After a long urban itinerary the pilgrims approach the monumental centre of Nájera via Avenida de Logroño and Calle San Fernando. After walking a few meters on this road they leave to the right, still in the area of the walls, the Convent of Santa Elena, founded by the daughter of the Duke of Nájera in the mid XVI century.
Today its remains include the church, a cloister and other monastic buildings. Of these monuments it is only possible to visit the church (XVII century), inside it contains altarpieces of great beauty. A wrought iron fence separates the public area of the convent from the cloister, inhabited by clarisa nuns. Visiting hours are from 08.30 to 13.00 and from 15.30 to 20.00 (941 363 183). Now close to the River Najerilla the walkers leave on the right the Antigua Puerta se la Huerta (Old Gate of the Garden) and come to an area where they will find the majority of accommodation establishments and other services that may be of use, such as the bus station. They then cross the river via the Bridge of San Juan de Ortega, an infrastructure named after a personality strongly associated with the Camino and who initiated the construction of the previous bridge.
A Contemporary of Santo Domingo de la Calzada and San Lesmes, this saint supported hospitals for pilgrims and worked to ensure the easy transit for pilgrims on the Camino, ensuring that walkers were not faced with natural barriers. With regard to the previous bridge, San Juan de Ortega remodelled it in the XII century. Reconstructions continued over the years until 1866 when the current bridge was built.
At the other side of the bridge, the route continues along the Plaza de la Estella, where one of the gates of the old city wall is preserved, and continues along the streets Carmen and San Miguel. This is where the tourist information office is situated. If the pilgrims deviate to the left from the official route they will reach the church of Santa Cruz, a temple built in the XI century from ashlar stone. It houses the relics of various saints, such as San Prudencio, and paintings from Santa María la Real.
From Monday to Saturday there is a mass for pilgrims, which takes place at 20.00. Back on the official route they approach the Plaza Santa Maria towards the Calle Don Garcia, which houses the Museum Najerillense, an enclosure, which contains archaeological pieces, art and ethnography from different centuries, examples of artistic works and a traditional form of living in the Najerilla region. Visiting hours are from Tuesday to Saturday from 11.00 to 14.00 and from 17.00 to 20.00 and on Sundays and bank holidays from 11.00 to 14.00.
On the right hand side visitors will encounter the majestic landmark of the town, the monastery of Santa María la Real, commissioned in 1052 by King Don García Sánchez as an Episcopal and to serve as a royal mausoleum for members of his dynasty. Its exterior has a certain austerity, almost military like, a contrast to its interior, which hides a number of jewels. Legend has it that the king, while hunting, released his hawk in pursuit of a partridge.
He lost both birds and went in their search among the surrounding trees, while looking he encountered a cave from which came a great glow. Inside he found his prey and a mysterious image of the Virgin with a Child, a vase of lilies, a bell and a lamp. After conquering the town of Calahorra from the Muslims, the king ordered the construction of the monastery as an offering to the Virgin who had helped him.
In 1079 Alfonso VI designated the monastery to the Benedictine order of Cluny while eight centuries later, since 1895 it became a community of Franciscan monks who governed the monastery. The monument retains very little from its first traces, only the primitive cave where legend places the apparition of the Virgin and the sculptures remains. The present church, dating from 1516, has three naves. At the foot of one of them the previously mentioned cave is preserved.
At the entrance of the crypt there is also the Royal Pantheon, with twelve graves of kings and princes from Pamplona, Castile and Leon, of which the tomb of Blanca de Navarre stands out, a Roman jewel from the XII century. Other points of interest strengths include the choir area of the Knights from the early sixteenth century, with chairs carved from walnut, and the Cloister of the Knights, a crypt for many nobles, including the feared mausoleum Diego López de Haro.
Over the years the monastery has been used as a barracks, a theatre, and as a storage place for public works. In 1889 it was declared a National Monument. Visiting hours are from Tuesday to Saturday are from 10.00 to 13.00 and from 16.00 to 19.00 and on Sundays and public holidays from 10.00 to 12.30 and from 16.00 to 18.00.
After this remarkable visit the labyrinthine urban itinerary continues along the Plaza Navarra, which leads to the Calle Cantarranas, the Market Square (the plaza de Santiago and one of the hostels is passed on the left hand side), La Travesia San Jaime and La Costanilla which leads to the exit of the enclave. On the left and, on a hill are the remains of the medieval defensive fort. Located at the highest point, on the peak of a hill, from which it takes its name is castle Castillo de la Mota, a fortress and stronghold of Muslim origin, it played an important military role until the XVI century and this is still clearly evident by its moat and the wall located around it. Constructed on a hillside, between the castle and the village centre, stands the Alcázar, which served as a defence, royal residence and ducal palace.
On the cliffs of the hills that protect this enclave visitors can see numerous artificial caves, carved into the rock, and which form part of the ample buildings that flank the Najerilla River. Inaccessible places that were used as defensive corners until the X and XI. Visits are not possible.
From Najera one of the most recommended visits is to go to San Millan de la Cogolla, birthplace of the Spanish language. A variant from the official Camino allows pilgrims to visit the enclave on the itinerary of the next day, although, this will add nearly 30 kilometres to the stage. Therefore, many pilgrims take advantage of their time in Najera to visit the area; its famous and impressive monasteries of Suso and Yuso were declared World Heritage Sites by Unesco.
Its history dates back to the V century when San Millan, a hermit monk, settled in a cave and attracted, because of his fame a select community of monks who settled around him. In La Rioja these centres, which arose from the communities formed by hermits later became an important focus of culture. Proof of this is, in the monastery of Suso, these copyist monks created a large collection of codices and manuscripts. This was also where in 964 a monk, wrote the first words in Spanish romance, the Emilian Glosses codex 46, it represents the birth of Castilian writing.
Also the initiation of the Basque language can be seen in the Codex 60. The library and archive of the monastery of Yuso retains around 10,000 volumes. On the portal of the building there is a representation of San Millán, depicted riding over the bodies of two Muslim soldiers. This is derived from a legend that places the hermit of Rioja fighting alongside Santiago in the battle of Simancas, leading him to become a defender of Navarre and Castile against Islam.
The cheapest way to get there would be to travel from Nájera by Bus. The company Autobuses Jiménez covers this route at a rate of 1.72 euros. Mid week departure times are at 13.20 and 19.00 hours, on Saturdays, at 08.30, and on Sundays at 09.00 (return times are also available, consult the website http://www. autobusesjimenez.com /). The stop is at the bus station.
Pilgrims can also visit this idyllic enclave by taxi. As another possibility is to reach San Millán by bike. The company Nava Rent which, although based Navarrete also covers the whole area and offers walkers the possibility to rent a bike. They will transport luggage to their destination point. The exact price should be checked, however the normal rate for a stage is 35 euros. For more information: www.nava-rent.es / +34619022611.
It is important to note that on Mondays both monasteries are closed. Yuso opens throughout the rest of the week from 10.00 to 13.30 hours and from 16.00 to 18.30 hours. The entrance fee (up to 5 euros) can be purchased at the entrance to the monastery.
To visit the other monastery, that of Suso, reservation is necessary and can be made by phone 941 373 082. On arrival, the tickets (up to 3 euros) can be purchased at the tourist office (941 373 259), located on the ground floor of the monastery itself. From the Monastery car park of Yuso, every half hour, a minibus departs for Suso, one kilometre in distance, given that access to private vehicles is prohibited. Visiting hours are, in this case, from 9.30 to 13.30 and from 15.30 to 18.00. During July and August, they also schedule nightly visits to the Monastery of Yuso. For more information: http://www.monasteriodesanmillan.com/ In San Millán there are various catering establishments where travellers can eat and rest.
© Copyright LA VOZ DE GALICIA S.A. Polígono de Sabón, Arteixo, A CORUÑA (ESPAÑA) Inscrita en el Registro Mercantil de A Coruña en el Tomo 2438 del Archivo, Sección General, a los folios 91 y siguientes, hoja C-2141. CIF: A-15000649