The strategic geographical location of the Plains of Álava made this region a major crossroads for many European pilgrims who were heading towards the tomb of St. James the Apostle in Compostela. This route began to become very busy during the 13th century due to all those who crossed through the tunnel of San Adrián, recognized by Unesco as one of the landmarks of the Routes of Northern Spain.
The importance of this route, which was also used by travellers and merchants fleeing from other more dangerous places, is reflected in the construction of small temples that conceal treasures such as the Gothic paintings of the churches of Gazeo and Alaitza. The trio of “gems” of the Plains of Álava is completed with the church of Añua and its magnificent early Gothic apse.
At Gazeo, a village pertaining to the municipality of Iruraiz-Gauna, sits the small Romanesque temple of San Martín de Tours, boasting some splendid 14th century wall paintings that were only discovered in 1967 when the main altarpiece was removed. The depictions are done in the Gothic linear style, the purpose of which was to convey religious facts to an illiterate population.
Close by, in Alaitza, in the same municipality of Iruraiz-Gauna, we can find the 13th century church of Santa María de la Asunción. Its reddish paintings are less elaborate but more surprising than those found at Gazeo, since they recreate scenes of war that could well represent a moment from one of the many armed conflicts that the region experienced during the 14th century.
Añua, in the municipality of Elburgo and only 14 kilometres from Vitoria-Gasteiz, guards the third “gem” of the region. In this charming picturesque village, a welcoming bridge allows us to approach the magnificent apse of the Church of Natividad de Nuestra Señora, built during the transition from Romanesque to Gothic.
The walls of this 13th century temple, a milestone for pilgrims travelling the inland Basque section of St. James’s Way, blend tradition and new approaches to construction.
The best way to discover these “gems” is to take one of the scheduled guided tours. Visits are conducted every Saturday of the year, starting from the village of Añua at 10:30, while in July and August they are also conducted on Tuesdays (same time). It is also possible to arrange visits or organise special visits for groups.
The three churches are easy to reach as they are all located close the the A-1. The three villages where the churches are located are all near Vitoria-Gasteiz, ranging between 15 and 25 kilometres, so a private vehicle is the best way to visit them.