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Spain Travel Guide

The witches cave of Zugarramurdi - Navarra, Spain

Rural & Charming Hotels in Navarra - The Paradores of Navarra

The witches cave of Zugarramurdi - Navarra, Spain
Photo by martin gonzalez vazquez/CC BY-NC 2.0

Located in Navarre in the Basque region of northern Spain, Zugarramurdi is a small town with an interesting past. The caves near this town are rumored to have been the home of witchcraft and other pagan practices, a past still celebrated to this very day.

The town is surrounded by the Baztan Valley, close to the Spanish-French border, and is around an hour's drive from the city of San Sebastián. While it’s still a sleepy little town of around 225 people, its past was a little more lively, it seems.

According to local legend, prior to the 18th century, the caves near the town were used for wild pagan festivities, including parties and bonfires. Locals used to believe that the caves had been carved out by a stream that originates in hell, called the Olabidea stream, and while the caves do not have the normal attractions, like stalagmites and stalactites and cave paintings, they do emit an intense and eerie atmosphere.

Whether the legends are true or not, in the past, the town attracted attention of the Spanish Inquisition’s witch hunters. They apparently investigated the area and identified several witches, all of whom were tried in the largest witch trial in history.

Apparently the number of suspects found was over 7,000 and many of these were put to death. Their crimes reportedly ranged from casting spells on crops, animals and people, all the way through to shape-shifting and the worship of Satan. One young girl is said to have been able to fly.

Since those days, the town and its large and mysterious caves have forever been associated with the dark arts. Even in the modern times, this legacy lives on and the town has established a Witch Museum with many interesting exhibits relating to the town's past.

On top of this, every year on the summer solstice, residents hold a raucous feast in the famous cave to celebrate this legacy, where several lambs are roasted on spits in the traditional way and bonfires are lit in and around the cave. Known as El Día de la Bruja (The Day of the Witch), hundreds of people flock to the event, but these days, luckily, no one is burned at the stake for participating.
During the festival, the whole town transforms to resemble something straight out of a "Harry Potter" movie. With fabulous costumes, vintage hats and medieval games in the streets, it is a fun event indeed. People wanting to have their fortune told can visit psychics, sitting at folding tables in the streets, and naturopaths are on hand to prepare herbal remedies to break spells or cure illness. 

The highlight of the festival happens in the main cave that night. Around a roaring bonfire, villages perform a ceremony, which depicts the village’s diabolical past, lasting around 30 minutes. Around 1,000 people can fit into the cave to enjoy the ceremony which is often followed by a live concert, a real treat due to the cave’s excellent acoustics.

A video showing scenes of the area can be seen below.  While it is in the Spanish language, the video does give an excellent view of Zugarramurdi, the caves, museum and surroundings.

The witches cave of Zugarramurdi - Navarra, Spain
Photo by Euskaldunaa CC-by-SA

Of interest is the 2013 movie “Witching and Bitching,” originally named "Las brujas de Zugarramurdi," a comedy/horror film made in the area.

As for the area surrounding Zugarramurdi, the scenery is lush and green with several small and quaint villages and towns to visit. Many small and rural hotels are available for overnight stays, or it may be convenient to stay over in the historic city of San Sebastian and tour the area from there.
 

 Rural & Charming Hotels in Navarra - The Paradores of Navarra

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