There are many and varied markings showing the way through the hamlets, towns and cities as you walk ‘the way’.
The most common marking is the scallop shell as seen leaving the town of Belorado and found on the shores in Galicia, has long been the symbol of the Camino de Santiago.
Over the centuries the scallop shell has taken on mythological symbolism with the death of Saint James; metaphorical meaning of the grooves in the shell, which come together at a single point and representing the various routes pilgrims travel to arrive at a single destination; and a practical meaning serving pilgrims to gather water and drink water from the many water fountains and as a makeshift bowl of eating from.
I like many, traveled with a scallop shell attached to my backpack, symbolising and showing my connection to others who have walked or walking ‘the way’.
A mix of excitement and joy had been building within me since leaving Belorado, passing through Villafranca, San Juan de Ortega and other smaller villages before arriving in the city of Burgos. Knowing I would sleep two nights in the same bed, no boots, no backpack, no reason to be anywhere another than here…just to be in the present moments, time to explore, more time to reflect and organise some basics – having clothes washed.
Burgos City, the former capital of the kingdom of Castilla y León has been referred to as the Gothic capital of Spain. Founded in 884 the city is located on the banks of the Rio Arlanzón and is home too many historic and beautiful buildings, one most notably – the Burgos Cathedral. The cities rich ancient and medieval landscape offers history enthusiast with an abundance of choice, from ancient city walls, to noteworthy artifacts housed within the historic buildings, an array of monuments that are also worthy of exploration, admiration and appreciation and the striking statute of the warlord El Cid with his trusted horse Babieca.
Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar born 1048 was known as El Cid Campeador, a Castilian nobleman, military leader and gifted diplomat, who after being exiled (twice), conquered and governed the city of Valencia, and is most, remembered for the fight against the Moors.
A prominent statue of El Cid is located in the Plaza Mio Cid, at the entry to the most well-known bridge in Burgos, the Puente of San Pablo. Built in the 13th century the bridge crossing the Río Arlanzón now stands as a pedestrian and vehicle crossing, connecting modern day to the old town, where the medieval gates of San Pablo once stood.
People are going about their day and I am fast reminded of the outer landscape and pace of city life, as I walk across the bridge lined with statues of Castilian noblemen from the middle ages.
Walking along the picturesque tree lined promenade that runs parallel to the Río Arlanzón, the Paseo del Espolón is a pedestrian only thoroughfare that runs between Puente of San Pablo and the Arch of Santa Maria. The promenade offers numerous ornately trimmed hedges, sculptures and many local cafés. Time…to treat myself to a traditional hot chocolate and churros (Spanish donut). I had been looking forward to this moment.
Soaking up the surroundings, watching passer-by’s and seeing fellow Camino travelers, recognisable by the scallop shell adorning their backpack.
With my trusty guide book and travel journal in hand, I sketched out a rough guide of what to see, noting opening hours for the next couple of days, and leaving room for choice, to change my mind.
From the café I can see the medieval Arco de Santa Maria that stands centre featured and strong in splendid isolation, adjoining more modern structures. Once joined with the fortified city walls, this 14th century archway is adorned with turrets and exquisitely craved statues of notable members of Burgos, including El Cid centered (second row), a Guardian Angel above, and atop the statue of Santa Maria, patron saint of Burgos.
Today, the arch is home to a pharmacy museum that holds various art exhibitions.
Once through the arch, one enters into the Plaza Rey San Fernando and its most recognisable landmark. The magnificent and imposing La Catedral de Burgos.
Construction started on the cathedral in 1221, under the order of King Ferdinand III of Castile and lasted for centuries, including a period of about 200 years where little progress was made. Due to being built over many centuries, various architects and artists contributed and ensured a diverse and rich ensemble of tapestries, retablos, paintings, carvings, and tombs. The exterior was built during the time when Gothic architecture was prevalent, and influenced by some of the French cathedrals.
From the latter years of construction, other styles of architecture, such as Renaissance and Baroque, can be seen throughout the interior.
The famous pyramidal needles or spires, built during the mid-15th century encompass exquisite and fine fretwork by Juan de Colonia, seen from the west entrance.
The Puerta del Sarmental, (The Sarmental Door) is the main entrance for visitors. The entrance built during 1230-40, shows the iconography carving above the heavy entrance doors, in the centre of the tympanum shows Christ in Majesty, offering blessing with the right hand while holding the Leyes de Burgos (“Laws of Burgos”), also known as the book of the New Law, supported by the knee.
The Leyes de Burgos was the first set of legal codes created following the conquest and Spanish colonisation of the Americas in the West Indies. Indorsed on 27 December, 1512 the law held particular regard to govern Spanish settlers’ interactions with the Indigenous people, ‘native Caribbean Indians’ in the new world and forbade the maltreatment of the indigenous people.
The Cathedral is dedicated to the city’s patron Saint – Santa Maria, the Virgin Mary and houses statues and sculptures by famous artists, including the Colonia family who dominated the artistic life of Burgos for a century, along with many, many oil paintings, tapestries, ornate chalices, ornately carved choir chairs, and what is believed to be the coffin of El Cid (Cofre De Eil Cid), along with the tomb of El Cid and his wife Doña Jimena Díaz.
The Upper cloister (Claustro alto) built around 1260, is lined with stunningly beautiful stained glass windows, where the Suns reflection captures the heart and exquisiteness of the pictures.
Time spent in the exterior courtyard provides moments of solace. The symbolism, history and architecture of this truly magnificent, majestic and beautiful cathedral, is best seen by the individual as time spent wandering through the captivating interior, is likely to open ones heart to the brilliance of a time passed, whilst the depth and wealth of the exterior holds one in admiration.
The cathedral was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 31 October, 1984.
It is also the only cathedral in Spain where the structure alone is the heritage site.
A short walk from the cathedral, one can find themselves in the Plaza Huerto del Rey , where the palaces and adjoining properties of King Ferdinand I of Castile once stood. The plaza more locally known as Plaza de la Flora, so named as the Kings Garden.
A relaxing place to pass time, before meeting with a fellow pilgrim, for a lamb shashlik and tinto vino for me and a beer for others.
Spending a leisurely late afternoon together roaming the lanes and streets of the old town brought some unanticipated surprises.
Located in the old Main Market square stands the humble palace of the Condestables de Castilla, more popularly known as Casa del Cordón. A 15th century palace that was home to the Constable of Castilla, a title given by King Juan I of Castile and position that was the maximum representation of the king in his absence. Today it houses a cultural centre.
A walk along the 13th century, Calle de la Puebla lined with scallop shell figures within the pedestrian only road, marking the path of ‘the way’ brings us to the Plaza de San Juan and the 14th century Iglesia de San Lesmes Abad, that houses the remains of San Lesmes, a patron of the city.
Across the Plaza lays the ruins of the 11th century Monasterio de San Juan, founded by Constance of Burgundy, who married and became Queen consort of Castile and León when she married King Alfonso VI, and given to the French born Benedictine Monk, Saint Adelelmus, O.S.B, also known as Lesmes, on the condition he became the Abbot.
Lesmes soon added a pilgrim hospital and church, named in his honour to cater for the many pilgrims passing through on their way to Santiago.
Little of the original Monasterio structure survived fires during the 15th and 16th centuries, along with the conflict during the 18th century, however, with an addition from the 19th century the building, now declared as a historical monument is home to the Marceliano Santamaría museum.
It has been a personally moving and memorable day learning some of the city’s invasive and inclusive history, taking in the grandeur and magnificence of the cathedral and roaming the many attractive narrow lanes and streets with painted buildings and open squares that form the old town of the medieval city surroundings.
As the late afternoon unfolds, it’s the perfect time to wander the book stores and the many boutiques and accessory stores, before taking time to relax in one of the many outdoor cafés in the colourful and vibrant Plaza Major.
During the late 1500s the square more commonly known as the weekly markets square was the largest commercial activity centre in Burgos. Fresh food produce was sold by local farmers, while textiles and other goods were sold by traveling merchants. Since its original purpose the square has undergone a couple more name changes. Today Plaza Mayor de Burgos, is far less an open market however, it still retains its lively past as the most popular meeting place for locals. Its wide open space with red brick pavement for pedestrians only and blend of historic old Castilian style arcade with archway entrances is home to many shops, restaurants, bars and government administration buildings. King Carlos III statue stands proudly in the centre.
A restful and rejuvenating night sleep awaits, as does another day in this mesmerising and magical medieval city.
Burgos has been besieged by many battles throughout its history, from the struggles with the Moors, to being the base for General Franco’s rebel Nationalist government and many struggles in between. One such battle involved the destruction of the Castillo de Burgos, Castle of Burgos that took place during the Peninsular War against Napoleonic France.
A short walk uphill towards the Castillo de Burgos one reaches the el Mirador Castillo, the Castle Lookout. A detailed bronze etching outlining the various historic buildings across the city landscape gives the visitor perspective of the stunning panoramic view. The imposing Cathedral needs no explanation.
Looking way beyond the city outskirts, one can just make out the in the distance the dry plains of the Meseta. A reminder of what is ahead the next day, when I’m back walking the next stage of ‘the way’.
For now, a little further uphill lies the Castillo de Burgos, one of the oldest castle ruins in Spain. Located on the hill of San Miguel with commanding views over the valley of the River Arlanzón, standing 75m above the city and 981m above see level. A strategic site of primary importance, inhabited as early as prehistoric times. During the 9th century the King of the day, Alfonso III gave an order to Count Diego Porcelos for the construction of a defensive structure with the aim of repopulating the region and restricting the movements of the Moorsish armies, who once inhabited the city until Spanish forces ousted them.
The Castillo then become a royal residence, a meeting place for the Spanish court, a prison and the bastion of the ‘Comunero’ movement, and artillery barracks. During the early 19th century French occupation and the Spanish War of Independence the Castle became a centre of French operations. Before abandoning the fortified Castle the French army used explosives to blow it up and destroyed a large part of the Castle’s southern wall. Falling into a state of ruin in the 20th century, until restoration began in the early 21st century and becoming an historical and cultural heritage site.
Whilst part of the castle wall remains, much of the above ground structure lays in ruin. The castle however, houses and interesting internal feature; the medieval well, siege tunnels and counter mines that have been preserved below the surface. The well was dug (during what is believed to be the late 12th – early 13th centuries) to provide a reliable water supply for the castle and was excavated deep into the bedrock on which the castle was built. To take a closer look, I am firstly kitted out with hard hat and guided through the tunnels before descending the steep circular stairs to access the medieval water walls (not something you should do if you suffer from claustrophobia).
I am guided only part way through the main well, 1.7 meters wide that goes down 63.5 meters, reaching the natural water table underground. The guide tells myself and others that whilst castle wells are not unusual across Europe, in Spain water storage cisterns both below ground and above ground to collect rainwater are just as common as wells. Further explanation, reveals the uniqueness of the Castillo de Burgos well, being the ashlar (finely cut stone blocks with thin joints between each block that are then rendered with another material for decorative effect), a spiral staircase that runs alongside the well and includes slits at regular intervals (note: red coloured brick on right side of photo), that provide a degree of natural light from within the well shaft into the adjoining spiral staircase, that would otherwise be completely devoid of daylight, running deep into the ground to provide maintenance access to the deepest part of the well. What was also fascinating to learn was that the spiral staircase and well shaft were constructed as a single engineering project with the ashlar blocks cut from a single block of stone where the curve of the stair and the well shaft meets. The stairs were constructed in six stages, and are approximately 10m deep, with a connecting passageway at each stage linking to the next length of spiral staircase. AMAZING!!!
Beside the castle admission gate, stands a small museum, while the outer stairs leading away from the castle walls, offers a place to sit by the fountain to contemplate the craftsmanship of days long gone and again admire the expansive views of a growing city.
Returning to the city, one can descend from the Castle along a cobble stoned path then down an old stone stairway running along the old city wall that passes through a beautiful woodland area that offers shade and a place to relax before returning to the inner old town through Plaza Rey San Fernando.
Burgos’ turbulent and inclusive history reminded me of the poignant words by Anthony Bourdain
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts; it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
As the inner and out landscape journey continues, I recognise that I am taking something with me and happily leaving somethings behind.
… and I am aware of what is awakening – is waiting for me…
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This blog is number two of a five part series of posts sharing the heart opening joy of walking the Camino de Santiago. Continue reading and learn more about this centuries old hike across Northern Spain here. Purchase the most comprehensive ‘A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago: St. Jean – Roncesvalles’ here. And for those looking to book nightly accommodation, or stay in a location longer, you can find wonderful accommodation options here.
Thank you for taking the time to read and I hope you enjoy all that this centuries old pilgrimage has brought to myself and many, many others throughout time.
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