San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (Bermeo)


3 km. from Bermeo on the road BI-3101 going from Bermeo to Bakio.


In the municipality of Bermeo, between Cape Matxitxako and the village of Bakio, there is a stretch of coastline where  land and sea strike up battles and where the sea shows its power in caves and natural arches, ant the land wins leaving islets formed by hard reef limestones. This erosion model draws a landscape of outstanding beauty, which joint to the historial interest in the area and the quality of its waters, have made it worth its certification on Protected Biotope. San Juan de Gaztelugatxe and the islet Akatx are in the heart of this space.


San Juan de Gaztelugatxe is a crag in the shape of peninsula in the middle of the Cantabrian sea, ended by a small hermitage devoted to Sain John. To reach the hermitage you can go up through 231 stairs that climb over the rocky side untill you arrive at the hermitage, at 80 m over sea level.
This dominant crag resembles a castle in the sea. Its name can have two different meanings in Basque: Gaztelu-aitz (a castle crag) and Gaztelu-gache (a rugged castle).


It was first mentioned in writing in 1053. According to the expert, it was built in the 10th century, when the farm workers in the surroundings build their little parish at the summit of the islet.
It is a strategical place to overview the coastline, in fact, Gaztelugatxe was one of the bastions to fight against the vanity of the king of Castilla, Alfonso XI. In 1334 Gaztelugatxe wrote its most brilliant page of war history.
Gaztelugatxe was attacked by corsairs and pirates all over the 16th century and later. In 1596 14 pirate ships from La Rochele, arrived at the Island of Izaro. After burning and destroying everything, the pirates went to Gaztelugatxe and robbed the sanctuary, throwing the hermit.


There is a legend in this place saying that Saint John, after landing in Bermeo, reached the hermitage making three strides which left his footprints marked on the road.


The 24th of June they celebrate the festivitie of Saint John, with a traditional romeria where many people from the surroundings, most of them from Bermeo, go on a pilgrimage on foot to the hermitage, in order to keep their promises or to thank the Saint.

Once they arrive there, an offering of flowers is made at the image of the Virgin, plunged into the deep sea under one of the natural arches emerging at the foot of this fantastic islet.
The beheading of St. John (29th August) is another festivity in the village.
There is another tradition where the "arrantzales" (fishermen), before starting the fishing season, pay a visit to the saint on a pilgrimage to the hermitage, asking him a good season while they walk around the chapel.



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