A short wait at the Sahagún train station…
The towns outer landscape and slower, quieter pace has much to offer. The stirring within the inner landscape is continuing to unfold. My intuition has always been my constant friend and has taken me to many amazing and magical places, both physically and within. As I walked each day, taking in and admiring my new surroundings, ‘something’ inside was calling me to a particular path.
Whilst waiting for the train, a memory of myself as a sixteen year old teenager – at the time I was still living with my parents and two sisters on the outskirts of a river-land town in South Australia. I had been in town on my own and decided I would avoid walking home along the busy road and instead, walked along the railway line. When I approached the road crossing a car with three teenage boys stopped. Insisting I get in the car and they would drop me home. No! It was at that moment, I had my first epiphany, a sudden and striking realisation when I saw a life in front of me that I didn’t want; and wasn’t mine. A feeling of destiny that didn’t go away. Shortly after my seventieth birthday I moved away.
The train arrived, and finding my seat I sat and gazed out the window. Looking out across the open flat plains of the senda, I recalled a favourite quote by Joseph Campbell.
“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us”
Thirty minutes to the capital of the province of Léon and home to a quarter of the province population. Founded around 29BC the city has also witnessed its share of conflicts and revivals, before becoming the capital of the Kingdom of Léon in 910, during the Reconquista against the Moors. Becoming one of the fundamental kingdoms of medieval Spain.
The city is also credited with holding the first Parliament in European history – The Decreta of Decrees of Léon under the reign of Alfonso IX in 1188. A prominent King having founded the University of Salamanca in 121 and contributing to the work of the Reconquest conquering the area of Extremadura. The city’s historical heritage is also noted as being one of the first cities to hold an uprising in the Spanish War of Independence.
The sounds of city life are everywhere as I walk 20mins from the train station to pre-booked accommodation at the NM Plaza Major located in the hear of the old city centre for the next two nights. Passing by Plaza de Guszmán El Bueno and the statue of the squares namesake Guszmán El Bueno, a much loved military man and noble historical figure of the 13th century.
There are many people going about their day and as I walk along Calle Ancha, I catch my first glimpse of the magnificent Léon Cathedral, before turning down a lane that opens to the Plaza Major where a local morning market is taking place, A little luxury awaits…I booked the Premium Suite.
The colourful and vibrant local markets provided opportunity to buy some local fresh fruit. Before finding my way to the Plaza de Santa Maria del Camino, also known as Plaza del Grano. A short walk away in the Barrio Húmedo: Wet District. The historic Jewish quarter of the old walled city and a quieter pace during the afternoon.
The Plaza de Grano, with its cobbled paving and surrounding arcades, many built with wooden material takes its name from being the original main market for buying and selling grain and other products.
Finding a quiet café for a tapas lunch, adjacent to the 10th century Nuestra Senora del Mercado: Church of Our Lady of the Market. There’s a feeling of being watched over by the cherubs playing in the neo-classical fountain, that symbolises the two rivers that embrace the magical city.
Traces of Rome and medieval wars are still present as seen in the city’s stone walls. With remnants of the oldest stone wall built at the end of the 1st century by Legio VII Gemina.
The city name is derived from the Latin word “Legio”, meaning legion and was once part of the Seventh Legion of Roman soldiers that guarded the city in the 1st century. During the time when the city was a major centre for the gold trade.
During the 5th century another wall made with cobblestone and mortar was erected in a triangular shape, known as muralla de los cubos: cube wall; to strengthen and greatly enlarge the original wall. The eight metre high wall included four gates along each side of the triangular stronghold. Much of this wall was reconstructed in the mid 18th century and is still visible in the old city. Close to the Ponce Tower, behind Plaza Major to Puerta Castillo, is the last remaining gate and the Tower of San Isidoro.
Unlike the cerca medieval: medieval fence, a stretch of stone wall constructed during the 24th century was built atop a 13th century dirt wall. Enclosing the neighbourhood west of he old city outside the original Roman fortification that forms an irregular arch shape. Stretches of this wall is found along Independencia Avenue and Calle Las Cercus, characterised by the paved corridor between the inner el antemuro: the bulwark lower wall and the second higher and more robust outer wall.
Leaving Plaza de Santa del Camino, approx. 15 minutes walk along Calle las Fuentes, I found myself standing in front of the modern day Plaza de Torros de Léon: Léon Arena. Better known by the locals as El Panque: Bullring. The Bull ring was inaugurated in June, 1948 following a decision to upgrade the original wooden structure built in 1912 and transform into a place for musical concerts and other events supporting seating capacity for 10,000.
Modern day Léon blends into its historic past at Plaza Sano Domingo and the fuente de San Domingo: fountain of Santo Domingo, along Calle Ancha.
The day is hot and I’m grateful to find shade as are the pigeons sharing space by the fuente de San Marcelo.
Opposite stands Antoni Gaudi’s contribution to Léon’s cityscape. The beautiful Neo-Gothic castle-like Casa de los Bontines.
Built during the early 1890s, the main entrance is crowned by a stone sculpture of St George. Declared an historical monument in 1969, and today owned by the Caja Espana: Spanish saving bank. Outside the buildings entrance, seats a bronze statue of the architect, taking notes.
Adjacent Casa de los Bontines, stands the 16th century Palacio de los Guzmanes. Construction of this Renaissance designed building was commissioned by the aristocratic family, who hold the buildings name and were one of the city’s more powerful and influential families. Today, the building houses the Léon Regional Government and in 1963 was declared a national monument.
Having walked many kilometres since leaving Roncesvalles, stopping to appreciate and admire the historic city of Burgos. Then continuing across the open fields of the Meseta, passing through the many smaller towns and villages with there own unique beauty and charm. Together with showcasing their history, and their long connection with the Camino, as shown in the many amazing and beautiful historic buildings and sites along ‘the way’.
One thing has struck me, Léon holds true to its cultural origins and its authenticity. From early Roman times that brought fortification, to the Moors who settled here, to King Ferinand III of Castile who inherited the kingdom, together with much of the city’s historic architecture and to the many modern day restaurants who serve traditional authentic Léonese cuisine. Even the local newspapers are printed in the traditional Léonese language, that was formed as a Romance dialect of Astur-Léonese. Léon is graciously preserving its rich heritage.
Walking along Calle Ancha, the city’s main pedestrian thoroughfare one walks slowly to take in the beautifully coloured buildings, with the ground floors being home to boutiques, restaurants, cafés and curio shops. Looking ahead and up, one feasts their eyes on the spire of the Léon Cathedral that can be seen high above the buildings, while busy with foot traffic occupies the street. There are many choices of cafés…time for lunch, before visiting the city’s majestic Cathedral.
Having a chat with the waiter, I learn that the English translation for Calle Ancha, is Broad Street. A fitting name for a truly beautiful, colourful and busy wide ‘broad’ street.
The Léon Cathedral, also known as ‘The House of Lights, or the Pulchra Leonina. Latin meaning beautiful lioness’, is located in Plaza Regla. The fine example of a French-style classic architectural Gothic masterpiece is dedicated to the Santa Maria de la Regla: Our Lady of the Rule. The Cathedral was declared a cultural interest in 1844. A truly stunning Cathedral that was built on the site of former Roman baths. Construction of the current Cathedral began in the early 13th century, under the rule of King Ordoño II and was completed in the 16th century. The Cathedral underwent several restorations during a period of 400 years as problems with the construction and unstable ground proved too much and a major restoration was completed in the 19th century. The main façade has two towers, including a southern clock tower.
Step inside and you’ll fine a lavish repository of architecture, paintings, sculptures and other arts. There are three portals decorated with sculptures situated in the pointed arches between the two towers.
Almost 1,800 square meters of stained glass windows (vidrieras) adorn the wall structure, with the majority being original, a rarity dating back o the 13th – 15th centuries. A beautifully detailed rendition of a large rose and the Virgin Blanca and some of the worlds finest and most exquisite stained glass. There’s also a silver urn that houses the remains of San Froilán, Léon’s patron saint. The cloister in the main chapel contains singular sculpted details in the friezes and ledges. An in-house museum also hosts a collection of scared art with more than 1,500 pieces of religiously inspired artwork.
Romanesque styled statues of the Virgin Mary are found along several codices, a Mozarabic bible, and the first manuscript in the Léonese language.
There is so much to see and discover, as I walk along the high arched passageways with intrinsic carvings and smaller enclaves with fine detailed stained glass, that forms this grand and monumental cathedral.
Captivated by the grandeur and magnificence of the Cathedrals interior, I lost time and was surprised when I was approached and advised that it was soon to close.
Stepping outside, I find that the afternoon had turned to early evening. I choose to sit for awhile on a bench opposite the Cathedral entrance and admire the external architecture. As the early evening darkened, and the Cathedral lights came on, lighting up the night sky. The House of Light, becomes reminiscent of its name.
Returning to Plaza Major and a quieter atmosphere as the day has turned to night. A light dinner and a glass of sangria at Lapaneria café bar, before calling it an ‘enriching and fulfilling’ day.
Staying a the NH Plaza Major brings a taste of luxury and a delicious soak in a bath. Hmmm, it’s important to respect your body and spend time alone in quiet reflection.
A beautiful restful night’s sleep has rejuvenated my body and soul.
Opening the balcony doors, too a glorious clear day. It’s still early and little is happening in Plaza Major.
Another day awaits and brings more wondrous and magical moments, amazing insights, delights and historical sights. Stepping outside and looking back at the Hotel…the window up there just below the steeple provides a wonderful view across Plaza Major.
I asked a staff member to take a photo. On closer look…I am rested and ready for another day.
I sketched a rough plan for the day, making sure I had time to return to the Cathedral to spend time in the Cathedral museum before closing.
A morning walk along Calle Rue, the waymarked Camino pathway that guides pilgrims past the city’s prime sites in the medieval quarter and I find myself at Iglesia de San Marcelo.
The Parish church of San Marcelo is believed to be the oldest building in the city. Located in the centre of the historical inner city, the church was founded during the time of Ramiro, around 850. The church was destroyed by Almanzor and rebuilt for the first time in 1096, coinciding with the construction of the hospital housed within.
From San Marcelo, I make my way down Calle Cid to the Basilica of San Isidoro. The Romanesque and Gothic style chapel that was built on the site of a Roman temple and once dedicated to the Roman messenger God, “Mercury”.
The Basilica’s medieval Christian roots can be traced back to the early 10th century when a monastery for Saint John the Baptist was erected on the grounds.
Walking through the heavy timber doors, I found myself quietly taking a seat amongst the parishioners whilst a midday service was taking place, and admiring the lead light windows and the Retablos.
The Basilica’s thick walls protect the Royal Pantheon of Kings and house a number of stunning 12th century murals. Forty four royal family members are buried in he Basilica’s Royal Pantheon, including 23 Kings, together with many bejewelled religious items. Including processional fabrics.
Leaving the Basilica, I then made my way to the Monasterio de San Marcos, however not before stopping at the Iglesia Santa Marina la Real and passing through the Arco del la Cárcel: Lions Prison Arch and stopping for a bite to eat at the Café-Bar Arco de la Cárcel. The Arco del la Cárcel is one of the four cardinal point entrances that gave access to the main roads of the old city.
The magnificent Monasterio de San Marcos, now the Parador de San Marcos Hotel was built during the 16th century to replace another monastery from the 12th century. Ferdinand I of Léon, who according to tradition was the first to have himself crowned as Emperor of Spain in 1056, donated funds for the buildings restoration, resulting in the current Renaissance style. This outstanding building is anchored in the roots of the Camino and was original a hospital to service the increasing number of pilgrims who passed through Léon in 1150. During the succeeding years the building underwent many residents, following from being a hospital, becoming a convent in 1836, a secondary school, a house for church missionaries and correction, a veterinary school, a prison hospital, the offices for staff of the Seventh Army Corps, then becoming a military prison and concentration camp for republican prisoners during the Civil War and its aftermath.
The building was also one of the most stark and repressive establishments between 1936 and 1940 during Franco’s regime, reaching a prison population of 6,700 men. Today, it has been restored to its former residence, to provide accommodation for the passing pilgrims.
The resting pilgrim statue reminds me that I will soon be re-joining with other fellow pilgrims. However, for the moment sitting beside the statue provides a place to rest a while and admire the detailed façade of the Monasterio se San Marcos.
Taking a look around the Monastery/Hotel interior foyer and the Gothic style church of San Marcos that was built in 1531. The church also houses the Museo de Léon, created in 1869 with archaeological and ancient art collections. Including antiquities from he Palaeolithic, Neolithic, Bronze, Roam and Middle ages.
A stroll through the courtyard.
Then leads to a leisurely walk through the gardens along Av. Condesa de Sagasta running alongside the Rio Bernesga. before returning to the Cathedral.
Passing by the small Romanesque style Capella del Cristo de la Victoria on Calle Ancha. The legend of the chapel indicates that it was built on the site of the house of the saint and martyr of the Roam centurion Legio VII Gemina.
The chapel was also originally larger, but with the growth of an urban city during 1885 needing wider street the chapel was greatly reduced in size and is now only open for services during special occasions and provides seating for parishioners on the street outside.
Finding my way back inside the Cathedral in time to see the stunning and exquisitely created lead light windows capturing the afternoon sun.
A short stroll through the quiet streets back to Plaza Major as day again turns to night. I’m back in the relaxed atmosphere of Lapaneria café bar, enjoying more of the local Spanish jamon and a glass of tinto vino.
As the darkness of night falls, it’s time to find comfort in a good night of rest, knowing that rejuvenating my body would prepare me…I’m back on ‘the way’ tomorrow.
My heart is full of gratitude for what has been an insightful, inspirational and a greater opening of intuitive moments. Days have passed and as Joanna Field note: ‘So I began to have an idea of my life…as the gradual discovery and growth of a purpose that I had not known”.
The following day marks Day 22 – walking the Camino e Santiago.
This blog is number four in 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.
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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This blog is also one of many that I have written sharing the personal journeys that have enriched my life and broadened my knowledge and understanding of the richness and diversity of a shared world. Experiencing the gifts of a new outer landscape in a new country that evokes ones senses in many and varied ways, and provides offerings of reflection that is awakening the inner landscape.
Embracing the lessons and learning’s that a new outer landscape gives is one of life’s inspirational mysteries. Yet our personal horoscope offers valuable insights that guide each of us with acknowledging the lessons and integrating the learning’s through the practice of Astrocartography, Where Location Matters. Below you’ll find a personal account of how and why Astrocartography is a valuable guide to support the awakening of our inner landscape.
See how together with your personal horoscope and Astrocartography you can incorporate the outer and inner landscapes.
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You are surrounded by so much history that reading each of your blog is soothing to my “ears” – I absolutely loved this! Totally agree that you have to take time for yourself, respect your body and reflect. Such lovely insight to an essential ingredient in life – Reflection.
Thank you Georgina. Through my passion and love for history, I have learnt from history that balance is our greatest consideration to living a fulfilling, healthy and happy life. With experience, comes reflection 🙂
What a lovely walk to take. The Basilica looks incredible and so many royal kings buried there.
Approx. 1000 kms and a truly enriching and memorable experience on many, many levels. 🙂
I am sure there were lots of moments for quiet reflection on your walk. I loved the quote you included. We truly don’t know what life awaits us. And I love the idea of being watched by cherubs while I had my break. Even though I will never do this walk, I am fascinated by your story.