Santo Domingo de la Calzada

the popular town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada takes its name from Domingo García, an 11th century hermit who improved conditions on the Camino for peregrinos. he repeatedly tried to join the Benedictines, spending time studying at two different monasteries, but he proved so inept in his studies they refused to let him continue. still determined to live a religious life, he became a hermit and, following a dream, went to work with San Gregorio Ostiense (who’d been sent by papal envoy to to address a locust plague affecting Navarra and Rioja) improving the Camino in Rioja. when Gregorio died, Domingo returned to the region of the rio Oja (where he’d been a hermit) to continue their work.

his first project was building a stone causeway (calzada), leading to the wooden bridge he’d helped Gregorio construct. it served served as an alternative to the Roman route between Burgos and Leon. that done, he used a sickle to cut 37 kilometers of road through forests to improve the route between Nájera and Redecilla del Camino (on the way to Belorado). as this route became more popular, he replaced the wooden bridge with one of stone. soon thereafter, García Sánchez III granted Domingo permission to convert an old fort into un hospital de peregrinos; around this hospice a larger village grew.

peregrino statue/fountain

when King Alfonso VI of Castilla captured the area in 1076, he enlisted Domingo’s help in civic works projects like those he’d already undertaken. (Alfonso VI was the first to officially refer to the region as “La Rioja” after the river that is the region’s focal point. I felt silly for not noting this fact earlier.) together with a disciple (San Juan de Ortega), Domingo devoted the remainder of his live to improving the Camino — rebuilding bridges, clearing more roadway, anything that bolstered his vision. he devoted his last few years to constructing a church in the village, where he was buried upon his death in 1109. though his church burned in the mid-12th century, the replacement (a colegiata) was much larger and sufficiently impressive to warrant the transfer of the bishopric from Calahorra there in 1227.

as with all saints, miracles are attributed to Santo Domingo de la Calzada, about which you can read more here. suffice it to say that, in honor of Domingo’s miracles, a rooster and a chicken (with white feathers) are kept on the cathedral grounds and peregrinos used to gather feathers from the birds and affix them to their hats. it was said that if one of the chickens ate directly from the hand of a particular peregrino it meant he (or she) would make it to Santiago de Compostela safely.

again, the village location on the Navarra-Castilla frontier meant it changed hands more often than residents enjoyed — six times between 1076 and 1143 (with Castilla ultimately victorious). two centuries later it was also the focal point of Pedro the Cruel’s ill-fated war against his brother; leading up to 1364, Pedro had 38 towers and 7 gates built along a 1.6 kilometer wall that enclosed the city. those walls remained largely intact until 1886; today only the fragments of 8 towers, 2 gates, and 300 meters of wall remain.

unlike many of the other small towns that we passed through on our way to Santo Domingo de la Calzada, this town has grown fairly steadily since the 1850s. as of 2010 the population stands at just under 7,000 inhabitants.

golfing in the housing bust

on day nine we walked through the town of Cirueña, which gambled big in the housing boom and lost big. the earliest references to the town date from the 10th century and its development was closely linked to that of Nájera and its monastery. many townspeople fled during the mid-14th century (not precisely certain why — wikipedia tells me it’s because repeated “desafueros de sus vecinos” which has something to do with violent acts) and returned when taxes were dropped for a ten-year period beginning in 1387.
what makes the village interesting these days, however, are the vacant housing units. a golf club — the Rioja Alta Golf Club — opened on a hill to the east of town in 2003. designed as a grand tourist attraction, it is surrounded by small-unit buildings and townhouses, presumably aimed at those well-heeled enough to spend most weekends playing golf. hundreds of units, most of which remain empty or with the occasional faded “For Sale” sign (which led to the area’s nickname of “Se Vende”). some had compact front “gardens”; some had interesting balconies; some connected to a neighborhood pool that was, impressively, filled and clean — the place wasn’t completely vacant, just almost entirely vacant. 

the Golf Club built most of these lots and the right to join the golf club is reserved to those people who own those properties. as their website explains: 
Spacious homes with one, two, three and four bedrooms, independent plots for building detached or semidetached villas. The community is set in an exceptionally natural environment in the countryside. The Camino de Santiago (Saint James’ way) crosses right in front of the Club house.
An ample sports area, exclusively for residents, with swimming pools, tennis and paddle courts.
The right to become a member of the Golf club is reserved to property owners.
so, I suppose if you’re looking to retire to a golf community in the middle of the Spanish countryside, there are worse places to look. you wouldn’t have many neighbors; nor would you have a lot of options for nightlife, restaurants, pubs, or shopping for essentials (i.e. groceries). we chose to walk past the Club House and search for food in town; our mistake. while the bocadillo con queso y vegetal was surprisingly tasty, we ended up sharing it because the twentysomething dude behind the bar had such a sour, long-suffering, put-upon attitude that he dissuaded us from trying to order a second sandwich.


a day of welcome overcast skies brought us to Nájera, a town astride the rio Najerilla at the base of some remarkable cliffs. again — Roman origins, Moorish control for a while (the name of the town actually has Arabic origins), but a history of more diplomatic rather than military transitions of power. by virtue of its location, Nájera controlled both the east-west traffic on the Camino, but also the transport of goods downriver from the fertile plains nearby. 

Nájera was a multicultural city from early on and part of the first translation of the Qur’an into a European language may have originated here. much of Spanish law derives from the charter granted the town by Sancho Garces III, who also minted the first Christian coinage in Spain following the expulsion of the Moors.  as with many other towns along the Camino, Nájera hosted a sizable Jewish population but unlike persecution endured elsewhere, the 11th-century charter equalized penalty for killing a noble, a cleric, or a Jew at 250 sueldos.

there was a spot of bother with the Monasterio de Santa Maria stemming from the Castillian capture of Rioja in 1076. a Castillian king donated the monastery to the Benedictines of Cluny in 1079, which enraged the bishop of the monastery, who physically relocated the bishopric to Calahorra, downriver. when later appealed to for intervention, the Pope declined and the new bishop took matters into his own hands, raiding the monastery, assaulting monks, and stealing valuables from the altars and library. the Pope did not take to kindly to this, excommunicating the bishop, who was also barred from entering Navarra by its king. shortly thereafter Castilla and Navarra went to war over Rioja and the new prior of the monastery managed to enrich it by playing both sides. 

interesting fact for Anglophiles: Edward the Black Prince led troops at the Battle of Nájera in 1367, supporting Pedro (the Cruel) against his brother Enrique II in the Castillian Civil War (also part of the Hundred Years War). the English-backed Pedro completely routed the French-backed Enrique — the English were attacking dismounted French troops and were using longbows for the first time in the Iberian Peninsula. despite Pedro’s victory here, however, he didn’t hold onto power for very long; he and Edward fell out over money and he couldn’t sustain his throne without the benefit of foreign support.


 we hiked through the Rioja Alta, which is know for the cultivation of its grapes. around Nájera, vines of garnacha and tempranillo grapes stretch to the horizon beside the Camino. earliest evidence of grape cultivation in Rioja dates from 873 and a donation of wine from a monastery. the king of Navarra and Aragon gave the first legal recognition of Rioja wine in 1102 and protection of its quality remained important throughout the centuries. in 1635, the mayor of Logroño banned carts from passing too closely to wine cellars for fear that vibrations would disturb the quality of the product; fifteen years later the first document protecting the quality of Rioja wines was drawn up. Rioja was the first region to receive the Denominación de Origen Calificada of Spain — marking it for origin and quality.

we saw a fair few old vines (which can produce highly concentrated grapes but few per vine each year), but mostly younger ones. Rioja wines fall into one of four categories, based on age — Rioja (the youngest, less than a year in oak barrels); crianza (by far our preferred variety, aged for at least two years with at least one in oak barrels); reserva (aged for at least three years, with one or more in oak barrels); and gran reserva (aged at least two years in oak and three in bottles). the vines were just starting to green up as we walked through the vineyards; in the fall the garnacha vines turn red, the tempranillo yellow. I imagine it’s quite something to see.

Poyo de Roldán

on a hill just a few kilometers outside of Nájera is the Poyo de Roldán, an odd beehive-shaped structure that put me in mind of the Gallarus Oratory … but smaller. reputedly, it is the site where Roland slew the giant Ferragut, not with a dagger as often related, but with a giant rock — the poyo.

the emir of Babylonia sent Ferragut and a slew of Turks to Spain to battle Charlemagne. the two sides encountered one another just outside Nájera and Ferragut challenged the French to put up their best men in single combat against him. after the unceremonious destruction of nearly two dozen of Charlemagne’s best men, Roland took his turn. he battled Ferragut for three days, stopping occasionally for conversation and discussion about one another’s religions; in these conversations Ferragut revealed his only weakness — his navel. Roland used this fact to his advantage and, when Ferragut fell atop Roland in an attempt to smother him, Roland jabbed a dagger (or threw a rock) at Ferragut’s navel and defeated him.


our first break of the day found us in Navarrete, just a handful of kilometers outside Logroño. just outside the town stand ruins of a hospice — Hospital de San Juan de Acre — founded in 1185 by the mother of a bishop. it flourished through the Middle Ages and well into the 16th century, but, as with the walled fortifications of nearby Navarrete, it was destroyed in the 16th century in battles to incorporate the region into the rest of Spain.

in modern times, the town became known for its wine and mushroom industries. most prominently, the hulking Bodega Don Jacobo loomed over the ruins of the Hospital de San Juan, advertising to passing cars on the autopista. elsewhere scattered across the hillside, however, are several other bodegas, which take advantage of the caves carved under and behind the town to store and age wine (or cultivate mushrooms).

while the church of the Ascencion is reputedly spectacular, neither the allure of retablos nor wine tasting caught our interest. after a pair of bocadillos (one with cheese, the other with a Spanish omelet) we continued on our way. 

Logroño and sun poisoning

the Camino — one does it for tapas (rather than in stages or “etapas”)

the end of our first week on the Camino brought us into Logroño, a university town and regional capital just over the border of Navarra in the Rioja region. the walk was long and hot and made more challenging by sunburns (from the stage from Puente la Reina to Estella) that flared into sun poisoning as a result of the sun and distance. thankfully, we found a great, comfortable hotel (f&g Hotel) at the intersection just over the bridge crossing the rio Ebro where we promptly decamped, showered and I set off in search of some Gatorade to help recover from the sun poisoning.

Puente de Piedra – built in 1884

once again, the original settlement dates from Roman times and, after Sancho Garcés of Pamplona and Orduño II of Leon reclaimed it from Moorish control, proved a prize over which kings of Navarra, Aragon and Castilla frequently quarreled. (records claim that El Cid, conspiring with Moors in Zaragoa intent on unsettling the Castillian border, attacked the city in 1073.) the charter granted the city by Alfonso VI, coupled with his successful aim of making the city strong and prosperous, only increased its desirability for enemies; very few medieval monuments remain because of the frequency with which the city endured violence. for example:: in 1134 Castilla took it from Aragon; in 1160 Navarra took it; in 1176 it was taken back by Castilla; in 1336 four men held off an attack by Navarra by defending the end of the bridge; in 1369 it fell to Navarra anyway; in 1375 it went to allies of Castilla in whose hands it remained until 1460 when Navarra, aided by Aragon, reclaimed it only to lose it almost immediately back to Castilla. it also fell to Napoleon in the 19th century and suffered heavily during the War of Independence and was occupied during the 1833-34 Carlist War.

during the 14th century, anti-Semitic riots destroyed the Jewish quarter, which stood just outside the city walls, while over the two centuries in which the Spanish Inquisition operated, Logroño was the seat of Basque witch trials. in 1569, the Hospital de Roque Amador, an albergue, was taken to serve as the center of Inquisition activities.

after a nap, two bottles of Gatorade, and some ibuprofen, the sun poisoning had abated enough to allow for dinner. the delay was something of a boon, in fact; rather than eating at the absurdly early hour of “before 7 p.m.” we wandered into the plaza in front of the Concatedral of Santa Maria de la Redonda (they share a bishop with two other churches nearby) to catch the tail end of some sort of trivia game and performance that had drawn quite a crowd.

out and about in central Logroño

we chowed down on some pasta — the first thoroughly enjoyable and filling meal I’d had since arriving in Spain — and wandered the streets of Logroño to see what there was to see. saw plenty of graffiti and a few murals (like the one pictured). saw some dodgier allies than those we’d seen in Pamplona. did not see any more prostitutes (but I avoided the back street I’d seen them working earlier when in search of Gatorade and aloe). saw the organization of Friends of the Camino in La Rioja. and called it an early night in the hopes that a good night’s sleep would prove sufficient to allow us to continue on the Camino the following day, rather than taking a day to let sunburned legs keep us holed up an unexpected extra day. sleep — with the help of our hearty dinner — did help. and though our meal wasn’t all that adventurous or special, turns out Logroño has one of the most distinguished culinary traditions in Spain, is well known for its tapas (again, see the mural above) and in 2012 was named the gastronomic capital of Spain.

(lastly, I just have to note that of all the small-to-medium-sized towns I’ve investigated via Wikipedia for these posts, the page for Logrono has been the most intriguing.)