Pas de Roland

Useful Information

Pas de Roland, France. Public Domain.
Pas de Roland, France. Public Domain.
Location: Atekagaitzeko Errebidea, 64250 Itxassou.
(43.314150, -1.400277)
Open: no restrictions.
Fee: free.
Classification: GeologyNatural Bridge
Light: n/a
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: Pas de Roland (Atekagaitz), Atekagaitzeko Errebidea, 64250 Itxassou.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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Pas de Roland, France. Public Domain.
Pas de Roland, France. Public Domain.

The Pas de Roland (Roland Pass), in Basque Atekagaitz, is a natural bridge at the river Nive/Errobi in Basque country, at the border to Spain. Despite the name there is no pass, it's just a road along a river valley, pas here means to pass through the rock. Before the modern road was built, the official road, a single lane track, partly paved with pavement, was used by carts and walking people. This old road still exists and is used as a walking trail, and like before it passes through the small natural bridge. It is located in the Itxassou commune.

When Count Roland travelled through the valley, he came to a place where the way along the river was blocked by a huge cliff. It was an obstacle on the march to his destiny, and so he kicked the rock forming a hole shaped like a foot. The local peasants say, he used three hard-boiled eggs, which he threw one after the other against the rock.

Roland was a Frankish military leader under Charlemagne, who became one of the principal figures in the literary cycle known as the Matter of France or the Carolingian Cycle. The historical Roland was military governor of the Breton March and defended France against the Bretons. But he is mentioned as being part of the Frankish rearguard killed in retribution by the Basques in Iberia at the Battle of Roncevaux Pass. His death at the pass became later an epic treatment, which is pure fantasy. But he was turned into a popular and iconic figure of medieval Europe and its minstrel culture, in songs, poems and literature. In Aragón there are several place names related to Roldán or Rolando, including the mountain pass Roland's Breach and the rock formation Salto de Roldán. This natural bridge is less known.

This site is so exceptional, it fascinated the traveller along the road, and there are actually dozens of depictions, drawings and engravings, depicting this natural bridge. It was described in early travel descriptions of the 19th century, and as long as it was actually crossed by the road, it was a restriction to the size of vehicles which could use the road.

Most natural bridges are karst related, this one is no exception. There was once a cave which is almost completely eroded, only this section of a few meters remains. Most likely the cave ceiling collapsed and the river, which dug into the rock and deepened the valley further, created a normal erosion valley by eroding the former cave.

The road is quite narrow, but there is a small parking lot, probably big enough for three cars, right at the natural bridge. It's possible to see the Pas de Roland from the parking lot, but there is also a staircase leading down to the old road, and it is possible to cross the gate. If the parking is full, its just 100 m to the little village. You can park there and return to the Pas de Roland, we suggest to take the lower old road, which is now a walking trail.