The village of Arbeca, situated in Garrigues region, was born at the foot of a 357-metre hill and it grows around it. Nowadays (2016), it has 2,240 inhabitants.
On the top of the hill there are the remains of the ancient and powerful Ducs de Cardona (Dukes) Castle. This castle has its origins in an Arabian fortress which was conquered towards the middle of the 12th century. The village was built around the castle in order to be sheltered by it.
In the 18th century the castle was owned by Duc de Medinacelli (Duke), lord of Arbeca, who introduced -bringing it from Palestine- the variety of the Arbequina olive to the village, olive that is used to produce Garrigues olive oil. The promise of one “ral de brilló” (coin) for each planted olive tree stimulated this crop around the region. This variety is considered to be one of the best in the world because of both its production and regularity and its oil quality.
In the 20th century, a school was built there, right in the middle of the historic-artistic enclosure, which consists of the remains of the castle wall and part of one of its towers, and its surrounding area has been filled with vegetation.
At the foot of the castle and taking a stroll around the village, we can find Església Parroquial de Sant Jaume (parish church), which was built in the 17th century and consecrated in 1686. It is a Latin-cross plan church of beautiful and large proportions, and it is surrounded by squares and streets that boast arcades, stone façades and heraldic shields, as well as poetic corners with a medieval flavour, like the arcaded crossroads between Plaça de l’Església (square) and Carrer de Sant Feliu (street), or Esparter and Duc arcades in Plaça Major (square).
4 km from the village, on a small hill, there is Capella de Sant Miquel (chapel), the old church of the disappeared settlement Borgetes de Salena. It is a rectangular shaped, single-naved Romanesque chapel, protected by three majestic buttresses and dimly lit by an original and artistic loophole. In the last few years, and thanks to some refurbishing works that have been done there, it has become a very attractive spot where to spend a leisure day.
After a 2 kilometres’ walk on the way to Juneda, we arrive at Font de la Juliana, a water fountain excavated in the clay-pit substratum that gushes out nonstop sidelong. The structure, built between the 15th and 16th centuries, has a chamber covered with a splendid stone vault which, apart from keeping water clean, reduces evaporation and ensures its storage. This fountain tank of civil work is the reflection of a time when water was a scarce natural resource and its supply forced people to make great efforts in order to guarantee its service. The stonecutter’s work has been done with the greatest care. The drainage works have allowed the fountain to be recovered and to ensure its conservation.
Right in the middle of the village there is an olive oil mill known as Molí d’Argilés, a mill that has almost been totally recovered. It is situated in a not very large place, but it has very impressive millstones. It probably dates back to the beginning of the 19th century, and the added hydraulic presses are from the twenties in the last century. The mill stopped working after the Spanish Civil War.
In the north-east of the village, there is the country district of Vilars, a place-name that joins, in this case, the existence of two archaeological deposits: a Roman village that hasn’t been dug yet, practically unknown hitherto, and a settlement from the first Iron Age – a fortress built around the year 750 BC- which still stood in the Iberian Age until the end of the 4th century BC, and which was abandoned just after the year 350 BC. The builders of the first settlement settled down there in the second half of the seventh century, maybe in the middle of the second half, and they built the houses and the defensive system that had to protect them: walls, towers and chevaux-de-frise, and later on, they were outwardly strengthened. The fortress makes up an exceptional and unique archaeological complex in our country, and that is why in 1998 was declared cultural heritage of national interest by Generalitat de Catalunya. Since 1985, Generalitat subsidises yearly excavation works under the scientific guidance of Universitat de Lleida (university) archaeologists. They have obtained spectacular results.
Also on the outskirts, there is a hill situated in front of the village where we can find the remains of Ermita de Santa Caterina (hemitage), which are likely to date back to the beginning of the 18th century. Nowadays the only remains from the old hermitage are a small room with a stone archway, part of the walls, the torch and the stone support used for holding the crosses during the procession of The Way of the Cross of the Holy Week.