Whe dinosaurs ruled – Alpuente

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The town’s history is dotted with the remnants of many civilisations that, just like the dinosaurs, have made their mark over the years. 140 million years ago, Alpuente was flat and swampy, and it was not inland but on the shore of a sea that no longer exists.

While Alpuente remote history — its prehistory — is very exciting, so too is its more recent history, which began with an Iberian settlement before undergoing Roman then Moorish rule and which retained its power throughout the Middle Ages. This endless history reaches modern times with remnants of all of these civilisations that, just like the dinosaurs, left their mark over the years.

Standing on a col between the mountains of San Cristóbal and El Castillo, Alpuente still boasts much olde worlde charm. Little stone streets, fine houses with shields and coats of arms, stately homes and a spectacular defensive wall line an urban trail brimming with contrasts between the recent past and ancient history, between history and legend, and even between science and nature.

Looming over Alpuente like an enormous watchtower stand the Roman and Moorish ruins of the castle, which reveal the glorious past of these lands whose history stretches back for millions of years. Visitors to the castle can discover wells, cisterns, warehouses and the magnificent Torre de la Veleta tower.

Very close to the castle stands the Our Lady of Mercy church, Nuestra Señora de la Piedad, with a single nave and an octagonal bell tower constructed between the 13th and 15th centuries. The former mosque, which is now the Town Hall, is a stone-built gem that stands just above the entranceway to the fortified town. Alpuente also still retains a mediaeval town structure with magnificent ancestral homes, aristocratic coats of arms, ancient ovens and ornate ironwork. A stroll may come to an end at the edge of town but the surprises just keep on coming, with the Los Arcos aqueduct near the hamlet of Las Eras.

This hydraulic construction of mediaeval origin was created to supply the population with water from the Nueva and Marimacho springs, and to irrigate the extraordinary terraced fields, which were so rare in mediaeval times.
Following the Roman occupation, Alpuente became part of Al-Andalus in the 8th century and remained so until 1031, when the caliphate of Córdoba crumbled and the town was declared an independent Kingdom of Taifas. During this time, culture flourished and the economy boomed, until the town was conquered by Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar “El Cid” in 1089.
A century later, following the conquest by Jaume I in 1236, Alpuente still retained its importance, as evidenced by the two meetings of the Courts of the Kingdom of Valencia (Las Cortes del Reino de Valencia) held here in 1319 and 1389.

Much, much earlier — millions of years earlier — Alpuente was very different to the town we see today. The land was flat and swampy, crisscrossed by rivers and streams, and it wasn‘t inland but was on the shore of a sea that no longer exists. It was here, in a perfect habitat among the marshes, that lived the largest animals to have ever roamed the Earth: The dinosaurs.

Colossal beasts such as sauropods, stegosauruses and allosaurus-type theropods walked the lands of Alpuente, leaving their mark in the way of countless fossilised footprints made by creature that man would never have set eyes upon but which palaeontologists and film-makers have often since reconstructed, much to the excitement of all.

The footprints at Corcolilla, the only Alpuente site open to the general public, belong to dinosaurs of various shapes and sizes, and were made as the creatures walked upon a soft substrate such as mud or sand, which was then filled in with a different sediment that covered and protected them. Showing three toes, the pads, the claws and the heel, these footprints have enabled study into the behaviour of the dinosaurs at Alpuente, their physical characteristics and the speed at which they moved from one place to another.

Dinosaurs used to uve in Alpuente, and their bones and footprints are proof of this. Palaeontologists have analysed the fossils and footprints found in minute detail, and the strength of the finds has led Alpuente to become a dream-cometrue in recent years for both scientists and aficionados alike. Few people fail to have their curiosity aroused by the dinosaurs, and in many cases whole families are eager to untangle the secret of just how these enormous and fascinating creatures used to live, 140 million years ago.
No fewer than half a dozen sites featuring footprints and a dozen of fossilised bone sites lie within the extensive lands of Alpuente, a territory whipped by winds and the passing of time but which still nevertheless bears the deep scars of Prehistory The lost world of the dinosaurs has been reconstructed through the valuable pieces displayed in a museum that houses an almost complete skeleton of a young dinosaur and countless bones plus fossils of marine creatures and plants, and a hall/workshop where naturally mummified remains are restored and the bones, teeth and claws of these giant beasts are on display. History is also brought back to life at the footprint sites, particularly that at Corcolilla, with over 100 footprints ranging in size between 12 and 54 cm, some made by small and large herbivorous dinosaurs and others, larger still, by carnivores, the most restless and swift of the “terrible lizards”
The dinosaurs at Alpuente date back to the Jurassic period, an age ruled by the great sauropods, which appeared in the Lower Jurassic period and reached their peak and maximum diversification in the Upper jurassic. It was during this time that birds first appeared, although there was still no grass and nor had flowering plants developed. This was also when Pangaea gradually began to separate, to eventually form the distribution of the continents we see today.

The perfect habitat and leisurely life of the dinosaurs came to an end when a meteorite measuring 10 km across slammed into the Earth on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, creating a crater over 200 km wide. This cataclysm took place 65 million years ago and completely wiped out the dinosaurs, paving the way for mammals to rule the planet and fostering the rise of human beings in Alpuente and around the world.

Farming and ranching activities, plus the transportation difficulties of days gone by, meant that numerous hamlets were formed in the Alpuente area, such as Almeza, Baldovar, Campo de Abajo, Campo de Arriba, La Canaleja, El Collado, Corcolilla, La Cuevarruz, Las Eras and El Hontanar, which are inhabited all year round. There are other hamlets such as La Torre and La Carrasca, which are holiday homes, and several more that are now deserted, like La Hortichuela, El Chopo, Berandía, Vizcota, Cañada Seca and Pozo Marín. A 45-km walking and cycling trail runs through all of Alpuente’s inhab ited hamlets, with a difficulty rating of medium to hard.

Marked by a white-and-red symbol with a dinosaur and a castle, the trail begins in Alpuente and then runs to Las Eras, a hamlet also known as La Aldea del Obispo Hernández (The Hamiet of Bishop Hernández), which is a little ovar 1 km away. Here visitors can enjoy spectacular views of Alpuente, La Hoz, La Loma de San Cristóbal, El Barranco del Reguero, the terraced gardens and the magnificent castle at Alpuente.
A 7-km route leads to La Cuevarruz, a hamlet comprising three neighbourhoods and which belongs to the neighbouring municipahity of La Yesa as well as Alpuente. The San José hermitage and an ancient windmill are two of its most emblematic buildings.

A little over 2 km further on is La Almeza, when visitors can explore a wood of centenary savines. Known as Las Trabinas de Cañadas Pastores and the only one of its kind in the whole of the Region of Valencia, this wood is one of the most beautiful natural locations in Alpuente. Then trail then continues on to Corcolilla, where there in archaeological site of prehistoric fossils. Nearby is one of the smallest hamlets, El Hontanar, whose San Cristóbal hermitage is a must-see.
Almost 5 km further along the trail is El Collado, a hamlet home to Alpuente’s second castle, the Castillo del Poyo, and the 19th century church of San Miguel Arcángel.

The longest stretch of the trail runs between El Collado and Baldovar another beautiful hamlet with a hermitage built in honour of San Roque. After Baldovar the trail heads for Campo de Arriba, the biggest of Alpuente’s hamlets, which boasts a fountain dedicated to Santa Bárbara. The water comes from the Fuente que Nace spring on the mountain, where visitors can enjoy a panoramic view of the valley.

From Campo de Arriba to Campo de Abajo, the last of the hamlets to the south of Alpuente. Here visitors will find the San Isidro Labrador hermitage plus the La Hoz canyon, which is very close to the outskirts of the village, before closing the circular route on their return to where they started: Alpuente.


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