Northern Spain surrounds you with beautiful countryside, quaint villages and has such a diverse and storied history that you don´t need to drive far to find interesting things.
Northern Burgos province is a short drive from us here in Cantabria (it was actually part of ancient Cantabria before the Romans arrived). The area geography is marked by deep river canyons, with Spain´s largerst river, the Ebro, cutting its way through the limestone along with some of its tributaries. The landscape is dotted with high bluffs that have withstood erosion and skirt the meandering rivers. There are also lots of grain fields on the high plains above the river canyons and in the large valleys under the surrounding mountains. It is a beautiful area.
All around are small villages that are almost deserted. Most folks have moved away but many homes remain in the family. Many of the villages are full of second homes of folks living in larger cities such as Burgos, Bilbao or Santander.
Since much of the area is karstic (limestone), you get a lot of underground cavities and springs that pop out and flow into the rivers. Here is one example that is actually the entrance to an underground underwater cave that is still currently being explored.
The first time I went to this place I was surprised to start seeing bubbles coming out of it followed by a pair of divers that were exploring the cavity. So far they have explored about 9km (6 miles) of it, but exploration and mapping continues.
The historical vestiges of the area include a series of megalithic passage tombs that predate the Egyptian pyramids. These tomb structures known as dolmens were erected about 5,500 years ago or around 3,500 B.C. They consist of a central tomb chamber surrounded by large megaliths and a stone covered passage leading into chamber or into the afterlife if you will. Here are several examples.
Based on the remains found, the chambers were used by neolithic farmer clans to bury their deceased and more than likely built in this fashion intended to be a portal to the afterlife. The burial chamber would have originally had a roof made of a wooden framework and then covered with branches and earth to form a complete burial mound with a single entrance, the passage. Some of the dolmens contain engravings and/or paintings, although all of them probably did at some point. These burial mounds almost always face Southeast, with some exceptions facing West.
This Southeast orientation is similar to other important burial mounds of the neolithic world. One the most famous of these being UNESCO World Heritage Site Newgrange, in Ireland, where the burial chamber is illuminated with the rising sun on the winter solstice. I´d be willing to bet that this was the case with these tombs in Northern Spain as well, given the orientation. We visited Newgrange last year on a gettaway to Dublin. Here are some pics.
Note the huge scale and the swirly engravings. The swirl or whirlpool or gyrating form is such an important part of ancient cultures, particularly in Celtic lands. It´s a similarity between Ireland and many of the areas of Northern Spain such as Cantabria, lots of swirly symbols. Can´t help bur notice the similarities. Yes, Northern Spain is different and unexpected.
While Newgrange is massive, spectacular, has been completely restored and is totally prepared for touristic visits….it can be just that, quite a bit touristy. While it is not Newgrange, there is something to be said for being able to walk in and around a passage tomb without having to ride a tour bus there, being on a time schedule and being with a crowd of other folks. Your imagination can´t help but run wild thinking about the why and how of it all as you wander at will. That´s one of the beauties of many of the smaller historic sites in Northern Spain, you get them all to yourself and for as long as you want in most cases.