Travel 2013. Day 15 (2) Calatañazor

Wed. May 1. 2013. Day 15 (2). Calatañazor.
See Travel Itinerary for a rationale of this trip, a who’s who of those travelling, and our itinerary. 

El Burgo de O. Brass band in the Plaza Mayor

As we left our hotel in El Burgo de Osma for Calatañazor, we saw a brass band playing their way up the Calle Mayor and through the Plaza Mayor accompanied by some townspeople.  They were celebrating a local saint and heading for the church where his statue is kept.

There were dark clouds in sky as we left El Burgo de O, but there was enough blue to convince us that it wouldn’t rain.

Calatañazor is only about 30 kilometres/ 18 miles from El Burgo de O, just off the N 122 to Soria. It’s an ancient village, the name deriving from the Arabic Qalat al-Nusur, Castle of the Vultures, which still ride the thermals in these parts.

The narrow road off the N 122 curved steeply down through evergreen woods and once down in the valley we could make out the ochre-coloured village camouflaged on a high spur ahead of us. We parked at the bottom of the hill, near the ancient Ermita (Hermitage) de la Soledad, although you can drive up to a parking lot near the castle.

We walked up a fairly steep, winding road under a cliff and, once around the cliff, found ourselves climbing the cobble-stoned main street (Calle Mayor).

Looking up the main street

The houses –some dilapidated and tilting— were made of clay and rough stone with exposed beams; further up we passed under crooked wooden arcades.

Looking down main street.

We walked slowly, taking in the medieval atmosphere. Not surprisingly Calatañazor has been the location for several movies/ films (probably the most famous is Orson Welles’s Chimes at Midnight, based on Shakespeare’s character Sir John Falstaff).

Rollo/picota. Used to display names of criminals, or used as territorial marker for a community

We passed Calatañazor’s 12th-century Romanesque church to our left, and strolled through the irregularly shaped Plaza Mayor with its striking rollo or picota; the cars parked in the square seemed out of place in this ancient village.

Just beyond the plaza, the 14th-century castle, built on an earlier fortress, perched on the edge of a precipitous drop. From the castle, there is a terrific view of the patchwork of cereal fields in the broad valley below, and of the wooded hills stretching into the distance.

View of the Valle de la Sangre

The valley, known locally as the Valle de la Sangre (Valley of Blood), is famous as the place where al-Mansur, the powerful leader of Moorish al-Andalus, was fatally wounded. For years, al-Mansur had been the scourge of the Christian north from Barcelona to Santiago de Compostela.  Entering battle to the terrifying sound of drum rolls, he seemed invincible but, as you can read on a plaque in the Plaza Mayor, it was in the Valle de la Sangre that al-Mansur lost his drum (i.e. was defeated).  However, whether the battle actually took place is open to question; there are no documents confirming it. There are sources that say that al-Mansur fell ill on his way home to Córdoba from a raiding sortie. There is agreement that Al-Mansur died in nearby Medinaceli in 1002. His death precipitated the collapse of the caliphate of Córdoba and the fragmentation of al-Andalus into a number of weak minor states called taifas.

Looking down the Calle Mayor from the square. Note the conical chimneys.

After strolling around the castle, we made our way back down the Calle Mayor. A gap to our right revealed little garden plots in a natural rock amphitheatre dotted with trees. It was an idyllic scene and has probably remained unchanged for generations.

Garden plots

By now it was late afternoon and time for lunch. Calatañazor is a popular place to visit and we found an excellent restaurant in an old refurbished house on the main street –Restaurante Calatañazor– which served local dishes: e.g. mushrooms, garlic soup, young lamb, trout and marinated game.

It rained heavily while we had lunch, and the cobblestones were rather slippery when we returned to our van parked near the hermitage.

Here we saw a notice board with a colourful map detailing the natural attractions of the area: trees, rivers, lakes, cañadas (medieval cattle routes that stretched from the Duero valley to Extremadura and Andalusia)

Notice board at Calatañazor

Of particular interest was a grove of sabinas (a kind of juniper) native to the region.  We decided to follow the suggested route, a choice we did not regret. It was a winding road mainly through forest until we came out at the SO 920 just after the village of Vadillo.

Grove of sabinas

Here, as we headed south towards El Burgo de Osma, we found ourselves at the top of a dramatic gorge, its base washed by the River Lobos. The panoramic view was stunning.

Gorge and valley of the Río Lobos
Down at the foot of the gorge, we could see the village of Ucero and above it the ruins of a Templar castle perched close to a sheer cliff. Beyond the village, a wooded landscape interwoven with tilled fields stretched into the distance.
Ucero in valley to the right. The castle is on cliff towards middle of photo.

As we approached Ucero, our road plunged down a series of hairpin turns to the village and continued along the River Ucero to El Burgo de Osma.

We arrived back at El Burgo de O in the early evening, just in time to watch the second leg of the semi-finals of the European Champions League between Barcelona (Barça) and the German team, Bayern Munich. We had been disappointed with the result of the first leg which we had seen earlier (Travel Day 7), but with home advantage we still harboured hopes that Barça could overcome the 4-0 disadvantage. Unfortunately, the game was not available in our hotel rooms, but was in the hotel bar.

Only John and Andrew went down, and when they returned, it was clear from their expressions that things had not gone Barça’s way. They lost 4-0! Enough said, except for an observation made by Andrew. He was puzzled that virtually all the people in the bar had cheered for Bayern Munich and not Barça. I was not surprised and explained that Barça was not generally supported in the rest of Spain.  It has to do with politics. Simply put: Catalan nationalists and separatists see Barça as “their” club and by extension as an expression of independence. For the majority of the rest of Spain, Catalonia is viewed seen as the “spoiled child” of the federation, and anything that frustrates Catalan aspirations is greeted with enthusiasm.

John: Re. Village of Calatañazor.
This has to be one of the most picturesque places that we saw on this trip. It is a tiny village with only a few roads, a beautiful old church and the ruins of a castle.

Calatanazor. Church from the castle.


Romanesque church door. Note the rectangular frame above door, with three arches, the middle one multilobed. This triple division reflects earlier Moorish presence in Calatanazor.

There is a small parking lot just below the village and I would recommend parking there as there are not that many spots up the hill.

The walk through the place is an instant walk back in time to any northern Spanish or French village. In fact I kept expecting some version of the Three Musketeers to come out of a side street. It is little wonder that it has been used a number of times as a backdrop for period movies as the buildings and roads themselves must have changed little over the last 150 years.

We ate at a restaurant right on the main street…not that there are many…it was called Restaurante Calatañazor. It had a really nice feel to it and the food was delicious. I tried the lamb, trout and pork and all were very well done.
I would say that if you are in the area, this village is not one to miss.

Image of the sabinas (kind of juniper) from
For an evocative and wide-ranging description of the province of Soria (which includes Calatañazor), accompanied by excellent photos, see