The eastern entrance to Nájera is not easy on the eyes. This new part of the town grew up on the east bank of the río Najerilla (the cliffs prohibit expansion to the west) and much of the city’s industry is located here.
Leaving town is notably better as you transition quickly back to the rural roadways that connect many of the smaller villages.
The Monasterio de Santa María la Real is one of the finest cloistered buildings in all of La Rioja and merits a visit. It is built into the entrance of a cave where the image of the Virgin was discovered by Sancho’s son García IV.
The Najerinos keep a busy fiesta calendar. San Antón is celebrated on the 17th of January. San Prudencio (patron of the city) on the 28th of April. San Antonio on the 13th of June. San Juan and San Pedro from the 24th to the 30th of June. San Juan Mártir and Santa María la Real from the 15th to the 18th of September. And San Miguel the weekend closest to the 29th of September.
If the celebration of Saints doesn’t move you, perhaps the celebration of the Rioja Pepper might. It is on the last Sunday of May.
On the way to Azofra, take notice of the modern aqueducts which help to irrigate the land. They are gravity fed and are a real-world example of hydraulics in action, with sections that pass beneath the road rather than passing above it.
Nájera, named for its position “between cliffs,” is a city that has been in favor since Sancho III (El Mayor) made it the capital when Pamplona was captured. At the time the camino passed further to the north, in the rugged but more protected mountains. His efforts moved the popular route to its current location.
Sancho’s preference brought the town much prosperity, including a market which was an important element in the funding of the Monasterio de Santa María la Real.
The rolling hills that you crossed to get here are the setting for a famous set of battles between Roland and the Syrian giant Ferragut. The giant had already defeated countless warriors before the Frenchman took him to task. They both lasted through several battles, resting together between them, before Roland succeeded in finding Ferragut’s weak spot.
Tales like these, and those of Charlemagne, served to elevate towns like Nájera (and the pilgrimage route as a whole) to a near mythical status.