North of the Province of Burgos is located Ojo Guareña, one of the most important karstic monuments worldwide. It is made up of more than 110 kilometres of long galleries. It was declared Natural Monument in 1996 by the government of Castile and León thus. The cave-hermitage of San Bernabé is a must see.
The network of cavities and galleries covers an area of 18 km². The complex is made up of around 400 caves. However, they are not all connected to each other. The galleries of caves were formed because of the erosion of the Trema and Guareña rivers.
The core network is made up of 14 caves connected with each other in a total of 6 floors or different altitude. Some of the most important are Cornejo cave, Covaneria cave, the Diaclassas, the cave and hermitage of San Bernabé, Sima of Dolencias, Kubía cave, Kaite cave, Sima of Los Huesos, Palomera cave and Moro Cave, among others.
This natural area is located in the province of Burgos. More precisely, on the north of the province, on the southern slope of the Cantabrian Mountains. The municipalities where this natural monument is located are Espinosa de los Monteros, Merindad de Sotoscueva and Merindad de Montija.
Historical background of the Ojo Guareña karst complex
Several archeological finds were discovered in the Ojo Guareña caves. Accroding to them, this network of caves were used between the Middle Paleolithic and Middle Age. Therefore, the presence of humans in this perios has been proved.
The oldest traces that prove human presence in the area were found in the Prado de Vargas cave. This way, after carrying out of an excavation, lithic industry of the Musterian from 70.000 years ago was found.
On the other hand, cave art that go back as far as 10.000 years old was found in the Palomera cave. Furthermore, the Sala de las Huellas is also one of the most interesting. It preserves footprints in which you can notice a round trip. Also fragments of a torch that, thanks to radiocarbon dating, classify as pices from 15.600 and 3.600 years ago. Therefore, the caves were inhabited for milleniums.
Another of the caves that made up Ojo Guareña is the Kaite cave, where paintings of deer have been found. Note that the Sala de la Fuente has geometric, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic patterns in its walls and in its vault. These patterns correspond to a period which ranges from the Late Neolithic to the beginning of the Bronze Age.
Cave and hermitage of San Bernabé
The cave and hermitage of San Bernabé is one of the most beautiful in Spain and it is located in the Merindad de Sotoscueva. This primitive hermitage has a natural vault that is decorated with paintings made in 1705. They tell the martyrdom suffered by San Tirso and also his miracles. Thus, the temple was firstly under the patronage of San Tirso. Patronage of San Bernabé was added in the 18th century.
The hermitage of San Bernabé is really worth visiting. It takes around 45 minutes. Inside the cave there is an hermitage but also the Saint’s baptismal font (which according to the legend is filled in a miracolous way thanks to the Saint) as well as the gallery of Silos. The paitings for which the hermitage is quite popular are the anonymous murals which date from 1705 and 1877. The main altar is also noteworthy since it has a 13th century carving of San Tirso.
Furthermore, to the right of the entrance is the Sala del Ayuntamiento (City Council room), used as meeting place until 1924. Just very important events such as the Romería de San Bernabé (declared Festival of Regional Tourist Interest) are held in this hermitage nowadays.
In order to visit the hermitage of San Bernabé as well as the Palomera Cave, tickets must be bought in advance.
The Palomera cave is located in the Merindad de Sotoscueva. It is a subterranean world with many elements of interest visible through different routes. Of the six levels that made up the complex, the Palomera cave is located in the four one.
The rivers of the area can be seen in some sections of the tour. A must see is the 54m heigh waterfall that comes from to the stream of Villamartín de Sotocueva and continues through the Sima Dolencias. As you can see, the protagonist of this tour is just the water. Other important elements worth mentioning are the underground rivers of Trema and Guareña. Both have eroded the limestone rock of the galleries.
Routes inside the Palomera cave have different different length and difficulty. The short route goes up to the Sima Dolencia (chasm of Dolencia) and lasts almost three hours. The long route lasts four hours. It also includes a visit to the Museo de Cera (Wax Museum) and the Sala Cacique (Cacique Room). In order to get into the cave, you must first go through a thick forest and reach the Dolina de Palomeras, that is the name of the entrance.
This area is characterized by their wide variety of species such as golden eagles, griffon vultures, sparrow hawks and peregrine falcons. As for mammals, wild boars, wild cats, deers or genets. Nevertheless, inside the caves is where most of the fauna is found. There are more than 115 animal species, 16 of which are endemic.