It was the year 1090, when several hundred kilometres away from Navarra, they were working on a grand Romanesque Cathedral. To be precise, that of Santiago de Compostela. And you might say: What does that have to do with Estella? Well, you’ll see…
The Camino de Santiago or Way of Saint James brought more and more pilgrims from all Cornes of Europe, and the matter was not missed by King Sancho Ramirez, who thought it was a good idea to take advantage of this by founding a town that would accommodate and assist the walkers. For this purposes, he diverted the original route to Galicia towards the new settlement, thus favouring the occupation of the place by the people that arrived from the other side of the Pyrenees.
Then it was a question of fortifying and letting the village of Estella grow and flourish in the shelter of the walls. It was filled with guest houses, shops and merchants, many of them were Jews, and also of Romanesque buildings that, after a lot of centuries, continue to give the place a distinctly medieval flavour.
The Estella of those times must have been very nice if we trust Aymeric Picaud. The supposed author of the Pilgrim’s Guide, included in the Codex Calixtinus, talks badly about other Navarrese towns, but he praises this city, its food, its inhabitants and even the water of its river.
It is worth climbing a few stairs, approach the Church of San Pedro de la Rúa and admire its old Romanesque stones for a while. They are also Romanesque the ones of Santa Maria Jus del Castillo, a temple of the twelve century that, it is said, was built over an old synagogue. Of the same century, and of the same style, it is the Palace of the Kings of Navarre, one of the few examples of civil Romanesque in all Europe.
Anyway, there is no shortage of Romanesque in Estella; you can add to the list the Church of San Miguel, which also keeps several treasures inside. And of course, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which construction began in Romanic times and it wasn't finished until the Gothic era. Something that is clear in its external appearance and what is inside it is unknown to us since it remains closed since 1881.
And the Picudo Bridge? Is it also Romanesque? You might be thinking. Well, no, the one you see today over the River Ega is not Romanesque, although it imitates the original one, which it was, this one was blown up in the air in 1873, thanks to the Third Carlist War. It was a shame, but the monumental heritage of Estella, or Lizarra, is impressive anyway, and a walk through its streets makes it clear that we are in one of the greatest jewels of the Jacobean Route.