It is pretty clear that Ezcaray is not a name that comes from La Rioja. So let’s see if we unveil the mystery…
In the Church of Santa Maria La Mayor, built on an ancient Romanesque temple, we find the first clue to solving the enigma; because you’ll agree that this religious building looks more like a fortress, don’t you think?
That is because the origin of Ezcaray is linked to the war between Christians and Muslims. The Navarrese kings were, by the tenth century, very interested in repopulating the border areas, and in this place to do so they brought Vascons from the mountains of Alava, people who did not shrink if things got nasty. Together with their courage, they brought their language, and the town was named in that language. Ezcaray means something like “high rock”, it looks like it refers to the Picota de San Torcuato, an easily identified rock that is found at the entrance of the valley.
In addition to its location, in the middle of these beautiful landscapes, the town offers an interesting old quarter, full of corners that seem like time and five hundred years has not passed by them. In one of the corners, Verdura Square, you will see the famous iron ring that symbolises the right of refuge, a medieval privilege that meant that every criminal, who came to the village and grabbed the ring, could not be touched.
But Ezcaray was not only important in the Middle Ages. Between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, its textile industry was known throughout Spain, and its success is evident in the Baroque splendour of the many noble houses the town retains. The Marquis de la Ensenada, an enlightened man with a curly wig, was the architect of the Real Fabrica de Santa Barbara which produced the best fabrics of its time and remained in operation until the mid-nineteenth century.
And a tip: walk around this charming village and its arcaded streets with calm and attention, because there may be something interesting in any corner. And when you enter Santa María la Mayor do not forget to look for the figure of the Matachín, an automaton robot of the late eighteenth century who, with his jacket and all, is still responsible for punctually notifying the time.