Zugarramurdi, the village of the witches


The village of Zugarramurdi is in the Xareta district of Navarra, a few kilometres from the French border. With just 250 inhabitants, it is well-known for the magnificent landscape which surrounds it, with forests of pine and chestnut trees, and an impressive cave hollowed out by water. But Zugarramurdi's fame comes from the misfortune of some fifty residents who, in the 17th century, were sentenced by the Inquisition for the practice of witchcraft.

An unfortunate chapter. 

Since 2007, the village has had a museum telling the history of witchcraft and the madness of the Inquisition which condemned thousands of innocents to be burned at the stake for not conforming to their strict doctrine. In 1610 a woman of Zugarramurdi said she had seen in dreams how some inhabitants of the village took part in an aquelarre - a witches' gathering - in the cave. What should have remained an anecdote was reported to the tribunal of the Inquisition in Logroño, which arrested 53 people from the village. Most of them died in prison, and 11 were burned at the stake. Many other villages in Navarra went through similar experiences. The Museum of Witchcraft organises guided tours of the village, and is an active part of the Day of the Witches; an annual festival held since the museum was opened. 

The cave, site of secret rites.   

The river Orabidea has hollowed out a natural tunnel 120 metres long and 12 metres high, with two high galleries over the river bed. The site is called Sorginen Leizea, which in the Basque language means the cave of the witches. Along the same esoteric lines, the main cave is called Infernuko Erreka, or  the channel of hell. The cave offers visitors an evocative atmosphere: although it has no stalactites or cave paintings, it has the charm of the mystery surrounding it. This was the scene of pagan rites and natural healing practices, deeply rooted in the local culture and accepted by society until they were linked to Satanism. In fact, the term aquelarre, which now means a ceremony to invoke the Devil, originates in Zugarramurdi, because next to the cave is a meadow called Akelarre or Field of the Goat. Turning the concept around, every 18 August the Zikiro Jatea is celebrated; a gastronomical festival centred on roast lamb. If Zugarramurdi is not enough and you would prefer to go  spelunking, the Baztán Valley has ideal caves for you, such as the Ezkaldo caves.  

Noble mansions and smugglers' routes. 

As well as visiting the caves and the Museum of Witchcraft, be sure to walk around the village and see the picturesque mixture of vernacular architecture and grand mansions, such as the Palacio Dutario, reminiscent of the houses of "Indianos". The oldest building in the village is the Beretxea house, the only one to survive the fire of 1793, caused by French troops from the time of the French Revolution and the War of the Pyrenees, which affected both sides of the border. Another delight of the area are the paths winding around the valley, which were once used by smugglers. The most important one connects the caves of Zugarramurdi with those of Sara and Urdax. The route, about 12 km, is well signed and is suitable for walking, even for families with children. 

Where to eat.   

Game, roast lamb, mushrooms, and the excellent local cheeses are part of the gastronomy of the area. A good option for trying typical Basque-Navarran dishes is the restaurant La Koska, in Urdax, ust 5 km from Zugarramurdi. But 2 km away, over the border in France, we can enjoy the restaurant Ithurria an establishment with a Repsol Sun. Its star dishes include  piperrada (similar to ratatouille), foie-gras, and ham from Bayona. Its wine list is dominated by French wines such as Bordeaux and Armagnac.

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