I cannot remember for sure but I think it was unsettled weather forecasts for the far north of Spain which prompted us to move to Burgos. The route we chose was easy with the initial part of the 132 mile journey taking us along the coast through Ondarroa and a couple of other small villages each with beautiful beaches.
Burgos, the one time capital of the Kingdom of Castile y Leon sits on the River Arlanzon. We parked up in a municipal campsite alongside the river just four kilometres from the city. The Camino Santiago (Camino Frances Route) passes right by where we were parked and all we had to do to find the cathedral in the centre of the city was follow the Camino’s distinctive scallop shell markers along an excellent path by the river. Pilgrims have been stopping off at the Santa Iglesia Catedral Basilica Metropolitana de Santa Maria de Burgos for hundreds of years on their way to Santiago and the route was as easy as pie, if not as short as I would have liked (but, have a word Dave, spare a thought for the pilgrims who will have already walked many miles to reach this point!!). Sadly, I saw only three pilgrims pass during our 3 day stay in Burgos (and one of those was dodgy, showing more interest in fleecing tourists than the cathedral) and I suspect it is travel restrictions caused by Covid which has greatly reduced this years numbers.
Wanting to take a closer look at the statue of Burgos’s most famous son, Rodrigo diaz de Vivar – otherwise known as El Cid (I cannot help but think of Charlton Heston), I made a small detour from the Camino by crossing the river at Puente San Pablo and walking along the cool tree lined and landscaped Paseo de Espelon before entering the old city of Burgos by the 14th century City Gate of Santa Maria. Sorry, that’s a really long sentence.
As I passed through the gate onto the Plaza del Rey San Fernando I was awe struck by the beautiful 13th century Cathedral of St Mary of Burgos. No, it’s not as grand as Il Duomo in Milan or the Kolner Dom in Cologne. No, it is not as commanding as St Paul’s in London or have the scale of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and it certainly is not as colourful or sumptuous as the Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence but, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it looks truly magnificent. It fills the Square and it’s smart white limestone colour dazzles in bright sunlight. It is impressive no matter which side it is viewed from. It’s elegant towering spires and incredibly detailed facades lend it a grand nobility. I love it.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t get to see inside the Cathedral. It is supposed to have a particularly ornate altar with brilliant gold plating. I have read too that it has an unusual wood and leather crucifix which just has to be seen and, of course, there is the tomb of El Cid and his wife. I couldn’t understand why nobody was being allowed into the cathedral (I spoke to a Camino “pilgrim” and he was particularly disappointed at being denied entry) but there was a very strong police presence in the Square and rich blue carpets and flowers were being laid at two of the cathedral’s entrances – something was afoot.
Next to the Cathedral on the Plaza de Santa and alongside the Camino Santiago is the 15th century Iglesia de San Nicolas de Bari. This church at least remained open to the public and I took time to admire it’s impressive altarpiece (lacking gold plate) which I understand was designed and constructed by a Simon de Colonia
Burgos is resplendent with buildings of significant historical heritage and none fits this bill more so than the 15th century gothic palace of Casa del Cordon in the Plaza de la Libertad. This is the building in which Fernando II and Isabel I received Christopher Columbus upon completion of his second journey to the New World in 1497. It is also where King Felipe I died of suspected poisoning in 1506 within a month of being crowned king. This type of building, with all it’s history and drama, really does it for me.
Another once significant building in Burgos is the 9th century castle. It is one of the oldest castles in Spain although little remains of it now. It was used as a headquarters by Napoleon Bonaparte’s armies during the Peninsula War and was largely destroyed by them when they retreated from Spain. There is a small museum there now but otherwise it is little more than a viewpoint over the town (and not a particularly good one because trees now obscure the best views).
I’ve written a little bit about the numerous modern sculptures around Burgos…
Honestly, there are so many and the great majority are life sized. In addition to those already featured in this blog I personally saw the Camino Pilgrim seated on a bench in the Plaza del Rey San Fernando, another of an old couple on a bench (reminds me of a photo I took in Aegina a few years ago), a drummer and another of a cleric or teacher with a young boy (these two were in medieval costume). On the Paseo de la Atapuerca in front of the Museum of Human Evolution there’s another sculpture of a man and boy, wholly naked this time. How attitudes have changed over the years.
Vanya and I walked into Burgos that first night in Burgos for a meal (I’d already made the return journey once already that day) and we took a table belonging to the Larruzz Restaurant in front of the Cathedral. As we ate, the police presence I had noticed earlier in the day heightened and the already large crowd in the Square grew. We asked our waiter if he knew what was going on and he told us that on this day 800 years ago work started on the Cathedral. He explained that the King of Spain would be visiting Burgos the next day to attend an 8th centenary celebration in the Cathedral and that meanwhile, once it got dark enough, there would be a special light show on and from within the Cathedral and that thereafter there would be a fireworks display. What timing! What luck! And we had front row seats from our restaurant. We immediately ordered more drinks and settled in for the evening. It was a great evening.
Burgos was great but it was rather hot for the dogs and after a couple of days in the city we set off back to the north coast (because the weather appeared to be improving up in the north and, in any event, it was much cooler).