Where to go in La Rioja: The birthplace of the Spanish language
It’s one of the most spoken languages in the world, with more than 500 million Spanish speakers in Latin America alone, but have you ever wondered where – and how – exactly the Spanish language first came into being? On a Rioja in Style wine tour, you can visit the very place…
It’s the unassuming little Rioja village of San Millán de la Cogolla that takes the crown as the birthplace of the Spanish language, and is now a World Heritage Site in recognition of its artistic, literary and linguistic significance. It’s a stop on the Way of Saint James (Camino de Santiago), situated in a beautiful valley sheltered by forest and mountainsides, not far from Logroño, and is the ideal place to go for a day trip while on holiday in Rioja.
Its prestigious claim is due to the fact that it was in San Millán de la Cogolla that the first-ever full sentences in Spanish were written. And it all started in the monasteries of Yuso and Suso as it was between their walls that the words were written, into the now-famous Glosas Emilianenses.
During the Middle Ages in Spain, the monasteries were centres for culture, and many books were copied and illustrated by the monks. It was in the monastery of Suso, during the 11th century, when the copiers, finding Latin texts difficult to understand, began to write clarifications in the books’ margins. For these, they wrote in the popular language used by the common people, known as the ‘romance language’. And it’s the first of these annotations that are known as the Glosas Emilianenses.
As well as this awe-inspiring history, the monastery is also remarkable for its architecture. Built in the 6th century on a mountainside where hermits once lived in caves, you can see three different architectural styles in evidence: Visigoth, Mozarabic and Romanesque. You can’t help but be struck by its spectacular labyrinthine structure.
Nearby, the monastery of Yuso was founded in the 11th century and has some treasures to behold, too. The conserved 18th-century library remains home to hundreds of ancient and priceless volumes and books. Be sure not to miss the urn which houses the relics of San Millán, fittingly decorated in gold, ivory and precious stones.
San Millán de la Cogolla has even more claim to fame, as it is here that the first known poet in Spanish literature, Gonzalo de Berceo, wrote his verses. And it was also from here in the Middle Ages that the wine territory was controlled, due to its perfect position on the Way of St James, and 200 miles (300km) between the north of Spain to the south where it reaches the Atlantic Ocean, and 125 miles (200km) from both east and west Spain.