San Juan of Gaztelugatxe
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Gaztelugatxe, a magic place. An island that emerged from the constant battle between earth and sea. It’s natural beauty, with arches and caves chiseled throughout centuries, never disappoints it’s visitors.
Keep in mind when visiting this magnificent costal place:
1. It is located in a biotope, and so it’s everyone’s shared responsibility to take care and conserve it.
2. The sunsets are spectacular.
3. To visit San Juan, don’t drive, leave your car in Bermeo and use public transport.
4. The hike requires a bit of physical effort, know your limits and don’t forget proper footwear and drinking water.
5. The most popular time to go is during the midday hours, most of all in summertime and on holidays. It's better go there by public transport..
6 Want to visit on a boat? The Hegaluze boat can take you from the port of Bermeo :www.hegaluze.com
7. If you would like a souvenir from San Juan, you can ask for “San Juan Oinatzak” (Saint John’s Footsteps) at the Gaztelugatxe cake shop in Bermeo
8. They have mass the 24th of June, the 31st of July, the 29th of August and the 30th of December.
9. Under the water you can find the image of the Virgin Begoña of Lucarini. If you aren’t an underwater explorer, you can see a replica at the Church of San Francisco in Bermeo.
10. On HBO’s Game of Thrones, Dragonstone was filmed at Gaztelugatxe
In it’s depths, the sea keeps coral reefs full of color and the image of the Virgin of Begoña. It was a refuge during many battles, for example the resistance against the Crown of Castile. At the same time, since the middle ages it has been a reference for religious beliefs and customs.
On the Basque coast it is the most visited by pilgrims, the most important day being the 24th of June.
On the day of San Juan, most people come to celebrate the holiday, but a considerable amount come to fulfill promises or thank the Saint John. Since then, those who visit the hermitage ring it’s bell 3 times.
The Island of Akatz
The island of Akatz or Aketx is the sanctuary of a grand treasure that is the habitat of the storm bird (Hydrobates pelagicus). It isn’t easy to make out this small nocturnal bird unless there is a storm when it comes to the coast for protection. Another interesting point is that there are wild olive trees which remain from a time when the climate was much milder.
The religious rituals of Gaztelugatxe are intrinsically united with the sea. Inside of the hermitage you can see hanging objects: miniature boats, paintings, photos… they are offerings that sailors and fishermen give the saint in appreciation for protecting their ship.
At the beginning of the “bonito del norte” fishing season, fishermen and “neskatillas” (women working at the ports) go to Gaztelugatxe to ask for good health, good weather and a good catch. This ritual also is done from the sea. The vessel is taken to the vicinity of gaztelugatxe to “do what has to be done”: round gaztelugatxe three times on the port side and three times on the starboard. There are also some who burn an herb called Saint John’s Wort in a pan and spread the ashes in the water. Even today, state of the art tuna ships that go through heavy revisions and have the best technology available, before weighing anchor for the Tropic come to San Juan to carry out this ancestral ritual.
It is exactly 241 steps to reach the top of Gaztelugatxe. According to the legend, the saint in just 3 steps reached the hermitage from Bermeo. Did you see his footprint in the rock? The first footprint is in Bermeo under the gate of San Juan of the ancient wall. They say whoever puts their foot in his print will not suffer from calluses throughout the rest of the year.
The cape of Matxitxako
The northernmost point of the peninsula. The two lighthouses, the new one as much as the old one, together with the forces of nature convert this place into a magical space. If you want to feel the grandness and enormity of the sky and the sea, stop and enjoy the sunset. It’s picture perfect.
The ferocity of the sea along the coast of Bizkaia and the rough weather have caused many shipwrecks. It’s worth mentioning the tragedy of Holy Saturday 1878. At noon, a violent hurricane caused 14 batel boats and 3 txalupa boats to shipwreck killing 85 men. Another memorable tragedy occurred the night of the 12th to the 13th of August 1912. The gales of this night killed 116 people from Bermeo.
Bermeo has had 3 lighthouses to help orient sailors:
The Errosape lighthouse (1912) situated to the west of “Lamiaren Punta”. The function of this signal was to facilitate access to the port. It’s light is white and red and each 6 seconds it flashes two beams of light with a reach of 9 miles.
The oldest lighthouse was inaugurated the 21st of August 1852
The building engineer was Juan Martinez Aparicio and it’s building cost 132,532 reales (the currency of that time). It was built with rock from Duranguesado. The optical apparatus then cost an additional 233,796 reales. The Matxitxako lighthouse is situated in the most protruded part of the cape. Due to its optical projection and geometry, the lighthouse was considered first rate and had a reach of 23 miles. It’s white light flashed every four seconds. The light also reaches 79.42 meters above sea level. It had 3 watch guards in the tower and was functioning until December of 1909. Since then, the old tower has been used as a fog lamp.
The current lighthouse of Matxitxako is 110 meters to the south. It was inaugurated in 1909 and was built by the well-known engineer Rafael de La Cerda.
It was used as a school for lighthouse keepers. The building includes a house for the lighthouse keeper, storehouse and tool area in its rectangular base. The main entrance is a round arch. The floors and beams are also reinforced with moldings. The white light flashes every 7 seconds and it’s reach is 35 miles. The bulb is situated 122 meters above sea level and 20,6 above land. It’s light radiates from Castro Urdiales to the river Deba.
When talking about Matxitxako we can’t forget to mention the battle that occurred the 5th of March 1937. Thirty five sailors from from Itsas Gudaroste sacrificed their lives in the battle against the battleship “Canarias” who tried to take the power from the Republic.
The unmatched landscape and its architectural treasures make tours of this area an unparalleled experience. To enjoy this, it is important to be in good physical shape.
Don’t forget to bring proper footwear and drinking water. Given that it is a protected area, taking care of the animals, plants and preserving the peace is the responsibility of everyone. Taking trash to it’s proper container is also the responsibility of everyone.