointed splayed arch entrance built from masonry and finished at the top with battlements. It is one of the old doorways to the Medieval town.
The San Roque arch, or Puerta Real de Xátiva, built in the 12th and 13th centuries, is one of the old entrance gates set into the town walls. It consists of wedge-shaped masonry blocks forming a semi-circular arch, with the side blocks partially cut away to allow vehicles to pass through.
The Casa de Cultura is an architectural complex comprising the monastery of the barefoot Franciscan Capuchin friars, on which building started in 1720, plus the old church dedicated to San Miguel Arcángel, which has a vaulted nave and plain façade.
The monastery has a small one-storey cloister with a well in the centre. The church has a Latin cross layout and non-domed barrel vaulting. It has been rebuilt inside, preserving the original arches, vaulting, mouldings and facings. The nave is free-standing and built from masonry and tiles. There is a belfry in the façade.
The 18th century sanctuary of Nuestra Señora de Gràcia has three naves, with the central one featuring groin vaulting lined with plaster and painted with frescoes. Where the ribs of the vault meet, you can see depictions of the sun, the coat of arms of Biar and the coat of arms of Aragón. The side naves form chapels with domes resting on pendentives.
Following the usual practice observed in sanctuaries honouring the Virgin Mary in this region, the altar has a chamber which, together with the area behind the altar, provides a separate space for holding the image of the Virgin.
The Ermita de San Roque chapel can be found in Biar‘s old quarter, set in the top section of a 12th century Almohad tower that can be accessed via San Roque archway (Puerta Real de Xàtiva). The chapel is in what was originally the Moorish quarter and near the town’s main street.
It is a small rectangular chapel with a single nave, with walls separating the oratory, a small atrium and the sacristy. The front faces onto Calle Luis Calpena and its large window is one of the settings for the festival of San Roque on 16 August.
Inside, an 18th century canvas depicting San Roque hangs over the altar. The author of the oil painting is unknown. The figures of San Roque, San Antonio Abad and the Angel are perfectly arranged in the composition, giving the painting a wonderful sense of balance and depth. It is interesting for its brief glimpses into the life of San Roque.
The Ermita de Loreto chapel can be found between the historic quarter and the 18th town. It has a Baroque style façade and was built considerably later than other chapels from the Reconquest period. Nowadays its original location is occupied by Casa Lázaro, built in 1916.
The Ice House. This old and perfectly preserved ice house dates from the 18th century and was used to store snow in winter. The snow was crushed until it turned into ice, which was kept for use in the summer. Nowadays it serves as an exhibition space.