Press Releases


The Cathedral celebrates 500,000 visitors with attractions

26/12/06 Visits include new attractions and will continue to be free until March 31st in gratitude for having received half a million visitors.

Vitoria-Gasteiz, 26 December 2006. The Santa María Catedral in Vitoria-Gasteiz and its restoration project are celebrating their success. Now halfway through the restoration work (2000-2012), the Gothic Church is celebrating reaching a record 500,000 visitors since it re-opened its doors to the public by adding important new features to its guided tours and showing its gratitude to everyone who has made it possible for the Old Cathedral to become a sightseeing, cultural and architectural symbol for the city.

In addition to the people of Vitoria, Álava and visitors, the Santa María Cathedral Foundation would like to draw attention to the support it has received from Caja Vital Kutxa Welfare Work that has allowed the Old Cathedral to become the public attraction it is today. As official sponsor, Caja Vital Kutxa has been supporting the guided visits around the restoration works programme since the year 2000.

According to photographer Alberto Schommer, the restoration of the Santa María Cathedral is a living being, because its appearance changes as the research and restoration works progress. The visitors are both witnesses to and participants in changes that can be observed during the guided tour.

The guided tour includes a total of 12 new items relating to the history, architecture, archaeology, art and, of course restoration of the Santa María Cathedral itself.

New archeological excavations inside the church and works throughout the building, a funerary museum showing the various graves uncovered, a new walkway that practically allows the portico to be “touched”, spectacular models faithfully recreating the evolution of the village of Gasteiz, exhibitions, audiovisuals… They are just a small sample of the new additions offered by the Old Cathedral.

Free tours
To introduce the new content and celebrate with everyone who has made it possible for the 500,000 visitor figure to be reached, the Santa María Cathedral Foundation has decided to invite all the people of Vitoria, Álava and visitors to come to the Old Cathedral free of charge between 15 January and 28 February.

With this aim in mind, all homes will be receiving a letter of gratitude with an invitation to everyone who would like to participate. All you need to do is book your tour in advance by calling 945 255 135 and state the number of visitors, fill in the information on the invitation as a reminder and hand it in at the Visitor Centre on the chosen day. You can book any time from today, even though you have not yet received your letter.

The Santa María Cathedral closed in 1994 but was opened to the public again on 3 July 2000 with the first version of the guided tour programme. Before this, in 1999, the Master Restoration Plan was put on show in the “Among clerics, merchants…” exhibition.

98,790 visitors in 2006
Visitor numbers have risen every year at a rate of 15%. The year 2006 ended with a new record number of visitors, a total of 98,790 (12,000) more than in 2005. This gradual increase has meant the Santa María Cathedral has recently reached the magical figure of 500,000 visitors. This was in September. By the end of the year, the Vitorian church would have been visited by no less than 529,990 people.

“The restoration of Europe´s cathedrals should follow the example of Santa María Cathedral. There is no other place in the world where anything similar can be seen”. This praise was forthcoming from writer Ken Follett, author of the novel “The Pillars of the Earth”, who was fascinated by the restoration project open to the public being carried out at the Santa María de Vitoria-Gasteiz Cathedral.

The Old Cathedral allows visitors to see and participate in its history, problems and the solutions for its recovery… Specifically, the image chosen for the new guided visit campaign features the interaction between the building, its restoration and its visitors.

A father and child, both shown in black and white, are gradually impregnated by the polychrome of the Portico Virgin. It is a metaphor for how the Santa María Cathedral not only allows us to look, but also to participate, a few centimetres away, with a unique experience in the restoration of cultural heritage.

An audiovisual and five spectacular models help us understand the evolution of history and planning in the city, from the old village of Gasteiz (8th century) to the construction of the Cathedral. The models are a faithful recreation of the place once known as El Campillo until the 8th century.

The interior of the Cathedral and its environment are a great necropolis dating back to the Middle Ages. A variety of types of grave have been discovered in plaza de la Burullería, ranging from a simple pit to sepultures built with different structures such as little brick walls or enclosing walls.

The most eye-catching research and works revolve around the altar and transcept. This is the only part of the church that has still not been excavated. To ascertain the condition of the pillars, a complete archaeological excavation will be carried out, which may also continue to uncover interesting information about the origins of Gasteiz and the development of Medieval town planning.

First of all, the remains of the only three bishops of the Diocese found buried in the altar will have to be exhumed: Ramón Fernández de Piérola, Mateo Múgica and Carmelo Ballester. A new stone and bronze funerary crypt has been prepared under the Chapel of Christ for this purpose. Francisco Peralta, who recently passed away, will also be laid to rest within.

The restoration includes reinforcing the pillars, some of which are very badly deteriorated, and the construction of arches to strengthen the foundations and on which the new floor structure will be placed. Cal will shortly be injected into the walls and foundations.

The results achieved inside and around the church have encouraged archeological researchers carry on working and the existing Santa María excavation zone has been made larger. There are large panels giving details of the results.

The portico is one of the most important examples of 14th century art. After years of analysing and studying its sculptures and polychromes, a new walkway has been built that allows the remains of the polychrome and magnificent carving to be viewed from just a few centimetres away.

One of the most representative projects is the restoration of the tower and the portico. A great walkway allows part of the outside of the building to be visited and for the structural work to be observed.

The Visitor Centre at the Santa María Cathedral, known as La Bolera, comprises the first point of contact with the restoration project. A taster for the visit, this area offers a general overview, thanks to a new exhibition explaining the peculiarities and overall character of the project.

In addition to the panels, the audiovisual room in La Bolera is screening a new documentary. Entitled “Open Restoration of the Santa María Cathedral”, it offers a journey through the characteristics of the project guided by the opinions of some of the prestigious writers who have participated in the “Encounters with the Cathedral” conferences. The second audiovisual, about archeology, is shown in the Model Room.

The shape of Santa María Cathedral towers up on the Vitoria-Gasteiz hill, and does not go unnoticed by the town´s residents and visitors. Nevertheless, there are large panels with photographs and the suggestive slogan “Open for Works” that act as the display window for the surprises the restoration of this Gothic church holds. Furthermore, there are a number of viewing slots located in the Santa María plaza wall giving views over the archeological excavations.

The Santa María Cathedral and its adjacent squares have been fitted with an innovative lighting system that makes a direct contribution to improving the quality of life and safety of the residents and citizens passing through the Historical Quarter of Vitoria-Gasteiz and secondly, lights up one of the most symbolic monuments in the city. The lighting means it is possible to view the plaza de Santa María excavations through the viewing slots at night.

The archaeological excavations performed in the subsoil of the Old Cathedral in 2001 discovered the remains of an old wall, dating back to the second half of the 11th century, including a stretch of its length and one of its towers.

As a result of these excavations, a later study was able to confirm that the walls in the highest part of the city are older than was originally thought. They were traditionally thought to be the work of Navarra king Sancho “the Wise”, and were therefore dated 1181.

The most recently recovered stretch of wall open to the public is just a small part of a more ambitious project. The itinerary takes visitors over the walkways and a gardened walk that goes through part of the defensive enclosure, giving views of 136 metres of wall panel, flanked by two great towers.