A Cultural Crossroads

Scott de Brestian and Victor Martínez

The Najerilla valley has played an important role in the history of northern Spain. Located on a fertile tributary of the River Ebro, in the later first millennium B.C. it was home to the Celtiberian tribe of the Berones, who had an important town at Tritium Magallum (modern Tricio). After the Roman conquest the abundant clay beds and plentiful timber resources of the Sierra de la Demanda provided the raw materials for a major ceramic fineware industry that supplied most of Northern Spain with high-quality pottery.

After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the region became more peripheral, an ideal location for Christians seeking to escape the material world. The holy man Aemilianus established a community of monks in the upper reaches of the valley in the late 6th century, which became the nucleus of the monastery of San Millán de la Cogolla. After the Islamic conquest of 711, the region also became a military frontier, and an Islamic garrison was installed above the cliffs of modern Nájera.

In the 10th century, the growing Kingdom of Navarre negotiated for possession of the valley as a condition for military assistance to the Caliphate of Córdoba. By 1032, Nájera had become the political and cultural center of Navarre. Royal patronage led to a flourishing of architecture and sculpture in the valley. The old monastery of San Millán expanded to a new site in the valley floor (San Millán de Yuso), and the important monastery of Santa María la Real was founded in Nájera. The valley was also home to a large Jewish population, who founded a community on the hills above Nájera. The royal charter given to the Jews of Nájera was later used as a model for Jewish charters across northern Spain.

The collections of San Millán bear witness to the cultural flowering of this period. Its manuscripts preserve the earliest record of written Spanish and Basque, testament to the many cultural influences in the valley. Meanwhile, Santa María la Real was given to the order of Cluny after the region was transferred from Navarre to Castille in the 11th century. When the abbot Peter the Venerable visited Cluniac properties in Spain in 1142, one of his goals was to commission a translation of the Qur'an into Latin. It is believed that Santa María la Real was the location where this important project was inaugurated.

The many peoples and cultures that made the Najerilla valley their home have all left their mark on the landscape in different ways. We invite you to come explore that cultural heritage with us.