Human presence in Sobrescobio seems to be more belated and limited than in the rest of Valle del Nalón due to the fact that no archaeological remains have been found from the Palaeolithic era. The first archaeological testimonies happened later and they are related to the Neolithic and are present in four places: Pumarín, Unqueru, Campu La Braña and Monte Caón. It’s about tumulus isolated structures with a medium size. Also in Unqueru we can highlight the presence of a possible Dolmen, situated in halfway up a hillside and difficult to catalogue.
There are some references of inhabitants in later periods who exploited the forestry and fisheries wealth. They settled in this land leaving ruins like the pre-Romans forts of Castro’s crown, situated in Agues (Soto de Agues), and the ruins of the Crown, situated in Campiellos. Ruins of Castro’s crown, located in Campiellos, are situated in an isolated promontory and their defensive systems are two concentric terraces with respective slopes.
From the Roman period a large number of relics are preserved, such as the ruins of a paved road that, following the river Nalón course, cross the council from east to west, from the surroundings of Rioseco avoiding the vertical sickles of river Nalón to Anzó in El Lugar de los Infiernos. This part of the road is named ‘Camín de Acéu’ and was linked with ‘Camín Real’, also named del Sellón, whose origin was in Villaviciosa to be used as a communication passage between Asturias and the plateau of Castile.
Some other evidences of Romanization are the Aceales Castle o ‘Torrexón de Villamorey, built by the legions of Augustus on the orders of his lieutenant Casirio. This is related to castles and bastions which have been found in the region during that period. In the same way, Sobrescobio is the name of the council which comes from roman roots like super scopolum ‘sobre el escobio’, because of the name of ravines with reference to the narrow path to access to the council. Also the toponymy with the suffix ‘ana’ for instance ‘Oviñana’, where is located the Santa María La Real church, founded at the beginning of XV century and rebuilt under the direction of the master Sr. Fernando de Posada. In 1718 the church began to use the title of ‘Real’. Eladio G. Jove explains the different stages of the building with important ornaments of the church: between 1729 and 1732. ‘As a priest the graduated Mr. Alonso de Llanos Cifuentes, Santiago’s knight, it was made the artistic altarpiece of the major chapel by the sculptor master Sr. Francisco de Rivera’. Also 1868 was an important date because it was built the Martyrs Chapel in the south facade and the belfry, being as a priest Mr. José García Ciaño, paid by Mr. Juan Suárez Buyeres de Villamorey’, as recorded in registration. In 1934, during the October Revolution, it was burned and dismantled and nowadays only their ruins are preserved.
As well, in Oviñana was located the city council before being transported to Rioseco in 1929, the current capital of Sobrescobio. The old town hall of the council was rebuilt in 1864. It was situated on the south side of the church. The inscriptional stone had this legend: transmitted by Eladio G. Jove: ‘City Council rebuilt being the mayor Mr. Wenceslao Canella, 1864’. Also Mr. Joaquín Manzanares, official chronicler of Asturias, said that in Oviñana was located a Military Tower but it doesn’t exist any archaeological ruins to prove it.
The arrival of German inhabitants to the lands invaded by the Roman Empire changed the collective use of the forest to the old conditions of the Hispanic-Roman population. In the same way it increases the classification of crimes that all of us know as forest crimes such as fires, logging, plowing, firewood and timber theft, etc.
The Visigoths on the orders of Sisebuto crossed Sobrescobio through the Roman path to go into this land.
On the other hand, due to the invasion of Arabs and Saracens, after the fallen of Visigoths, and its settlement in territories known as ‘Villa de Moros’, it has come down to us the place name of Villamorey, Sobrescobio’s town located along the river Alba.
It is during the High Middle Ages when it has been found a reliable confirmation of Sobrescobio with its own name and a permanent population, even though documents testify that it had been incorporated in the large territory of Laviana, due to the information given by the next documents: the false pelagiano dated in 857 situates Sancte Marie de Ovellaio (Oviñana) in Flavianensi territory or the grant given in 1171 by the kings Fernando II and Urraca to Mr. Ordonio Pelagi. This was an inheritance named ‘Seuncia inter Lavianam et Casu’ to establish a ‘hospicious transeuntibus’ for their souls. This fact confirms the traffic of traders and peregrines that cross the mountain pass of Tarna and cross the council towards the centre of the region.
Social organization during the X-XII centuries would be determined by the predominant roll of the monastic lordships, as well, the rural landscape is not going to be really transformed, keeping the valley as a natural unity.
Sells and contributions are frequent during this period, mainly to churches and monasteries. So, on the 11th of February, 1185 the king Fernando II, together with his child Alfonso, makes the contribution to the Military Order of Santiago, being as a master Sr. Fernando Díaz, from the property and Castle of Sobrescobio, to be immune and free from regal voice, with all his belongings, rights and terms, making this donation in perpetuity. The text that this donation is written shows the first mention to Sobrescobio as a delimited territory. "illum mean hereditatem et castellum quod Superscouum est nominatum, quod ex hac die illud cautatum et ab omni uoce regis ac potestatem liberam et excusatam habeatis, cum ómnibus directis suis ac pertinentiis..."
Afterwards, the usufruct of the council will be given for life by the Order to different Lords who used to charge taxes and administrate justice. Then, in 1392 the master of the Order of Santiago, Mr. Santiago Martín, gives the encomienda to Mr. Nuño Froilán and his wife Mrs. Mayor, leaving the lordship to their usufruct.
That usufruct was transferred to the Advance Mayor from León and Asturias lands Mr. Rodrigo Álvarez de las Asturias.
After his death, he leaves Prince Enrique as his inheritor, natural son of King Alfonso XI, to which the Order entrusted these lands with its castle, a Royal Privilege is preserved in the National History File, dated the 6th of April 1336, which saves the security and safety provided by Alfonso XI of the Order of Santiago, and his son Prince Enrique will return it to the Order, the day of his death, the castles of Gozón and Sobrescobio, that this Order had given them to him by command of the king.
In spite of lordly subordination of local populations, it is preserved a kind of self-government, and the council acts as a useful decision component in issues like the communal use of rivers, grasslands, mountains and forest.
After XII century, a progressive reorganization of the Asturian society emerges. In the middle of the century, they began several projects of urban repopulation in the lands of the northern Spain by the kings of Castilla and León.
This repopulation is going to be strengthened in the region in XIII century during the reign of Alfonso X, who begins a plan of foundation of towns ‘Polas’, whose successor Sancho IV will continue. Alfonso XI gives town charter ‘Carta Puebla’ to the council of Sobrescobio, on requirement of his children Enrique and Fadrique. In this charter demands the population to be together in Oviñana, to agreement of Benavente, by granting some exemptions and establishing the amount of 1,200 maravedíes the tribute should meet annually to the Lords of the property. About this charter, which has been lost nowadays, we have bibliographic references and documents reliable enough to form a fair idea of its contents.
During XV century, the Order of Santiago keeps its properties in several asturian regions, of which Sobrescobio, where there are also different ecclesiastic societies in towns like Soto and Ladines. The properties of the Order are managed administratively from Las Tiendas Hospital in Villamartín, Palencia, although the lack of government is obvious in some facts like irregular inspections, or its lordly requirements in 1568 are still the same than two centuries earlier. In 1484, Catholic Kings demand to keep the privilege of Alfonso XI for Sobrescobio at the same time that this council was repopulated.
In 1565 the Order of Santiago agrees to transfer its jurisdiction over the territory of Sobrescobio. The transfer has effect on auction in Oviedo (‘a la puja la llana’). The event was chairing by Juan Gutiérrez, cleric and owner of Las Tiendas Hospital, who joined the Order and the time of the auction was decided by a tallow candle. In this way Eladio G. Jove describes the purchase of its freedom:
The council of Sobrescobio belonged from 1185 to the Military Order of Santiago, which managed from the hospital of Las Tiendas, in Palencia. However, since the king Alfonso XI, and the Reyes Católicos in 1484, stated that their taxes could not exceed the 1200 maravedíes, the territory was taken away from the organisation. The whole area was auctioned, with the servants and lands.
The village unites their savings and two of the local men attend the auction, Pedro Díaz del Prado, of Rioseco, and Diego Fernández, of Ladines.
A candle was to be lit, and when it runs out, the auction was finished. The rich Pedro Solís, from Oviedo, places the first bit, 600,000 maravedíes, Pedro Ruíz offers 750,000 meravedíes. The biding continues, Solís 770,000 and by the time the candle was at its end it had increased to 800,000. Díaz does not react, and the hospital cleric, Br. Juan Gutiérrez, gives the last bit of Solís as valid and final.
However, when the candle was about to run out, Diego Fernández shouts in the last moment: 810 thousand maravedíes!
The cleric does not accept it, the people protested and it was taken to the tribunal. And on the 11th of Marc, the court gives Sobrescobio to its inhabitants. Solís appealed to the king, saying that the neighbours were poor and it was a conspiracy from his enemies. Finally, in 1568, it was sold to Juan Onís in Santa María in Las Tiendas, and to Juan Roces, of Soto, by the power of Mr. Pedro Zapico, in Pola de Oviñana. All the people from the area were present, surnames of families which still live there. It was finally sign by the king in 1573.
The sale included the whole area, the serfs, the jurisdiction, the notary, the beds of the clerics who die being neighbours, 1200 maravedíes of complete control the feudal authority of the entry and leaving, the local jurisdiction, the rights, uses, customs, and servitudes.
The King ordered that the land would be given proportionally to all the neighbours, who distributed it in equal parts, and the high pastures were of communal use In the town each family would build a vegetable garden, and in the mountains a farmhouse, leaving all the rest of the land for communal use. This arrangement has been conserved, with some variation until now.
In 1568, Juan de Onís the old, from Rioseco and Juan Roces, of Soto, in the name of all the neighbours of the Sobrescobio, wrote an obligation, in the Hospital of Las Tiendas, which stated that Diego Pérez, administrator of the hospital, would pay eight hundred and ten maravedíes, in instalments, finishing the payment in 1571.
There is a letter, dated from 1573, in which Francisco de la Flor, administrator of The Hospital of Las Tiendas says to have reived of Fernando Martínez of Pondiello, in the name of his naighbours, thirty three thousand six hundred and nineteen tree and a half maravedíes, with which they finished the payment for their freedom.
This historical event, not a legend, is present in the collective memory of the coyanes, and so in the town hall of Sobrescobio there is a sign saying:
THE MUNICIPAL CORPORATION AND THE TOWN OF SOBRESCOBIO. IN MEMORY OF DON PEDRO DÍAZ DEL PRADO OF RIOSECO, AND DIEGO FERNÁNDEZ OF LADINES, WISE MEN, COMISSIONED BY THE PEOPLE, FOR THE BUYING OF THEIR FREEDOM, IN THE FAMOUS AUCTION CELEBRATED IN 1565 OF 810,000 MARAVEDÍES. TO REMEMBER AND TO THANK. 1565-1985.
During Independence war, involving Sobrescobio and its neighbours, it is important to underline the arrival of troops of General Gómez by the pass of Tarna. During Carlitas’ wars Sobrescobio was liberal and had its place in the Government of the Principality.