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San Juan of Gaztelugatxe

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Protected
Biotopes

San Juan of Gaztelugatxe

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, a larger image will be opened

There is a place, nestled between the cape of Matxitxako and the village of Bakio, where land and sea have launched into small battles over the centuries, where the sea shows its force in caves and arches, eroding sandstone and other ductile matter and land conquers, leaving rocky isles of hard, reef-like limestone along all this section of coast.

This model of erosion sketches a landscape of uncanny beauty, which coupled to the natural and historical interest of the Gaztelugatxe area, have enabled it to be designated Protected Biotope on 15th September, 1998

PDF file (Scope of the protected biotope) (128 KB)

The islands of San Juan de Gaztelugatxe and Aketze are located in the centre of the biotope.

According to legend, St. John the Baptist landed in Bermeo, and having taken three steps, he reached the shrine, leaving the imprints of his hands in four places along the way. This shrine, whose origins seem to date back to the 10th century, and was apparently a Templars monastery and some even claim that it had a hospital.

In 1053 it was donated to the monastery of San Juan de la Peña from Huesca and was subsequently pillaged various times (one of these in 1593 by the English pirate, Francis Drake) and suffered from fires, hence it is now totally rebuilt. To access the shrine, you must cross a stone bridge and climb all of 237 steps.

On the other hand, Aketze is still isolated, hence it is a bird sanctuary. Over 200 pairs of European storm petrels, shags, herring hulls and rock doves breed on this rocky islet.

Steep cliffs are outlined on dry land laden with vegetation that has adapted to salt and sea breezes. The most outstanding are the Armeria euskadiensis (endemism from the Basque coast) and the wild olive tree (olea europaea) which is a relic from warmer times.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe with Aketze in the background, a larger image will be opened

Somewhat further up, one encounters heather, common gorse and braken with holm oaks dotted here and there and txakolí (Basque white wine) vineyards in the surrounding farmhouses.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe viewed from a different angle, a larger image will be opened

The first marine reserve in a Protected Biotop can be found within the line drawn by internal waters and throughout this section of coast.

The high quality of its waters, transparent, well oxygenated and without the presence of industrial and urban waste, favours biodiversity.

Large algae, such as Laminarias (kelps) or Saccorhizas lie on the seabed to provide an adequate environment for a fish hatchery: sea bass, horse-mackerel and even large predators such as conger eels and moray.

Tompot lennies, five-spotted wrasse and rainbow wrasse, as well as many invertebrates such as beadlet anemones, sea urchins, cucumari planci, octopus, velvet swimming crabs and spider crabs find

Aketze, a larger image will be opened

refuge in the more shallow waters amongst red algae (Gelidium) and calcareous algae (Lythophyllum and Corallina). The very popular barnacles can be found on the rocks.

On 23 may 2014 the moratorium was extended on the prohibition of shellfish picking activities in the Protected Biotop of the Gaztelugatxe area (Regional Order 831/2014, BOB - 23 May 2014.) (55 KB)

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