Few cities and municipalities in Spain can give themselves the privilege of having cave architecture. The town of Valderredible, south of Cantabria, several examples of different typologies of rock art are spread with several churches and hermitages. Due to this fact the area of Valderredible has been sometimes called “Iberian Cappadocia”. In fact, this Cantabrian municipality from 2017 celebrates Cave Architecture Day on 8 of July, with the aim of making the culture and art of the valley more visible and closer to citizens.
This phenomenon of cave architecture was born due to the existence of sandstone rock together with the ease with which this stone is drilled. Throughout this area of the upper Ebro, a good number of anchorites who reproduced a Christianity that had previously developed in the deserts of Egypt were installed.. In Valderredible there are several examples of rock art that we are going to detail below.
Hermitage of Arroyuelos
It is accessed through the CA-275 road that connects Polientes with Escalada (Burgos), taking the detour in front of San Martín de Elines. The nucleus is located on the left bank of the Ebro, on an outcrop of sandstone rock and overlooking the páramo de la Lora from the front. The place name seems to refer to the "place of the small streams". It appears as Ruyuelos in the Calf of the Behetrías de 1350 and as Arroyuelos from the end of the 16th century (Council Ordinances, 1595).
It consists of two plants with development in height. In the lower one, the ultrasemicircular apse and the contra-apse stand out. In the Arroyuelos style, the characteristics of Mozarabic architecture are clearly appreciated in the systematic use of the horseshoe arch, in plan and elevation, and in the complication of excavated spaces, which allows a clearer dating than in the rest of the hypogean constructions of Valderredible, around the 10th century.
Cadalso cave church
It is located in Cadalso, Valderredible, Cantabria. The cave church of Cadalso is located on the land of the town of Ruerrero, and it is the only cave church, next to the church of Santa María de Valverde, that remains open to worship. It stands out for its simplicity, It is small and has a single nave with a rectangular plan roofed with an irregular barrel vault.. It is accessed through a portico with an upper arch. It has two windows, one rounded and one rectangular.
On the outside of the rock, In its upper part there are two tombs dug in stone, and probably among the vegetation you can find some more.
Formerly on top of the cave church a small bell tower was located on a ledge carved on the stone of the entrance. Later in the years 70 a reform was made and the small bell tower was moved a few meters from the church.
Santa Maria de Valverde
The best option to get to know the rock art of the valley is to travel it from the west. After visiting the caves of El Cuevatón and Peña Horadada, in San Andrés de Valdelomar and San Martín de Valdelomar, respectively, where presumably communities of hermits settled, Santa María de Valverde is reached (and the cave architecture interpretation center). Known as the cathedral of cave churches, incorporates a Romanesque belfry and a medieval necropolis. The temple, where services are held on a regular basis, It has two naves and has a carving of Mary breastfeeding her child, one of the few that survived the destruction decreed by the Council of Trent in 1564.
Semirupestre hermitage, built in a cave partially closed on one side by ashlars. It consists of a single plant formed by a rectangular nave and a quadrangular apse, separated by a semicircular arch, all carved in the rock.
It consists of a single nave, elongated rectangular plan with a protrusion in the middle of the roof. An irregular semicircular triumphal arch gives access through two steps to the quadrangular headboard covered with an imperfectly realized oven vault.. The flat door, located south, it is remodeled with ashlars. On both sides of it two openings open: one is factory with lintel, plus the other is carved out of the rock. The floor of the hermitage is rocky with some patches of slabs. It is perceived that a part of the pavement was removed in an effort to find "treasures".
But in this valley of Valderredible there are more rock architectures such as the Rupestrian Hermitages of the “Tobazo” in Villaescusa de Ebro, the Necropolis of “Saint Pantaleon” in La Puente del Valle, Hermitic complex of the “Cuevaton” in San Andrés de Valdelomar or the Hermitages of “Peña Castrejón” Y “Peña Horacada” in San Martín de Valdelomar. Interesting cave routes to stop along the way and visit the magnificent restaurant scorching Cantabria on the road to Polientes. This Cantabrian restaurant has grilled meat specialties made with organic coconut shell charcoal.