Walking along the towns and enclaves of Val d'Arán will delight the visitor not only because of the beauty of its landscapes but also because of the wonderful and still alive legends. Some of them surrounded by fiction and others completely real turn the experience into something magical. Many of these legends and beliefs can be seen in the Aranes most popular traditions and dances such as Eth Haroor Taro burning on the Saint John festival. They are celebrated every year with the expectation of tourists who are captivated by their genuine nature.
The cycle of the seasons is the origin of many of the celebrations. The end of the winter has always been a greatly celebrated moment since it announced the end of the cold and suffering. The incipient spring carried an optimistic and happy vision of the world and gave way to a festival which is well known all over the Pyrenees and, in general, deeply rooted within the Gascon culture. The first popular festival which is celebrated in Aran is the Magrás during Carnival. Moreover, in the spring and summer every town celebrates its main festival. Many of these involve pilgrimages, which still survive, such as that of Bossòst or the one of Montgarri. The Haro burning (in Les) or Taro burning (in Arties) on Saint John night are the most popular ones, even more popular than the livestock fairs which take place in autumn in Vielha, Les and Salardú.
The dances that were celebrated in Aran during the second half of the XIX century were numerous and diverse and many of them are still alive today. The most popular one (every every town has its own) is the Aubada in which the boys court the girls. The Balh Plan de Canejan, the Balh Cerdan, the Balhano, the Son, the Borrèga, Trauessada, the Castaña, the Cadrilh, the Pòlca Piqué, the Giga, the Rondèu, the Rigodon, the Tricotèr, the Puntet, the Masurca, the Escotisha, the Balh de Garròts, the Balh de Tòchos, the Balh de Jan and the Balh der Os are also well known dances with beautiful choreographies. The Gascon culture comes alive with the use of instruments such as the bramatopin (percussion instrument), the diatonic accordion or the bot (or cornemuse of the bagpipe family).
ERULET AND THE MAGIC OF FIRE
In Les and in Arties respectively, the tradition of burning a fir trunk in on the longest night of the year, the summer solstice night, on the eve of Saint John still survives. It is a thousand-year-old tradition which was Christianized however its origins come from a Celtic tradition. The legend says that, when the world was created, a gnome called Erulet was rejected both in heaven and hell because of his wickedness and he was trapped in the Valley. Since then, the neighbours scatter the embers of the Haro throughout the streets and paths and dance around it, to the sound of accordions, to frighten away this evil spirit. Nonetheless, the Celtic tradition explains the burning of the Taro or Haro as the fire fertilizing the mother Earth and that way foreseeing good crops.
THE ROCK OF THE 9 HOLES
The route that begins at the end of the street where, at present, the Tourism Office of Biela is located and ascends, parallel to the Nere river, towards the Vielha Mountain Pass over the tunnel, is also shrouded in legend that explains the offering of the parochial church to Saint Michael. The oral tradition says that the devil and the archangel Saint Michael met in this road and they disputed and agreed to leave it up to luck to determine the domain of the valley. They decided to throw stones to the opposite mountainous wall (where the N-230 currently goes along). The winner was the archangel scoring 9 - 1, thus the valley remaining under celestial custody. For that reason the Aranes people dedicated their church to Saint Michael.
THE CURSE OF THE MADALETA
The Madaleta and Aneto massif is closely related to Val d'Arán and from Artiga de Lin or following the mountain range paths of Horno, can be reached along beautiful but hard routes on foot. In the past, the shepherds knew how to make good use of the pastures that surround this beautiful natural environment; it is said that a traveller asked a shepherd, whose sheep were grazing in the mountain slopes of The Madaleta, for shelter and food. The shepherd answered him that if he wanted to protect himself from the cold and the rain he could lie down under a rock. The traveller responded that it would be the shepherd and his sheep that will turn into stone. Since then, the Aneto has always been covered with snow. People assure that the stone statues are buried under the snow and that the traveller was God himself.
MANDRÓNIUS THE GIANT
Other legends show signs of being somehow true as the one of Mandrónius the Giant who people affirm, fought against the Roman invaders, lived hidden in a cave in the surroundings of Betlán and spent his last days in Garós where he ordered his men to dig his tomb. In the middle of the past XX century, a neighbour of the area who was digging to plant potatoes, found the remains of a skeleton of great stature. People assure that, for years, the impressive tower of the church in Garós kept the skull attributed to Mandrónius the Giant. Some Aranes guides include a visit to the cave, where the kind giant lived, in their cultural itineraries and relate details of his beautiful story.
THE LOVERS OF BAUSÉN
The most beautiful legend told by the elders of the valley was as real as life itself and took place in Bausén (Lower Arán) at the beginning of the XX century when the church still had power over the lives of the parishioners. In the 20s, two young people of this beautiful town fell in love so deeply that they captivated their neighbours who profoundly admired the love the young couple professed for each other. One day they decided to get married but the parish priest demanded a big sum of money as a payment since they were relatives, albeit distant, and he didn't give in to the requests of the two lovers. They decided to go on with their relationship and live together until Teresa got sick and died at the early age of 33. The priest, not even then, agreed to give her a Christian burial in the town cemetery. Given Teresa's lover desperation, with great indignation, all the neighbours without exception dug another tomb and buried her, with dignity, in the civil cemetery where she currently lies. Every year the offspring of that love places fresh flowers on her tomb.