The capital of La Rioja is defined largely through its relationship to wine. The building of underground wine cellars under the houses which formed the city, and which today mark the old town’s boundaries, was already common practice by the 16th century. In those days the families of Logroño were already making wine for their own consumption.
The wine cellars (calados), which were built with blocks of stone cut by stone masons, were ideal for keeping a constant temperature – a factor which greatly favours the wine-making process. In the late 16th century the local authorities established regulations to control the amount of cart-traffic on those streets with underground cellars, in order to diminish the impact their passage might have on the wine, which requires calm and quietness to achieve the optimum flavour and aroma.
El calado de San Gregorio. (St Gregory’s Cellar)
This is the longest of the wine cellars preserved today. It is located in calle Ruavieja, number 29, just metres from the start of our route. Owned by the city, it is a true gem in the history of wine-architecture. Built in the 16th century, it is an amazing 30m long wine cellar. Its restoration has allowed us to learn more about how wine was made and stored in that century, with hardly any equipment and exploiting the favourable conditions provided by the city’s subsoil. Another feature that makes this cellar unique is its 7-metre deep well, situated at the back, in the south section.
Other cellars that have remained until the present day are:
– La Reja Dorada. Between calle Mercaderes and calle Ruavieja.
– Casa de la Danza. Calle Ruavieja, 25 (entrance in San Gregorio)
– Colegio de Arquitectos. Calle Barriocepo, 40.
– UNED. Calle Barriocepo, 34
– Colegio de Ingenieros. Plaza Amós Salvador
– Centro de la Cultura del Rioja. Calle Mercaderes.
– Electra Gran Casino. Calle Sagasta, 10.
On walking through the Old Town in Logroño, you soon find traces of its winerelated past dating from the 16th and 17th centuries: wine vats, grape presses or storage tanks like those to be found at Espacio Lagares and the Casa de Mateo de Nuevas.
Inside Espacio Lagares, today a multi-purpose building for communal use, you can see examples of reception tanks, and grape and wine presses. Fortunately, they were discovered when archaeological works were being carried out prior to the a group of houses. These houses, with their cellars, date back to the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries and are mentioned in the general survey of property conducted by the Marquis of La Ensenada in 1751.
The harvested grapes were thrown into the wine press and crushed. The resulting must was then transferred into the fermentation vat. Other wine making equipment and infrastructure – so necessary for the wine-making process – can also be seen, at street level, in Casa de Mateo de Nuevas, which is situated just a few metres away from Espacio Lagares and near the church of Santiago. (When you cross Sagasta Street, Ruavieja becomes Barriocepo Street). Here, the vats and presses confirm the widespread tradition among households in the Old Town of wine making in their own cellars.
Cultural centre of Rioja (CCR)
Just a few steps away from Espacio Lagares, where the streets of Ruavieja and Mercaderes intersect, we can see the Cultural Centre of Rioja. It is situated, needless to say, close to that magical spot where Luciano Murrieta developed the first ‘Rioja’ wines of the modern era. Five minutes away from the centre of the city and in the heart of the Old Town, the CCR stands at the crossroads of calles Mercaderes, Ruavieja and Marqués de San Nicolás, and not far from the Casino – which stands on the corner between calles Sagasta and Marqués de San Nicolás.
The building, designed by the architect Jesús Marino Pascual, aims to be the international reference for Riojan wine culture, while being part of the urban, social and cultural revitalization of the old town.
The most striking architectural feature of the CCR is that half of the façade looks like a giant wine rack – symbol of the identity of this cultural space. The CCR building also integrates the former Palacio de Yanguas into its renovation.
The Yanguas Palace was symbolic of Logroño’s prosperous society in the 16th century. Its great underground wine-ageing cellar – an outstanding feature of the CCR – confirms the growing importance of wine making for the city’s economy. In its transformation into an essential component of the Cultural Centre of Rioja, the Palacio de Yanguas has retained its entrance hall, the arched doorway, the staircase, the wine cellar, façade and the balcony on the corner, which can be seen from both calle Mercaderes and calle Ruavieja.
The balcony is a piece of architecture which is worth highlighting due to its, unique and unusual features. The exploratory archaeological excavations conducted prior to the construction of the Cultural Centre of Rioja brought to light old wine-making equipment and tools in its basement, which have been dated, recovered and incorporated into the project. So the visitor can see some wine cellars, wine presses, storage tanks, grape presses, amphorae, vessels and glasses.
Logroño and the Pilgrim Route to Compostel
Modernity is the idea that best defines the Pilgrim Route to Santiago de Compostela. Reports of James the Apostle’s tomb lying in the cathedral at Compostela drew thousands of pilgrims to the city from all over Europe. These mass pilgrimages produced an unprecedented cultural exchange bringing with it modernity and development for the whole area. From the 10th century onwards this was clearly seen in Logroño, as it was one of the most important stopping places along the route.
Let’s eat pinchos?
If we fancy walking around the city, we can set out from the pilgrims’ hostel, in calle Ruavieja, and along calle Mercaderes, to finally reach the Plaza del Mercado, which is a good example of the vitality and dynamism of the city. As we have already learned, Logroño has had its social, economic and cultural development steadily boosted by the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail. The Plaza del Mercado is a good example of this constant enrichment. Along with calle Portales, it used to host fairs and exhibitions, as a result of which, according to legend, the area became known as La Herventia because it was always thronging with people.
Still in the Old Quarter, we visit calle Laurel and calle San Juan, which are located between calle Portales and a more modern part of the city. It is a well-known fact that Logroño was the first Spanish city to be honoured with the title of Spanish Capital of Gastronomy, and belongs to the Plataforma Turismo Gastronómico ‘Saborea España’ (www. tastingspain.es), and more specifically, to ‘Saborea Logroño’. Understanding the reason for this award implies savouring the freshly made pinchos and other dishes that we can find in this gastronomic paradise in the North of Spain. And that means a wander down none other than La Laurel and La San Juan, as locals call them. Visiting them is a must!