Delve into the history of Rioja and the famous Way of St James pilgrimage route with a visit or overnight stay in the fascinating town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada.
Top things to do in Rioja: Santo Domingo de la Calzada
Santo Domingo de la Calzada is a small city with a big story, and a must-see for history fans while on a wine tour of Rioja. It’s named after Saint Domingo de la Calzada who helped pilgrims on their journey along the Way of Saint James (Camino de Santiago), which runs for nearly 500 miles (778km) across northern Spain and today is a popular hiking route.
It was Saint Domingo who established a settlement here during the 11th century, with at first a small chapel and a hospital for pilgrims. He founded a brotherhood, improved the road and built a bridge over the River Oja. A few decades after his death, the great temple that sheltered his remains began to be built upon. It was designed by the maestro Garçión and in 1232 it became a cathedral. Today, the original Romanesque cathedral is preserved with exceptional reliefs and sculptures carved by masters who also worked on the Portico de la Gloria in Santiago de Compostela. If you’re looking where to go while in Rioja, this should definitely be on your list.
Follow in the footprints of the historical pilgrimage
The pilgrimage atmosphere is alive in Santo Domingo de la Calzada, with the main street in the city centre forming part of the Camino de Santiago route itself. The pilgrimage has important connections with the city throughout history, with the most important, of course, the cathedral. Here, look out for the famous chicken coop (milagro del gallo y la gallina), a beautiful gothic piece that always houses a cockerel and a hen in honour of a ‘miracle’.
The story goes that a pilgrim who was with his family on the way to Santiago was unjustly accused of a robbery. As a result, he was tried and hanged. The parents, when they went to say goodbye to the body of their son, realised that he was still alive. So they appealed to the judge who was about to eat a roasted rooster and hen. He was incredulous and said that the son was as dead as those birds, but at that very moment the birds revived and began to sing to demonstrate the innocence of the pilgrim boy. From then on, the saying was created: “Santo Domingo de la Calzada, where the chicken sang after roasting”.
Stay in Santo Domingo de la Calzada
You can really absorb history with a stay in the 15th-century pilgrim hospital, which is now converted to a luxury hotel (known in Spain as a Parador de Turismo). It is located opposite the cathedral.
Or you can even stay in the comfortable and modern pilgrim hostel run by the Brotherhood of the Holy.
Other things to see in Santo Domingo de la Calzada
Take a walk around the old town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada and you’ll discover other examples of its rich past. Look out for the baroque Plaza de España, the Renaissance ex-convent of San Francisco, the remains of the medieval wall, and splendid palaces of different periods.