Najera, La Rioja Spain
Nájera, former capital of the Kingdom of Navarre, is located in the Rioja Alta region of La Rioja. Situated on the river Najerilla, and overlooked by Malpica Crag, Nájera is located on the French Way the most popular path on the Camino de Santiago.
In fact, the Camino de Santiago passes right through the centre of Najera and the many pilgrims and travellers, and the inns/albergues that house them cannot go unmissed. This brings with it a sense of movement and change, and a sense of the immortality of the town – for generations different people have been passing through, but the ancient buildings remain constant and unchanged.
The town also boasts a wide range of bars and restaurants, as well as a couple of fantastic ice cream parlours. Whatever your budget you will be able to find somewhere that suits for a reasonable price if you find yourself in Najera for a day out.
Monastery of Santa Maria la Real
According to legend, it was in 1044 that the King Don Garcia “El de Najera” went hunting and found an image of a virgin – Santa Maria la Real – in a cave. The following year the King succeeded in conquering Calahorra and attributed his success to the virgin – ordering the construction of a church in Najera, one of the first Romanesque-mozarabic temples in Spain. The church was founded in 1052 and was the head of a bishopric.
Over time the building has been extended and developed. The modern day visitor can visit the Panteon de los Reyes/ Pantheon of the Kings, and the Cueva de la Virgen/ cave of the virgin. The Pantheon of the Kings contains a large number of renaissance sculptures dating from the 16th century, of Castilian and Navarrense kings, such as Garcia de Najera, Sancho “El Noble”, Bermudo III de Leon, to name but a few. Arguably the most important tomb is inside the church – that of Dona Blanca de Navarra, dating from 1156. She was Queen of Castile, daughter of King Garcia Ramirez of Navarra, giving birth to the future king Alfonso VIII in November 1155. However, she died the following year due to complications with a further pregnancy. She was buried in the church of Santa Maria la Real in Najera and the lid of her sarcophagus famously depicts the queen on her deathbed with members of the court mourning her passing.
In 1079 Alfonso VI gave the church to the Benedictines of Cluny. In 1487, the Pope gave it to Rodrigo de Borja, the future Alexander VI. The monastery operated as an independent abbey for much of its history. Finally in 1889, Constantino Gerran had it declared a national monument, and until recently it was under the care of the Franciscan Fathers.
Najera is also home to some extraordinary man-made caves, which can be clearly seen on the outcrop of red rocks behind the river. The first documented reference to the existence of the caves dates back to the 11th century. In 1036 the Monastery of San Millan de la Cogolla bought one of the caves. In the 12th century they were still in use and carbon dating on a part of one of the walls dates from the beginning of the 12th century. In the 15th century the Council of Najera obtained income from the rental of caves and dovecotes. In the following centuries their use declined. By the 20th century the caves were mostly used as dovecotes for the breeding of pigeons.
There are 136 known cave mouths. They are between 18 and 30 metres high from the base of the slope, and the highest, more than 40 metres. The rock from which the caves are formed contains different strata of hard and soft rock, and this feature is what has enabled the excavation of the caves. The soft rock was excavated, and the hard rock then formed the floors, walls and ceilings of these caves.
The origin of the caves is not clear. However, no religious symbols or tombs have been found to point to a religious purpose and there is no archaeological evidence to indicate their use as habitual residences. Based on the size of the caves and their separation, amongst other features, it is believed that they were used as warehouses or granaries for food supplies belonging to the people who inhabited the surrounding area. The fact that they are well above the flood level of the Najerilla River indicates that there is an added benefit of security, as well as the obvious benefits of security against theft or attack. In addition, for the same reason, the caves would serve from time to time as a temporary refuge for the population against external attacks.
Travel to Najera
Car: The nearest main roads are: A-12 and N-120.
Logroño: 28.7 km, Pamplona: 73 km, Soria: 87.9 km Vitoria: 113 km, Burgos: 119 km
Logroño–Agoncillo Airport: 40 km
Vitoria Airport: 52 km
Train: Nearest stations are Cenicero or San Asensio 12 km away
WHERE TO STAY IN AROUND NAJERA
Najera has a good mix of accommodation; one hotel, various self-catering options and cheaper hostels.