Since prehistoric peoples first crossed here, very likely over 30,000 years ago, the Valcarlos Pass in the Pyrenees, was and remains one of the easiest ways over the mountains from France into Spain.
Throughout this passage, known locally as the Urepel-Ibañeta-Orbaiceta region, there are many dolmens and stone circles. Among the nearest and best preserved is the Dolmen de Soroluce, off the Camino a bit and just northeast of Roncesvalles. It dates to the Bronze Age, around 3,000 years ago.
In the Middle Ages, in the heyday of the Camino, the Valcarlos’ easier passage also made it a favorite haven for bandits and thieves. Such, warned the 11th century pilgrim’s guide the Codex Calixtinus, was the risk of going this way.
The name comes from Valle de Carlos, referring to Charlemagne. In historical legends, he and his men were passing through this valley on their return to France and camped here when further south in Roncesvalles his rearguard, including his nephew, Roland, were fatally attacked. (More on this in Roncesvalles.)