Guide to Leon – Castilla y Leon, Spain
Leon is the capital city of the province of Leon and is located in the North West of Spain. The origins of the city of Leon go back to the year 68 AD which was built on the site of a Roman camp.
According to pilgrims chronicles, Leon was a city ‘full of all happiness’ and still to this day brings much pleasure to visitors.
Leon itself lies on a fertile plain surrounded by woods, orchards and meadows. Natural resources and pastures of the mountains of Leon produce rich milk, cheese, butter and meat including Villamanin hams and sausages from Trobajo.
Winter sports are particularly well catered for in San Isidro and Pajares passes where all kinds of ski-lifts can be found.
The purity of the water in Leon is ideal for catching trout in its famous rivers.
The city encapsulates old medieval and the modern with extraordinary historical and artistic heritage. The streets that spread out between Plaza Mayor and the Plaza del Mercado still help to give the city a medieval appearance. The area around the Plaza Mayor and the Plaza de San Martin is popularly known as the ‘wet district’ since it is the location of many bars, pubs and restaurants.
Plaza del Mercado is the square where the market is held and where royal proclamations were once read. The square known as Plaza de San Marcelo is the site of several other monuments of interest including the Palace of Los Guzmanes; the Town Hall; and the so-called Casa de Botines, built in Neo-Gothic style.
Leon is a progressive city with magnificent buildings including the Gothic Cathedral, the 12th century Royal Basilica of San Isidoro and the ancient San Marcos Convent. Just three of the most charismatic monuments that stand out for their great artistic value.
Modern works of art you will encounter in the city include the great mural by Vela Zanetti, located inside the Church of San Jose Obrero and Subirachs‘s work ‘Whitsuntide’, which is kept inside the Shrine of the Virgin of El Camino.
The Cathedral is a magnificent example of classical Gothic architecture and takes the form of a Roman cross. Particularly interesting features are the stained glass windows, set into a relatively small wall surface, classed as the most important in Spain having received the title of ‘the Beauty of Leon‘. These windows are characterised by scenes and religious figures framed by strips of floral or geometric patterns. Another attraction of the cathedral is a silver urn by Enrique de Arfe, famous for containing the mortal remains of San Froilan, the patron saint of Leon.
The Collegiate Church of San Isidoro is an interesting example of early Romanesque art in Spain, though the present-day Basilica is a mixture of buildings that belong to several different time periods. The earlier pre-Romanesque construction was dedicated to St. John the Baptist but was unfortunately destroyed by Almanzor.
Paintings in the vaults, that date from 12C, still maintain their bright colours and are considered to be some of the finest examples of Romanesque painting in Spain. The Puerta del Cordero is decorated with the statues of San Isidoro and San Pelayo and surrounded by the Signs of the Zodiac.
The Museum of the Collegiate Church of San Isidoro el Real contains an agate chalice that belonged to Dona Urraca, some valuable works in gold and silver, and a collection of very old manuscripts.
The Convent of San Marcos was originally founded for the Knights of the Order of St. James. It has a magnificent Plateresque facade, profusely decorated by medallions, columns and pilasters. The Baroque portal has a sculpture of St. James and mythological and historical busts.
The Provincial Archeological Museum is also located here and contains exhibits from prehistoric times and archaeological finds from around the region. The Convent of San Marcos has been converted into a luxury hotel and forms part of the network of Spanish Paradores.
Towns an places of interest in the province of Leon
A former citadel in Roman times. The hamlet of Pons Ferrata (Bridge of Iron) is situated on the Pilgrim’s Road to Santiago de Compostela and named in this way because the is bridge reinforced with iron. The Knights Templar (Los Templarios) used a primitive Roman fortress to build a castle in which they could settle and protect passing pilgrims.
One entrance to the square is straddled by a tall clock-tower which sits above one of the gateways of the medieval wall.
Nearby is the Renaissance Basilica de la Virgen de la Encina. The older Iglesia de Santo Tomas de las Ollas is hidden away in the town´s village-like northern suburbs. Mozarabic, Romanesque and Baroque elements combine in the architecture of this simple church. The 10th-century apse displays beautiful horseshoe arches.
Astorga is situated at the crossing of two important Spanish routes which were used as passages for pilgrimage. The main Pilgrim’s Road to Santiago de Compostela, now declared a World Heritage Route by UNESCO, led here.
Here you can also find a theme park which has brought together important archaeological remains belonging to this historical period. You can see interesting Roman relics including sections of a Basilica, baths, mansions and parts of the ancient sewerage system, among others.