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A day out in Calatanazor & surrounds

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Offline Spanish Footsteps

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« on: April 21, 2009, 18:35 PM »
A quiet country road passing by cultivated fields, limestone hills and forgotten villages takes you to the idyllic medieval village of Calatañazor, one of my favourite places in Soria.  Our last visit to Calatañazor was just a few days before Semana Santa (Easter Week) with a small group of guests. 

Calatañazor is one of Soria’s most popular attractions, but the weekday morning we visited we had the narrow streets and irregular lanes all to ourselves, except for a few locals going about their daily routines.  The name Calatañazor is derived from the Arab “calat am nasur” meaning Castle of the vultures.  Being early morning we didn’t see any of the Griffon Vultures (Gyps fulvus) that give the village its name but as the cliffs behind the village are a known nesting ground they can usually be seen circling the skies above.

Stepping into Calatañazor is like being transported into medieval Spain.  Declared a National Monument’ for its historic and artistic beauty, Calatañazor also commands outstanding views across the surrounding countryside and offers the visitor fantastic sunsets.  Strategically positioned during Celt Iberian and Roman times, Calatañazor is better known, historically, as the place where the fearless Moorish leader Almanzor suffered his greatest defeat in the year 1002 AD, a significant turning point in the Christian Reconquest of Spain. 

The Calatañazor that you see today is typically medieval in design and layout.  From the Plaza Mayor begins a picturesque porticoed street, with Juniper posts supporting the upper floors of the houses and also providing a covered walkway, a great place to sit and watch daily life.  The traditional houses have two levels: the ground floor is made up of limestone walls and the upper level is a mixture of a Juniper wood framework and adobe.  The main feature of the homes is the conical chimney, which is the centre of the home and the first part to be constructed, to a design that has not changed much since Celt Iberian times. 

Juniper is a durable, rot-proof wood so you can understand why it features in the traditional houses in Calatañazor but a more important factor may be the abundance of Common Juniper (Juniperus Communis) and Spanish Incense Juniper (Juniperus thurifera) in the surrounding area.  Which links us in perfectly to the next stop of the day, La Sabinas de Calatañazor.  This forest of Sabinas (Spanish Incense Juniper) is perhaps one of the best preserved in the world for a species which is now considered endangered.  This 74 hectare Natural Reserve has around 22 hectares of Sabinas and is a relic of the Tertiary Period.  Some of the trees are 14 metres high and more than 2 metres in diameter and are thought to be up to 500 years old.

As we entered the reserve one of the things that grabbed our attention was the birdsong, the only sound on a peaceful spring morning.  The forest is home to many species of birds and our group saw Common Redstarts, Mistle Thrush, Crested Tit and Coal Tits.  After a gentle stroll through the Sabinas we headed back to our vehicle and drove on another 3kms to the small village of Muriel del Fuente.  From here our group set out on foot for the 3km round trip to La Fuentona, the deepest Karst resurgence on the Iberian Peninsular. 

Our trail followed the course of the River Abion back to its source, the resurgence.  As we’d had no rain to speak of for several weeks the waters flowing along the Abion were crystal clear, allowing us to see the river bed and the small minnows that inhabit the river.  Although the weather was a little fresh, the clear blue skies and surrounding limestone cliffs with their pink oxide colouring where the perfect backdrop for our walk.  Stopping to allow a few of our group to take photos we got a rare sight of an Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus).  These relatively small vultures are not as abundant in Soria as the Griffons but can be found during the breeding season nesting along the cliffs of the canyons that surround both the Abion and Lobos Rivers. 

The resurgence, known as the Ojo del Mar (Eye of the Sea), is a small quarry shaped funnel, which is 30 metres in diameter and 9 meters deep.  Over the centuries it has given rise to legends that have surrounded this area in mystery.  Explored and investigated over the last 25 years, thanks to new cave diving techniques, some of its secrets have been revealed.  In 2002 an expedition team explored the cave beneath the resurgence to a depth of 100m, but total exploration of the area has yet to be carried out. 

On approaching the Ojo del Mar, its most striking feature is the colour of the water, which takes on varying shades of blue depending on the angle at which you look at it as it refracts the sunlight.  One of the best views of the resurgence is gained by carefully scrambling up the steep rocky slope behind it, which is exactly what we all did and whilst taking in the magical scene we witnessed a large Common Trout breaking through the surface of the water in pursuit of its next meal.

From the Ojo del Mar there are several circular marked trails that you can take to explore the area further but today we decided to return to the car park the way we’d come in and were rewarded by a sighting of a Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea).  We first saw the heron, silently gliding past us as it navigated the course of the Abion River and then further up the trail we spotted it again.  This time tall and elegant, standing completely still on the water’s edge, presumably waiting patiently for something edible to come into striking range.  Before departing we stopped next to the hermitage of Our Lady of the Valley, at the entrance of La Fuentona, for our own much needed refuelling.   
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Offline Clive

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« Reply #1 on: April 22, 2009, 16:02 PM »
What a great description of a great day out.... The cave under the resurgance sounds fascinating but I don't think I would like scubadive-caving and will rely on the radical dudes for more info and results..... :)

The Sabinas look huge... How tall do they grow at maturity and how long do the trees live?
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Offline Spanish Footsteps

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« Reply #2 on: April 24, 2009, 10:15 AM »
I'm with you on the cave diving, it's not something I could do.  And thanks to those fearless spelunkers we don't have too!!  At the nearby Casa del Parque (information centre) there is some great video footage from some of the explorations.

The Sabinas can grow up to 20 metres tall, the tallest in the Sabinas de Calatanazor is around 14 metres.  Ongoing dendrochronological research has not yet been able to established precise ages, but the maximum is believed to be around 500 years.
Discover the culturally rich province of Soria with Spanish Footsteps.
We provide unique walking holidays in Northern Spain.
For lovers of Nature, History and Culture.

www.spanishfootsteps.com

Unique walking holidays in Northern Spain