La Rioja – Maps, History, and Culture

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Interactive Map of La Rioja, Spain

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The least populated territory and the second smallest territory in size is the region of La Rioja, Spain. La Rioja is a small landlocked region that covers just under 2,000 total square miles. The Basque Country borders to the north, Navarre borders to the north and east, and Castilla y Leon borders to the south and west.

City List:

  • Haro
  • Calahorra
  • Arnedo
  • Alfaro
  • Lardero
  • Villamediana de Iregua

Quick Facts:

  • Population: 315,000
  • Languages: Spanish, Castilian
  • Ethnicities: Basque, Berones, Castilian
  • Capital: Logrono

The History of La Rioja

Before the Romans conquered the Iberian Peninsula, the region of La Rioja was inhabited by a Celtic group of people called the Berones. Around the 2nd Century BC, the Romans invaded the region and colonized it as their own, pushing out the once native tribes. The Romans helped the area with infrastructure, including roadways, architecture, and trade. The Roman Empire fell in 476 AD and left the area vulnerable to foreign invaders, including the Visigoths and Muslims.

The Visigoths were a Germanic tribe who ruled the region for a brief period of time between the falls of the Roman Empire in 476 AD and the Muslim Invasion of 711 AD. During the Muslim Invasion, Muslims pushed those out who did not support Prophet Mohammad. This allowed the Muslims to conquer much of the Iberian Peninsula, including the entire region of La Rioja.

In 923, the territory was reconquered by the King of Pamplona, Sancho I, during the Christian Reconquest. The Christian Reconquest is the name of the time period when Christians reconquered the areas they had been pushed out of by the Muslims.

During this time, Sancho I moved his Kingdom of Pamplona to the region of La Rioja, creating the first Spanish Empire. During this time, many of the major cities were erected, including the capital city of Logrono, a name which would refer to the La Rioja Region for centuries to come.

The Province of Logrono, now modern-day La Rioja, was divided between cities controlled by Castilla y Leon. This made the region vulnerable during the Peninsular War, ultimately resulting in the Napoleonic forces taking control of the region in 1807. The region remained under French Napoleonic control until 1814.

La Rioja was first granted autonomy in 1812 during the adoption of the Liberal Constitution of 1812. Unfortunately, in 1822, King Ferdinand VII annulled La Rioja’s autonomy and restored the territories back to their original provinces before the Liberal Constitution of 1812.

However, this event was short-lived for Logrono. A few years later, in 1833, a Royal Decree granted Logrono its own small territory on the northeastern territory of Castilla y Leon. Logrono would grow and gain its own autonomy on June 9, 1982.


Spanish is spoken and taught throughout the La Rioja, but it is the Castilian dialect of Spanish that is heard the most. Castilian Spanish refers to the native European Spanish that is heard, spoken, and taught throughout the country. It is different than Latin Spanish that is heard throughout the western hemisphere, as it does not have New World influences from the Americas or Caribbean islands.


Roman Catholicism is practiced throughout the region as it was during the Roman era and after the Christian Reconquest. For a brief period during the Muslim Invasion, Islam was practiced in the region and throughout the Iberian Peninsula. Because the Christians were successful in pushing out the Muslims during the Christian Reconquest, they were able to preserve and grow Christianity in the region, making Roman Catholicism the primary religion of the region today.


La Rioja gets its name from the river Oja that runs through it. The Ebro River runs through valleys and provides irrigation for the many crops that are grown in the region. There are mountains to the north that meet the rivers to the south.

The geography provides an extensive agricultural economy that produces vineyards, wheat, asparagus, and sheep farming. At less than 2,000 square miles for the total region, the geography ranges from rolling mountains to flat river basins throughout the region.


La Rioja is known for its viticulture, the practice of growing grapes for making wine, and they celebrate this occasion by hosting festivals in the region every year. The most popular festival held in La Rioja is the Vendimia Riojana. This festival celebrates the year’s grape harvest by having parades and hosting bullfights. The festival is held during the third week of September.

Immigration & Migration Patterns

The La Rioja region of Spain should not be confused with the province of La Rioja, Argentina; however, there is a reason the two names are the same.

In 1591, Spanish explorer Juan Ramirez de Velazco landed in Argentina and named the province upon which he landed La Rioja, as he was born in the La Rioja region of Spain and wanted to pay respect to the new land he had just discovered.

Unlike other regions in Spain that may have been impoverished or destroyed during various wars resulting in a large number of young men leaving the region, La Rioja did not see much of an exodus.

The region was nearly encapsulated by the wealthy and opportunistic territory of Castilla y Leon, which gave those who were searching for a better way of life the opportunity to pursue one right next door.


Because Juan Ramirez de Velazco left his home of La Rioja to join the Spanish army at just 16 years old, La Rioja heritage is likely found in various countries throughout Europe. Juan Ramirez de Velazco was based in Italy and helped the Spanish army battle many countries, including Italy, Portugal, and Austria.

He was a military commander for 30 years before his conquest of Argentina began. In 1591, Juan Ramirez de Velazco discovered the La Rioja province in Argentina. It is extremely likely that those descendants living in Argentina, Italy, Portugal, and Austria would have La Rioja heritage.

Caleb Pike
About the author

Caleb Pike is an avid hiker and nature lover, with a passion for exploring the great outdoors. He's a writer, photographer, and adventurer, always seeking new trails to blaze and peaks to conquer.