Guide to Burgos – Castilla y Leon, Spain
Burgos not only enjoys the honour of being the birthplace of El Cid but also served as one of the capitals of Castile (Castilla), the historic heart of Spain, and has a Gothic cathedral of exceptional quality and beauty (one of the finest in Spain).
Its Old Quarter also preserves beautiful medieval and Renaissance churches and palaces. It is here where the tomb of ‘El Cid’ lays.
15km East of Burgos, you will find the Atapuerta archaeological site containing prehistoric tools and bones of the earliest humans in Europe that were living some 800,000 years ago.
The Northern and Eastern part of the diocese is extremely mountainous, thickly wooded, and traversed by rivers, one of which is the Ebro, which rises in the mountains and serves as the Eastern boundary for Miranda. The Arlanza which crosses the diocese from East to West flows by Salas de los Infantes, near the famous Monastery of Silos and through the centre of the well-known town of Lerma.
Fruit grows in abundance in this mountainous region and fine pasture-lands sustain great herds of cows and sheep, which furnish excellent meat, milk and cheese. Delicate cheeses produced here, which take their name from this city, are famous throughout Spain.
Minerals are abundant in Burgos, especially sulphate of soda, common salt, iron, and hard coal. The Southern part of Burgos, especially the valley and plains, is fertile and produces abundant quantities of vegetables and cereals. The climate is cold but healthy and further North is quite damp.
Although Burgos has few industries to speak of, the transportation of its fruit and minerals is easily facilitated by the numerous highways and railroad between Madrid and France which crosses the Eastern side South to North. There are also some secondary railway lines for the operation of the mines.
Burgos possesses more religious monuments than any other Spanish diocese. The cathedral, with its chapel of the Condestable, the monastery of Las Huelgas, and the Carthusian monastery of Miraflores are museums of important religious and historical value.
History of Burgos
When the Romans took possession of what is now the province of Burgos it was inhabited by the Morgobos, Turmodigos, Berones, and perhaps also the Pelendones, the last inhabitants of the northern part of the Celtiberian province. The principal cities, according to Ptolemy, were: Brabum, Sisara, Deobrigula, Ambisna Segiasamon and Verovesca (Briviesca).
In the time of the Romans, Burgos belonged to Hither Spain (Hispania Citerior) and afterwards to the Tarragonese province. The Arabs occupied all of Castile though for just a brief period and left virtually no trace of their occupation.
Alfonso (III) the Great reconquered Burgos in middle of the Ninth century, building many castles for the defence against the Christians, then extending their dominion and reconquering lost territories. In this way, the region came to be known as Castilla – ‘Land of Castles’.
Don Diego, Count of Porcelos, was entrusted with the government of this territory and commanded to promote the increase of the Christian population. With this in mind, he gathered the inhabitants of the surrounding country into one village, which then took the name Burgos, or Burgi.
The city thus began to be called Caput Castellae. The territory (Condado), was gradually extended by victories over the Moors, until the time of Fernan Gonzalez, when it became independent; it, later on, took the name of the Kingdom of Castile, united at some point with Navarre and with Leon.
In the reign of St. Ferdinand III (c. 1200-52), although Leon and Castile were united, they continued to be called the Kingdom of Leon and the Kingdom of Castile until the nineteenth century.
This area has been the scene of many varied and violent events: wars with the Arabs, the struggles between Leon and Navarre, and between Castile and Aragon, the War of Independence against France, and the civil wars of the Spanish succession.
Between the 15th and 16th centuries, Burgos grew significantly because of its booming textile trade, thus ensuring prosperity in the town. This economic upturn allowed the town to construct an impressive number of exceptional monuments and buildings: the Las Huelgas monastery and the doors to the former walls to the city of ‘Arco de Santa Maria‘ (Santa Maria’s Arch)
Things to see in Burgos
The construction of Burgos Cathedral was ordered by King Ferdinand III of Castile and Mauricio an English-born Bishop. Construction of this Gothic masterpiece began in 1221 and continued for three centuries. You’ll be amazed by its facade and the finely worked floral decoration of its two spires.
The arches on the Sarmental door represent the heavenly kingdom. Inside, there is an elegant, renaissance staircase called the ‘la escalera Dorada’. Don’t forget to take a look at the recumbent statue of the constable of Castille and his wife. Underneath the transept with its magnificent star-covered cupola, you will find the tombstone of El Cid and Ximena.
El Cid Campeador (Left), the legendary hero was born Rodrigo Diaz in 1043 in Vivar. It was the Moors who gave him the name ‘sidi’, which means Lord in Arabic. In 1094, he conquered the town of Valencia, but this time he was fighting for Christian forces. He served as Governor of Valencia until the day he died. His body and that of his wife, Ximena, lie in the Burgos cathedral.
The exploits of El Campeador made their mark on the history of Castille and inspired Corneille to write his famous work about the hero Covarrubias, the Monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos and Lerma.
Miranda De Ebro
This village arose in medieval times to defend a strategic crossing over the river Ebro, with a castle erected on the hill of La Picota. The festivity of San Juan del Monte is very famous and also well-attended.
As an architectural monument, this structure displays the best features of the art of the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. It was commenced by Bishop Mauritius in 1221, in the reign of Ferdinand III and Beatrice of Swabia and is Gothic in style. The principal façade, Santa Maria la Mayor, faces west and on either side, there rise two towers, approx. 262 feet in height, terminating in octagonal spires covered with open stonework traceries. The façade is composed of three stories or sections. The first, or ground story, has three ogival entrances with rectangular openings; the second has a gallery enclosed by a pinnacled balustrade and a rose window as delicately carved as a piece of lace, which admits light into the church. In the upper-most story, there are two double-arched windows of ogival style, with eight intercolumnar spaces, in each of which there is a statue on a pedestal. The whole is finished with a balustrade of letters carved in stone and forming the inscription: Pulchra es et decora (Thou art beautiful and graceful) In the centre is a statue of the Blessed Virgin. In the lateral sections (the towers) the windows are enclosed by stone balustrades and the top is surmounted by balconies of stone, surrounded by balustrades formed of Gothic letters in various inscriptions. Needle-pointed pinnacles finish the four corners. The spires, as already said, are octagonal in shape with a gallery that runs around the eight sides near the top, upon which rest the graceful points of the conical finial.
The Monastery of Las Huelgas
Next to the Cathedral is the famous Monasterio de las Huelgas on the outskirts of the city. It dates from the year 1180, and architecturally belongs to the transition period from Byzantine to Gothic, although in the course of time almost every style has also been introduced. The convent has two remarkable cloisters. One is a very fine example of the earlier period and of the use of semi-circular arches and delicate and varied columns; the other of the ogival style of the transition period. The interior of the church contains enormous columns supporting its magnificent vault.
Monastery of Miraflores
The Carthusian monastery of Miraflores celebrated for the strict observance of its rule, is situated about one mile from the city. A very beautiful and life-like statue of St. Bruno stands carved in wood and is one of the treasures of the monastery. Exquisite workmanship can also be witnessed in the church stalls.
The mausoleum of King John II and of his wife Isabel, in this monastery, is constructed of the finest marble and so delicately carved that portions seem to be sculptured in wax rather than stone.
Around the top of the tomb are beautiful statues of angels in miniature, which may well be the work of Phidias. French soldiers in the War of Independence (1814) mutilated this beautiful work, cutting off some of the heads and carrying them away to France