Last December, we added a new section to “Viewpoints” of the chronicles our English-language editor, John R. Bopp, has taken across our great land. His first trip was a tour around Biscay, and on this occasion, he’s taking us to one of the most emblematic locations in the southern part of our country, Zangoza (Sangüesa) and Javier Castle.
Don’t miss it!
Zangoza (Sangüesa) and Javier Castle in Navarra
John R. Bopp
In October of 2020, right before the second wave began closing everything down again, we took the opportunity presented to us by the three-day weekend to get out and explore our neck of the woods. This was due in no small part to the knowledge that international travel is perhaps to be avoided at this time, but even more so by the thought that after having traveled abroad on so many occasions, this was the perfect time to put on our face masks, make use of the hand sanitizer gel we brought, and explore the eastern edge of Navarre.
Our day trip started in Zangoza, right on the border with Aragon. This town, dating back at least over 1,000 years, is quite small, but rich in history. Sangüesa, as the town is known in Spanish, was at a strategic location throughout the Middle Ages, and the monarchs and nobility of the Kingdom of Navarre were often there, especially in times of tension with Aragon. While it lost its strategic importance when the Kingdom of Navarre was incorporated into the Crown of Castile, thereby eliminating the border, it nevertheless maintained its status, being the one of the meeting locations of the Cortes until its dissolution. Its old town is very small, flat, well-paved, and easy to stroll through.
Our first stop was the San Salvador church, which had a rather strangely-shaped portico, which we weren’t sure was meant to be that way or not. But from there it was just a quick jaunt to Santiago church, which was already mentioned in 1164. This church is, appropriately enough, on the Way of St. James, and the town of Zangoza has been an important stop since the middle ages. The church is elegant in its simplicity, and St. James himself, resting on a conch shell, welcomes travelers in from over the main door.
We continued along and shortly reached the Plaza de los Fueros, with San Francisco de Asís Convent on the edge. Reportedly founded by St. Francis of Assissi himself in 1212 or 1213, It was unfortunately closed, so we returned to the Calle Mayor and walked down it. Fully pedestrianized, the main street is full of interesting shops, bars, and restaurants. Turning right at the City Hall, you can go under the portico down the Plaza de los Arcos, and admire the Prince of Viana Palace, which is now the city library.
The highlight of the churches of Sangüesa has to be Santa María la Real parish church, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located on the banks of the Aragón River, it was already built by 1131, and features a stunning entrance. The iron bridge crossing the river is named for the church, and the bridge offers fabulous views of not only the church but also the beautiful riverbank.
We finished the day at Javier castle, where St. Francis of Xavier was born back in 1506. We spent several hours following the well-laid-out tour, complete with covid precautions to keep us all safe. The stunning art collection from the centuries was on full display, along with plenty of explanations of the history of the castle and of the life, work, and travels of St. Francis Xavier. Moreover, we got very lucky with the weather, as the sun came out at just the right moment to highlight the castle in all its glory. While Olite castle might be bigger, and Carcassonne castle in France may be more of a fairy tale, Javier castle is somehow more authentic in appearance, and its small size is actually an advantage for the tourist who may not have days to explore the one place. Indeed, we were quite disappointed that we did not have enough time to visit the Leyre Monastery, in the nearby mountains. That will have to wait for the next trip!
Now, we do have to say, we are not experts, and we were traveling (with proper precautions) during the covid pandemic, which of course means there were fewer travelers than normal (not a problem!), and many places were still simply closed. So, we have to say that if you want to delve deeper into these places, and explore the museums and shops in depth, you’ll need more than the single day we were able to dedicate. But we found these towns quite charming, and we’re thrilled that, thanks to the fact that crossing borders is a bit risky during the pandemic, we finally decided to explore the treasures we have nearby. We were not disappointed!