Things to Do in Calahorra

The Faithful Roman City Even After Death

The capital of the Rioja Baja is an excellent monumental and gastronomic destination. It is immediately noticeable because of its extraordinary past. It is an important agricultural city with a great archaeological value, thanks to its Roman past.

Planning your trip to Calahorra

There is a lot to see in Calahorra, as it is a unique and gastronomic destination that can take a full weekend to explore if you want to see it all. Among its main things to see are the cathedral and its museum, the Vegetable Museum, the Roman museum and its important monasteries and temples. We will give you all the details in the “What to see in Calahorra” section. People who love hiking and horseback riding, as well as other active tourist activities, have lots of options in the Park de Peñas de Arnedillo, Peñalmonte and Peña Isasa and in the Park of Sotos del Ebro. To see more monuments, you can continue your trip by heading south to Arnedo or eastward to Alfaro. All over this area you can eat very well at a great price, and there is a nice variety of hotels. To look at the best places to stay and what to eat in Calahorra, you can check out our detailed pages.

Do you want to learn more about this place?

Calahorra was an early settlement that had a lot of glory during the period of Roman domination. It was originally called Calagurris Nassica Iulia and it had a prosperous population developed from a former Iberian settlement.

It reached its greatest notoriety after the civil wars where Sertorio fought against Pompey in the 1st century BC. Thus, in the year 72 B.C., the city remained faithful to the rebel Sertorio (despite having died), and they were besieged for a long time by troops from Pompey. The inhabitant of Calahorras took heroism to the extreme, even resorting to cannibalism (that gave rise to the popular expression, fames calagurritana), given the lack of food and not wanting to stop fighting. This term would later be used in classical times to define extreme hardships. This heroic fidelity has been reflected in the statue of the Matron who cooked for all. Their strong reputation led the Emperor Octavian Augustus to recruit his personal guard from the residents of Calahorra. As a full-fledged Roman municipality, the town grew, issued currency, and counted on the main infrastructures of a traditional large Roman city: The theatre, circus, forums and hot springs.

At the end of the 3rd century, Calahorra began to be evangelized. At that time, there was a story about the Martyrdom of St. Emeterio and St. Celedonio, two Roman soldiers who had embraced the Catholic faith. Both were decapitated and their heads thrown into the Ebro River. But, according to legend, the skulls ended up in the upstream waters instead of following the current. Be that as it may, the city was fully evangelized during the Roman Empire and named Episcopal headquarters in the fourth century, a status that it still preserves today. During the year 348, the Roman ruler Aurelio Prudencio Clemente was born here, who became one of the most important Christian poets after converting to Christianity.

In the year 714, Calahorra fell under Muslim rule. Somewhat more than a century later, in the year 844, King Ramiro I of Asturias took control of Calahorra after the Battle of Clavijo, celebrating in the temple of Santa Maria-El Salvador the first Vote of Santiago, which was enforced until the promulgation of the Constitution of The Courts of Cadiz.

Qué ver en Calahorra
Alcantarillado antiguo

In the two following centuries, Calahorra was ruled by various groups, since it was a city of strategic importance. In 1045, it was conquered from the King of the Taifa of Zaragoza by Sancho Garcés III of Pamplona. With this loot, he funded the construction of Santa María de Nájera. At the end of the same century, during the reign of Alfonso VI, the city was incorporated into the Kingdom of Castile. From then on, an important Jewish quarter was established, which housed up to six hundred people. It is now known as the Rasillo of San Francisco, located within the streets Sastre, Morcillón, Cuesta of the Cathedral and Murallas.  The poet and astronomer Abraham Ben Mair Ben Ezra spent the last years of his life here.

The 15th and 16th centuries were very important for the development of the locality, as well as the eighteenth century, in which Calahorra became more of an urban city.

The arrival of the railway and the development of the canning industry in the nineteenth century were also decisive in the transformation of the city, which at the present time is an important socioeconomic center of La Rioja, with thriving agricultural, industrial and commercial businesses.

The town of Calahorra, which sits on a promontory in the fertile valley of the Cidacos River, is one of the oldest cities in La Rioja, with a documented age that dates back to the Romans. It has an important archaeological Roman patrimony, and its urban center still preserves architecture from this time period. In it, you can see the remains of the old sewerage and, although they can no longer be seen, the Roman sewers are still preserved under the cement of the current city. Near the remains of the circus, on the Paseo de Mercadal, there are several canals and drains that reach the thermal baths. On this promenade you will find the statue of the Matron, which represents the legend of the famed Calahorra residents, commemorating the heroism of the city before the Conquistadors. Here in the Yacimiento de la Clínica, you can also see the vestiges of a Roman villa from the 1st century, excavated in three levels. From it comes the famous bust of the 1st century known as the Lady Calagurritana, which is on display in the Museum of Romanization, along with other important archaeological remains. In addition, a statue of Marcus Fabio Quintilian, a pedagogue and person of rhetoric from the 1st century, was erected in 1970 in front of the Town Hall.

Calahorra is also located within the route of the Santiago del Ebro, so it has a hostel for pilgrims and a ‘humilladero’ from the 16th century at the entrance of the city. The route we suggest below is  linked precisely to its rich religious heritage, derived from its early position as an Episcopal headquarters and its connection to this famous pilgrimage route.

We began our visit in the Plaza del Raso, a former Roman forum where the most important events of the city were held. Here the Town Hall was located until the 17th century (now at the roundabout in Quintilian). In it stands the Church of Santiago Apostle (17th-18th century), which is the best example of Riojano neo-classicism. It was erected on another former temple, dedicated to the Santiago el Viejo. Both its facade and its interior are older, but not any less majestic. Inside, you cannot miss the main altarpiece (1734-1741), built by Diego de Camporredondo in the eighteenth century. It is presided over by Santiago Matamoros in the center and by the patrons of the city, San Emeterio and San Celedonio, on the sides.

Surrounding this temple is the Arch of the Planillo, an old Roman gate to the city and, following the street Santiago, we reached the Viewpoint of Bellavista, with magnificent views over the valley of the Ebro.

Next we can see the Church of San Andrés, from the 16th century, built on another building from the 7th century and reformed in later years. It stands out for its gothic façade, with a curious tympanum in which a cross of unequal arms has been carved which represents the triumph of Christianity over paganism, symbolized by the sun, the moon and a synagogue. In its interior, the main altarpiece is worth studying, as it was made by a local artist, Manuel Adam.

Moving along San Andrés Street, you will arrive at the Rasillo of San Francisco, in the highest part of the southern area of the city. This place was the Jewish quarter, and the castle was located inside, aka the most important place of defense since Roman times. We can also stop at the Convent Church of San Francisco, where the processions of their Holy Week are now carried out. This temple was around in 1366, when they proclaimed Enrique de Trastámara King of Castile.

Next, head towards the lower part of the city, on the banks of the Cidacos River, to visit the Cathedral of Santa Maria-El Salvador, a gothic building built on the alleged place of the martyrdom of Saint Emeterio and Saint Celedonio, which has been declared a Place of Cultural Interest. It is a three-nave building, and it has an annexed cloister. Its main façade is baroque, richly decorated with alabaster figures, and it is near another place of interest, located to the north and known as the Portada of San Jerónimo. Inside, you can see the Cristo de la Pelota (14th century), a curious gothic carving that, according to the legend, contributed to settle the outcome of a ball game. The Baroque sacristy and the cloister are also plateresque. The Cathedral and Diocesan Museum is another must-see, where you can see several paintings by Tiziano and Zurbarán, as well as several pieces from a goldsmith and a ‘thorá’ belonging to the Old synagogue. Next to the cathedral stands the Episcopal Palace, a splendid brick building from the 16th-18th centuries.

Crossing the bridge over the Cidacos River, you can walk towards the Sanctuary of the Virgen del Carmen, patron of the valley. It is a Herrera style building founded in 1603. Inside, a Baroque altarpiece stands out, with the Virgin of Carmen attributed to Gregorio Fernandez.

Santuario de la Virgen del Carmen

If you return to the cathedral area and walking alongside it past the Cidacos Park, you will arrive at the Monastery of San José, popularly known as the Convent of the Monjas Encerradas (Enclosed Nuns). It was founded in 1589 and built according to the precepts of the first Baroque Carmelite, with elegance. Inside, there is a spectacular work of art, Christ tied to the column (1625) by Gregorio Fernandez. We recommend admiring this excellent work of Baroque imagery: from the details of the anatomy, the position of the hands, legs and the whole body in general, as well as the expression (serene at the same time as suffering). In the Convent, we can also acquire the excellent baked goods of the Carmelite sisters who inhabit it.

Calahorra is also a fertile place, where vegetables have become very popular. It is recommended before the end of your day in the village that you go through the old town to buy some good vegetables,wine or oil from the Rioja orchard and even visit the Vegetable Museum. Here, through a didactic presentation and interactive shows, you can get a hands-on look at the orchards and crops along the bank of the Ebro.

The Essentials

Catedral de Calahorra
Monasterio de San José

Important Information

Coordinates

42° 18′ 12″ N, 1° 57′ 53″ W

Distances

53 km from Logroño, 86 km from Pamplona, 389 km from Madrid

Altitude

351 m

Inhabitants

24,509 (2013)

San Emeterio (March 3rd), San Celedonio (August 31st)

Day of the Vegetables (in the spring), Mercaforum (Roman market)

Soc. Coop. Los Santos Mártires

Other nearby destinations

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