Neolithic remains are the earliest evidence of Riba-roja’s history. Its charter, granted by Bishop Ponç of Tortosa in 1185, was recognition of a mediaeval settlement which had grown up around the Templar castle of Rippe Rubee, on the front line in the struggle against the Moors.
Though the remains of the fortress have largely disappeared with passage of time, the makeup of the town today, with its gateways, squares and alleyways, is the result of the symbiosis between its strategic position and the leading role played by the river.
THE 12TH CENTURY
Riba-roja is already mentioned in the 12th century, in documents from 1163 and 1167 belonging to Bishop Ponç of Tortosa. It was part of the lands given to the Knights Templar after the conquest of Miravet by Ramon Berenguer IV.
In order to push ahead with the Reconquest of the region from the Moors, Berenguer’s son Alfons I of Catalonia (who was also Alfons II of Aragón) asked the Templars for contributions, pledging among other things the castle and the town. Bishop Ponç attempted to resettle and Christianise Riba-roja. The town received its charter in 1185.
THE 13TH CENTURY
During the reign of King James I of Catalonia, Riba-roja was often involved in the struggles between the Entença family and the Templars. In 1288 the Entença forces did serious damage in the area. In 1289 the Templars’ commandery was in the town to put an end to the fighting by joining together with towns and villages in La Ribera and the Terra Alta to fight against the Entença forces.
THE 14TH CENTURY
The kings concerned themselves more for the welfare of La Ribera, containing or making agreements with the Entença barons.
James II of Catalonia-Aragón had the Templars put on trial. Their possessions in Aragón and Catalonia went to the order of St. John of Jerusalem, the Hospitallers.
The year 1348 saw the outbreak of the black death, the high mortality creating widespread confusion, disorder, banditry and demands for payments which weighed heavily upon the survivors.
Riba- roja and Berrús became part of the Commandery of Vilalba. Taxes rose, rights were taken away from both Christians and Muslims and heavy fuedal dues and taxes were exacted.
THE 15TH CENTURY
La Ribera, the Hospitallers and with them Riba-roja and Berrús suffered the consequences of the interregnum, of the rise of the Trastàmara dynasty and above all of the civil wars between John II and the Prince of Viana. To finance the wars, the Hospitallers completed the assessment and collection of the dues and taxes which had begun in the previous century. In the census for the taxes many Moorish, possibly Arabised, names are to be found alongside some Christian ones.
THE 16TH CENTURY
This was when the Catholic kings of Spain passed through the town. It also saw its expansion, the building of new walls and a gate. Riba-roja continued to live under a fuedal system without any great strength or personality of its own. In 1510 Joan Pubill, a former Muslim who was now a Christian, stated before the royal authorities that all the Muslims had converted and were well-assimilated Christians.
THE 17TH CENTURY
Philip III finally carried out the expulsion of the Muslims which had been attempted under Ferdinand the Catholic but prevented by important people who foresaw the economic and human disaster that would ensue from it, as most Muslims had been born on Spanish soil and worked on the land or were craftsmen. In the time of Philip IV, the Hospitallers (the lords of Riba-roja) protested against royal interference in their affairs and against the centralisation of the Austrian dynasty. Along with the Commandery of Ascó, the town joined the campaigns against the king. In 1629 the plague devastated Tortosa and spread to La Ribera. The ecclesiastical and administrative authorities of Tortosa and the court of Barcelona intervened in Riba-roja’s affairs.
THE 18TH CENTURY
This was a very important century for Riba-roja. The best times for the town were during the reigns of Charles III and Charles IV. The century saw the war of the Spanish Succession between the Austrian and Bourbon dynasties. With the reign of Philip V came the election of a mayor and deputy mayor of Riba-roja and Berrús. The town council made energetic requests to the Order from 1783 to 1792 to concern itself with the building of the church’s high altar and the finishing of its tower, which was completed in 1798.
THE 19TH CENTURY
In 1812, the Cádiz parliament put an end to Philip V’s Nueva Planta decree, which had suppressed Catalonia’s ancient rights and privileges, but proved to be even more centralist than the absolute monarchs. In 1821 Ferdinand VII’s corregimientos were replaced with the division of Spain into provinces. Three of these provinces (Tarragona, Barcelona and La Seu d´Urgell) covered the territory of Catalonia. Riba-roja belonged to the province of Tarragona, and ceased to be a feudal domain to become a royal muncipality.
The Terra Alta and La Ribera were affected by the Carlist Wars. The area, and Riba-roja itself, took part in the civil wars. The town had Carlists (rich people and their dependents) and liberals (less wealthy and not so religious). The war affected the traditional villages and small landowners more than it did the towns with their bourgeoisie. In April 1836, the Carlist 5th Column occupied the town, followed in June by the 5th royalist brigade with its headquarters. The hardship and insecurity greatly reduced agricultural production. The countryside, semi-abandoned, lived in misery. Partly for this reason, and partly out of a desire for adventure, groups of bandits sprang up under the leadership of members of well-to-do families, and made the area suffer for years.
THE 20TH CENTURY
Problems which were more personal than military, together with with a lack of education and culture, erupted in 1936. Twice Republican, twice held by General Franco, Riba- roja suffered. The fighting involved a series of tragic, painful events which for the population meant death, imprisonment, exile, suffering, confiscations and life on a war footing. The fragile barrier of the Ebro separated the two sides. Soon after the taking of the right bank of the Ebro and Riba-roja by the Francoist forces in early April 1938, on 25th July of the same year the Republican army went onto the offensive at Mequinensa and Mora. Riba-roja was in the middle.
On 14th November General Franco’s rebel army took Ascó, on 15th Riba-roja and on 17th Flix.