21/04/2016 08:11

Willingly or not the city of Logroño is linked to the wine produced in one of the Spanish best-known appellations of origin. It also belongs to the pilgrimage route that leads, on the French way, the pilgrims to Santiago. A stop over that can be quietly passed between fine Rioja wines.

Winemaking in the region dates back to Roman times although it is likely that the growing of the vine was even earlier. In the last quarter of the seventeenth century the cellars of the city had a storage capacity that exceeded five million litters, exaggerated for the population of the era, and in 1787 was created the Real Sociedad Económica de Cosecheros de Rioja, Royal Economic Society of Rioja Growers.

Wine is present, as is common, in bars and restaurants, but in the city are also based some wineries and the nectar of Bacchus permeates the history of many of the walls of its old buildings, in wineries that allowed homemade production. Perhaps the most characteristic structures are the so called calados, wine cellars, spaces that since the sixteenth century where habilitated in the basements of houses to make and preserve the wines. Elongated, built in masonry and closed by a barrel vault they maintain a constant temperature. The grape was unloaded through holes in the wall at street level that still can be seen in the old town. Once there, was pressed and fermented at the winery. Other holes, called tuferas, allowed the exit of carbon monoxide exhaled during the process.

Now have been recovered and rehabilitated some calados, the larger one is San Gregorio at the same name street. It have been dated in the sixteenth century and reaches ninety feet long and about forty feet high, for that reason is also known as calado largo. It also has a well inside, a rare feature, and on the roof a hole was used to introduce, once pressed, the wort made from the grapes. Right next door is Lagares Space, recovered in September 2011, there, in the ground floor, have been rehabilitated the tanks and other eighteenth century structures. This building already was mentioned in the year 1751, in Marquis de la Ensenada cadastre. Other calados can be seen at the Centre of Culture of Rioja, where there are a couple of them, in neighbouring winery La Reja Dorada, which was the home of Jacinta Martinez of Sicily and Santa Cruz, wife of Baldomero Espartero, the Centro del Calado, in Mercaderes 10, the House of Dance along the San Gregorio and in the ancient palaces now occupied by the College of Architects, Engineers and in the headquarters of the UNED University.

 The protected appellation of origin regulating Rioja wine was recognized in September 1932 and in 1991 would be the first to be additionally DOC, Denomination of Origin Controlled, which results in a more restrictive regulation in wine production. Eight wineries have their facilities in the city and some offer visits complemented with tastings of their wines. The nearest are Franco Españolas wineries, just crossed the Iron Bridge over the Ebro. In the district of Varea are Bodegas Ontañón, formerly the factory of the famous tablets of coffee with milk Viuda de Solano.

At the junction of Ruavieja, Mercaderes and St Nicholas streets is the Cultural Centre of Rioja occupying the renewed Yanguas Manor which preserved some old elements: the Renaissance door with three archivolts, the staircase, a balcony and the basement XVI century calados. In the hall has also remained a second door which contains two sculpted busts representing the Yanguas couple, he dressed as the god Mars and she as Venus. Next door is an old grape press that allowed the fall of draft to the wine cellar. The Centre maintains exhibitions related, obviously, with the world of wine and organizes tastings of the wines of the region inside the calados.

However, the most popular relationship with wine is in the many and varied bars in Laurel, San Agustin and San Juan streets offering young wines of the year and aged ones that are consumed and concentrated the customers along the outstanding tapas and snacks competing in variety and quality.

The French route of Santiago Way passed, until the early eleventh century, on the northern bank of the Ebro River, as on the south were common the Muslim raids. It is in this century when King Sancho III of Navarre, advancing Christian borders and shifting the pilgrimage route to the south bank, while seeking the repopulation of the new territories. The urban growth of the city is determined by this fact becoming a pilgrim’s stop. Santiago Way arrives through the old Viana road reaching the city on the Stone Bridge, where it crosses Ebro River. It was built in 1884 in the place where in January 1871 floods collapsed the former one known as Bridge of San Juan Ortega by an eighteenth century chapel that once stood on the left bank. This ford, gronius in the language of the Celtic tribes who inhabited the region, gave the name of the city, but the Romans preferred to cross the river on a more western position, where today is Cortijo neighbourhood. This is known as Mantible Bridge, but just a couple of arches are still standing, although actually its origin is questioned and probably was built in medieval times. On those days Ebro River was still navigable up to Varea, where another bridge spanned the passage over the river Irumea. Here, next to the aforementioned Ontañon winery, are the remains of Vareia, the Roman city. The arrival of the Roman legions dates from the years 195 and 133 BC, when they occupied the Celtic towns of Ilurcis (Alfaro), which Tiberius Gracchus gave his name in 179 BC: Graccuris. They also occupied Calagurris and Tritium. The literary sources, Strabo, Pliny, Tito Livy and Antonine Itinerary talk about the Beronians, a Celtic tribe near to the Roman city although  not yet any archaeological evidence have been found. However, there were discovered some epigraphs that demonstrate the presence of the Legion IV Macedonica. Also were found mosaics, gravestones, coins, ceramics and, in 1971, a head of the genius Silvanus, unique sculpture discovered in the area and now preserved along other findings in the Museum of La Rioja. This was established in the seventies in the old Espartero Palace, a mansion built in the eighteenth century by Pedro Ruiz de la Porta, city councilman. The building was purchased by the city hall in 1884 and now, in addition to the collections of prehistoric and Roman times has a remarkable one about Renaissance and Baroque works.

Crossed the Stone Bridge, to the left, between Rodriguez de Paterna Street and Navarra Avenue there are the seven streets of Villanueva neighbourhood, where it is believed once was the Jewry. A fourteenth century document refers to a Caleya de los Judios or Jews Alley: Don Sanz Dayra e su mugier dona Ysabel dieron a la Caridad de la Ascensión una casa en la caleya de los judíos e quanto se lograre esta casa es todo para la Caridad e son aledanios desta casa a orient don Remon Yvern e contra occident don Johan Arnalt. Lograse 5 maravedís. (Mr. Sanz Dayra and wife Mrs. Ysabel gave to Assumption Charity a house in Jews Alley and all of what was earned was send to Charity and the bounds of this house are on the west side with Ramon Yvern and to the east with Mr. Johan Arnalt. He got five maravedis.) Beside is the church of St. Bartholomew with its beautiful late thirteenth century façade depicting the life of the saint.

The Jacobean way resumes along Ruavieja Street where are San Gregorio chapel, Santa María de Palacio church and some pilgrims' hostels. The chapel, originally built in 1044 in the place where the saint lived and died, was opened again in May 1994, following the rehabilitation of the street. Its stones are the original from the oratory dismantled in 1971 that the city council managed to keep. The eight faces pyramidal Gothic spire of Santa Maria de Palacio is a visual reference to the pilgrims before entering the city. The current structure was made from the union of two churches, Santa Maria la Vieja and Santa María la Nueva, Old and New St Mary, and the irregular space between both was used to build the cloister. Ruavieja currently hosts several pilgrims’ hostels, at number 32 was opened one of them in 1993 by the Association of Friends of the Camino de Santiago taking advantage of an eighteenth century house. At number 9 two coats of arms can be seen around a door archery, one with five lily flowers, the other with a wolf tied to a tree belonged to Juan de Vergara, prior of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, who died in 1509.

Where Ruavieja becomes Barriocepo Street, the pilgrims have available drinking water in the Fuente del Peregrino, that’s it Pilgrim’s Well, next to Santiago Real parish with its great Baroque façade where the apostle appears twice: as a pilgrim and riding a horse in the usual iconography that represents him fighting against Muslims. In fact the myth of the battle when miraculously appeared alongside King of Leon, Ramiro I, troops which is situated twelve miles southwards, on Clavijo fields. According to legend the reason of the fight was to release the payment of one hundred maidens tribute and took place in the mid-ninth century. Beyond, Nuestra Señora de la Merced convent houses today the headquarters of the Autonomous Community Parliament, although previously had been military hospital and tobacco factory. The annex store has become a large exhibition hall and between both buildings still stands an industrial chimney. Even beyond are the last sections of the wall that protected the city and the Revellin Gate, once known as Way’s Gate leads to Murrieta Avenue, which name recalls a wine brand, leaving behind Rioja’s main city on Saint James Way.

© J.L.Nicolas


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