Standing in the eastern half of Navarre and dominated by the mountain range of the same name, Ujué is a tiny village with a medieval and mountain atmosphere set right at the top of a plateau at an altitude of 840 metres above sea level.
The origins of Ujué are unclear. Although the first evidence that there was a settlement here dates back to Roman times, the town as such emerged at the end of the eighth century or beginning of the ninth century when the first King of Pamplona, Iñigo Arista, built a fortress to stop the advance of Islam.
However, legend tells that a shepherd spotted a dove that was flying in and out of a hole in a rocky outcrop; on entering the cave he discovered an image of the Virgin and Child and the local people interpreted it as a sign from the virgin to establish her resting place there, and thus the town of Ujué was born.
The whole place is an exceptional example of a medieval village
. It stands on a steeply sloping mound down which the town descends in terraces until at the bottom the village widens out in a labyrinth-type layout. The ancient-looking façades of the houses have huge doorways and the mansions, some baroque and others with a more orthodox character, are ennobled by great coats of arms.
Strolling along its steep, narrow cobbled streets is a delightful experience that will lead you to discover hidden corners with fascinating views. At the highest part stands the sanctuary-fortress of Santa Maria
, whose construction lasted for centuries. On top of a pre-Romanesque church another Romanesque building was built (11th-13th centuries) and in the fourteenth century the broad Gothic nave was built and the church was surrounded with walkways and castellated towers. There are currently still two towers remaining, Cuatro Vientos (Four Winds) and Picos (Peaks) which give more of an impression of a fortress than a sanctuary.
Inside the church, which has one of the most richly decorated doors in Navarrese Gothic architecture, you can admire a gilded chalice with enamelling, while the Baroque pulpit dates from the 18th century and the ornate Rococo stalls from 1774. Behind an iron Gothic grille you can see a beautiful carving of the Virgin, dating from 1190, covered in silver with enamelled badges and bas-relief medallions. This is one of the oldest and most beautiful examples
of Navarrese Romanesque sculpture. To the side, in a display cabinet, lies the heart of the king who fortified the sanctuary in the fourteenth century, Charles II "el Malo", thus named by his French enemies, about whom it is said that he tried to kill the Kings of Castile and France.
After the visit, if you fancy treating your taste-buds you can sample the caramelised almonds and traditional migas de pastor, made from farmhouse breadcrumbs, water, salt and sheep's tallow.
If you are interested in popular traditions, don't miss the procession
on the Sunday following 25thApril in which pilgrims from Tafalla, Olite, Pitillas and other towns in the area, dressed in black tunics and hoods, drag along chains and carry heavy crosses.