From a massive promontory 863 meters above sea level, Araia Castle emerges as a stone guardian of the Eastern Lautada of Araba, where its history is recovered and disseminated thanks to the joint work of Uharka Taldea, from the City Council of Asparrena and the UPV /EHU.
According to the written sources, its official name would be Castle of Araia, as it appears in the document of 1372 in which it is mentioned for the first time. But it is popularly known as Marutegi, a name which could be due to the fact that there was an Arab construction there and which also corresponds to “a nearby village”, according to Asier Valverde, member of Uharka Taldea .
These remains had always aroused the interest of the people of the region and five years ago the aforementioned group began “to shift the question because there was a great unknown about these stones, about what they were”. And they began a research work which led them to contact “historians, archaeologists, Nabarralde… and which little by little gained interest”, explains Valverde.
After contacting Iñaki Sagredo, an expert in Navarrese castles, he carried out a study in 2019, in which “tests have been carried out to date through carbon 14 when the castle is”. There was the thesis that it was built during the time of King García Íñiguez de Iruñea, in the 9th century. However, the aforementioned evidence led its construction to the year 1053.
But even this date must be “quarantined” because new carbon-14 dating has pushed this construction back to the 12th and 13th centuries. This is one of the results of the campaigns that were launched after this first study by Sagredo and which are promoted by the Town Hall of Asparrena, in collaboration with the Research Group on Built Heritage of the UPV-EHU.
The second of these campaigns took place this summer and focused on the main tower of the fortress, located on top of a rock monolith of about 50 meters. Its location required the installation of “safety ropes to go up to work” and a platform was installed “with a zip line of about 70 meters of descent to be able to descend bag by bag all that was searched in search of the cistern and the base of the castle, its first foundations”, explains Valverde. The work was “particularly hard, because between the archaeologists and those of us who went in support, we removed 35 tons of bagged earth per bag “.
This work deepened that carried out during the first of the campaigns and made it possible to locate various bones of sheep and goats, as well as ceramics, which, together with the mortar, served to date the whole.
Although the most remarkable remains of Araia Castle is the tower, “which was a surprise to see that it was between 18 and 20 meters tall”, the fortress had more structures. Thus, the tower was surrounded by a fortified enclosure, itself protected by another lower one in which were the guardhouse, the forges, the stables and a few houses.
Consolidating these remains and disseminating their history is the main objective of the project designed for the site. Thus, after these first archaeological campaigns, from next year the existing structures would be sought to enhance their value and facilitate visits to the complex, which has been declared Cultural Asset of Special Protection, with the category of Archaeological Zone , by the Lakua government.
To facilitate your visit, it is essential that the castle of Araia is “more accessible”, because, especially the final stretch up to the tower, at this point it can be difficult “especially going down”, explains Valverde . Although what awaits the visitor is worth it, because “it is an impressive place for its views”. From its elevated location, in addition to a good view of the eastern part of Lautada Alavesa, the entrance to Nafarroa can be seen through Sakana and the old road that led to Gipuzkoa was controlled by the San Adrián tunnel. Thanks to this surveillance mission, the castle remained in operation until the beginning of the 16th century, when it was abandoned and destroyed.
Information day this Sunday
While waiting to improve access, the remains of the fortress will be the subject of a special visit this Sunday, September 18, the day when Uharka Taldea organizes the eguna Araiako Gazteluaren. It will start at 10:00 a.m. at the Prado, from where the walk to the castle will begin to music.
At 11:00 a.m., a conference on the latest excavations is scheduled by archaeologist José Luis Solaun, head of the works and member of the research group on built heritage of the UPV/EHU. In addition, the customs and weapons of the time of the castle will be presented, and the day will end with a lunch and a medieval and musical show all morning.
Music will be provided by SSHH There Is No Urgency and it will feature medieval instruments, and the band Otsolur will perform a period re-enactment with its members dressed in clothing and weapons.
All this with the aim of “knowing what life was like then, to do a job of informing, because what you don’t know, you don’t want and you don’t treat it well”, concludes Valverde.