Abandoned Villages

6 abandoned villages in La Rioja full of mystery

Strolling through abandoned villages is an activity that more and more people are becoming enthusiastic about.

Discovering the heritage that these places have to offer, to go deep into the abandoned houses and stroll through the streets that were once full of life is an experience worth travelling a few kilometres for.

As in other regions of Spain, La Rioja has a handful of these villages that one day ceased to be inhabited.

They are usually difficult to access, remote and mountain areas which made life particularly difficult for their neighbours, so that the rural exodus The villages, which in many cases did not even have the basic services of electricity and running water, were devastated.

However, in this post you will find 5 particularly interesting villages to visit what they hide mysteries and peculiarities that arouse the curiosity of those who visit them.

1. Castañares de las Cuevas and its cave castle

Crossed by the N-111 Castañares de las Cuevas is an abandoned village belonging to the municipality of Viguera which is located on the other side of the national road, 2.5 km from it.

From the road, this village looks like just another village that has suffered from the depopulation of its people and has barely a row of houses at the foot of the road. However, this ancient town holds a treasureits peculiar castle.

The first thing that strikes you at the roadside is the Church of the Assumption. A 16th century construction built in masonry and ashlar.

Turning around the row of houses we realise that the village ends there and there is apparently nothing more to see.

However, to reach the Castle Cave You need to open a gate that takes you into a private estate, which is important to close as there are 3 horses on the estate.

Horses are herbivorous and hornless animals, which means that they get scared if you scare them, and stay calm if you leave them alone. If for some reason they approach you, it is because they are used to people, and to being fed.

From the farm there are a path leading up to the castle. Turning first to the left and then to the right. It takes about 15 minutes.

Hidden behind the vegetation you will see the remains of the city wall and the windows of this cave fortification which suffered part of its collapse in the 30s of the 20th century, but you can still enjoy this unique castle that will make your imagination fly.

These caves are called "Cueva los Moros" (Cave of the Moors) It can therefore be deduced that as early as the 10th century, when Sancho Abarca conquered Viguera from the Arabs, they could have been inhabited.

*See rest of castles and fortresses of La Rioja.

El Rasillo de Cameros
San Vicente de la Sonsierra

2. Turruncún and its sudden depopulation


The beauty of Turruncún captivates the eyes of those who cross the LR-123 by car, being one of the abandoned villages with the highest number of inhabitants. the most beautiful panoramic view just a few metres from the road.

What is striking about Turruncun's story is that the speed with which this village was depopulated which had 300 inhabitants at the beginning of the 20th century.

In 1965, the last building in the village was built and it is striking that it was schools which opened that same year with Miss Tomy teaching, as many remember. This means that there were children in Turruncún and, therefore, a future.

Barely 15 years later, In the 1980s, Turruncún had only 3 inhabitants in its census.

What can cause a village to go from being alive and opening a school to being completely depopulated in just two decades?

Two facts are particularly striking, although the dates of their occurrence seem to have little to do with their depopulation.

The first took place in 1929 in the form of the 5.1 magnitude earthquake which could be felt in the rest of La Roja, Navarre, the Basque Country and Aragon, with an almost exact epicentre in Turruncún.

The second is the fact that the soil of the the 15th century Church of Santa Maria with a Mudejar air and a free-standing tower appears desecrated and with the remains of bones, apparently human, giving the village a halo of mystery which has not gone unnoticed by travellers who come to Turruncún.

Until before the pandemic, the cemetery was one of the most visited places in this abandoned village of La Rioja, both by visitors and by the relatives of those who lie there. We must not forget that only 60 years ago the school of Turruncún was opened, which reminds us that many descendants of the people continue their lives elsewhere.

2.1. Access to Turruncún and the state of deterioration of the village

Church of Turruncun

As we have mentioned, turruncún is just a few metres from the road, however, to access the village you have to take a path that starts on the right hand side just past the village (if you are coming from Arnedo).

The first thing you come across on this path is the hermitage of the Virgins baroque style and with the same deterioration that we will find in the rest of the village.

Following the path, we border the hermitage and arrive at a wide, open picnic area equipped with barbecues, water, tables and a container, you can park your car here.

Once in the village proper, you will immediately notice the absolute state of abandonment The houses are in a terrible state, even the church is in a deplorable state with graffiti in every corner.

A stroll through Turruncún can be considered as a dangerous as roofs and some walls may give way at any time, which is why It is not advisable to visit at night.

Throughout Turruncun you can finding cavesThe position on a hill made it easy to build them. Many are in good condition.

The state in which this abandoned village is found leads us to think that in just 10 years, deterioration can wipe out charm which it barely preserves today.

A few kilometres from Turruncún we find ourselves another abandoned village: Ambasaguas.

3. Both waters and their most famous minerals

Ambasaguas bridge

Ambasaguas is a emptied village of La Rioja, but not so much abandoned.

Before you reach the village of Ambasaguas you come across the hermitage of the Christ place of pilgrimage in the past where people used to go to before the the Tied Christ The sick and those who had sick livestock reading incantations in Latin and carrying objects of their own or of the sick animals.

As happened with other uninhabited villages, such as Turruncún, to Ambasaguas the electricity never came, Neither running water, a fact that was solved in 2006 with the construction of a reservoir, until then it was necessary to go to the spring to fetch water. Today, the neighbours who still come in summer self-supply their own water in order to have electricity.

Although, as of 2023, all indications suggest that light is going to be brought to the village as the power lines pass close by.

Despite the fact that most of the houses are in a dilapidated state, the village of Ambasaguas offers beautiful panoramic views which invites you to imagine what life was like for those who lived there centuries ago.

The treasure of Ambasaguas is its rich pyrite mining known internationally, and interesting remains of this mineral can be found in the river. Usually used as an amulet, it was a tradition to take a piece of it with you on the pilgrimage to the hermitage of the Christ.

Access to Ambasaguas and its current inhabitants

Ambasaguas Village

Getting to Ambasaguas is not easy. First you must meandering from Turruncún to the village of Muro de Aguas for 9km, and from there take a gravel road which continues winding for 6.5km to Ambasaguas.

Past Muro de Aguas there is a romano's cruise of imposing size, then you come across the hermitage of San Millán and finally, before reaching the village, there is the hermitage of the Cristo Amarrado.

Ambasaguas welcomes you with its picturesque Romanesque bridge and its church. Both create an ensemble of great beauty, to which the open fields surrounding the church are added. the Romanesque church.

Once you enter the village you will discover that it is not abandoned, you are likely to meet cars and a few people, especially on weekends.

One of these people in David born in Ambasaguas and who with dedication is renovating his house, taking care of his vegetable garden and following the tradition of producing honey in their hive. If you meet him, he will probably be happy to show it to you.

It is hard to understand how such a remote village as Ambasaguas can keep a couple of inhabitants all year round, one of whom commutes 45 minutes to work every day to Arnedo, and a few more people at weekends, no asphalted streets, no electricity, and no telephone coverage, whereas Turruncún, which is much better communicated by road, was so suddenly depopulated.

Santo Domingo de la Calzada

4. Mansilla de la Sierra the town under water

Mansilla reservoir

"On Palm Sunday 1960, with water up to their ankles, with the Guardia Civil, musket in hand, the inhabitants of Old Mansilla left their houses in a hurry to go to a new village, where there was still no electricity, the streets were not yet asphalted, and there was not even a single haystack to shelter the livestock".

Such was the end of a people who hours later it was flooded under water of the new swamp to the helpless gaze of those who had been born there, grown up there and made their home there.

The village of Mansilla, beautiful, built entirely in stone, remained submerged. Those who considered it appropriate stayed in the new Mansilla, a village built from scratch and that with effort and sacrifice those who decided to inhabit it moved forward.

In the autumn months when the reservoir waters are lower. remains of some of these buildings can be seen looming up that were once inhabited by the Mansillanos.

Mansilla is part of the region of Las 7 Villas a rural paradise in La Rioja where you can discover unique villages and trails.

5. Altuzarra and its sunless winters

Altuzarra is a uninhabited village belonging to the town of Ezcaray, being the furthest from it.

At 1974 Altuzarra was left uninhabited.

This village in La Rioja is characterised by having the harshest winters in the region It is located between two ravines and could go for months without sunlight.

The one-metre snowfalls lasted for weeks y the river was freezing It had to be broken to allow the animals to drink and wash their clothes.

That's how the residents who lived in the 15 houses that make up the village.

On Sundays, it was customary for the waiters and waitresses to go to the village of Posadas where there was dancing and together with young people from other nearby towns up to 80 could gather.

It is curious to think that only a few decades separate us from this way of life. that today feels so far away. However, this is what life was like in these villages, which today are uninhabited.

6. San Vicente de Munilla a squatted village

San Vicente de Munilla is a abandoned village which is located 1.5km from the village of Munilla in La Rioja Baja.

Once again we are faced with a village that empties in the 1960s when the rural exodus empties a large part of the villages, especially those where living conditions are most difficult.

Until then, St. Vincent It had 240 neighbours, a school and life in the streets. Until little by little and over the course of just 20 years the people went silent until it is completely empty.

This fact led to the fact that in the 1980s a group of squatters moved into the village, rehabilitating some houses, the village fountain with drinking water and creating the "Friends of Munilla" Association.

6.1. Access to San Vicente de Munilla and current state.

San Vicente de Munilla Street

As of today, you can see some rehabilitated houses no more than 5, as well as the hermitage of the Virgen de Arriba, next to the church, which is in a ruinous state.

The rest of the village has a serious state of neglect with houses turned to rubble and weeds taking over.

Even so, it is a village in La Rioja worth visiting with its special corners like all villages.

To access the village you have to take the signposted turn-off just before reaching Minilla. The unpaved road is quite deteriorated, but it is passable.

We hope you enjoy your a tour of the abandoned villages of La Rioja that bear witness to a not so distant past.

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