Saturday, 5 October 2013

Castilla y León – León

One Saturday it was raining all over Asturias and even in the closer parts of Cantabria and Galicia and we wanted to get out of the rain. Looking at the map I realised that Leon is just on the other side of the mountains and when we checked the weather it promised 30 degrees and sunshine. The train ride took only two hours from Oviedo and we had a whole day to explore this lovely city.

Not surprisingly the coat of arms of the city is the lion and we saw its shape everywhere in the town.

Casa Botines
I was actually surprised to learn that one of the three buildings that Gaudí dreamt up outside of Catalonia was here in León! I had the chance to visit the El Capricho in Comillas (you can read about it here) and was eager to visit another of the master architect’s buildings. Interestingly we spotted it before we actually knew what it was. Paul said that, for him, the towers were the giveaway, for me the wrought iron gate. When we walked around the building we realised that we were right, we had found one of Gaudi’s early works, la Casa Botines.

The building is unique as it was constructed in a modernist style but still kept a medieval look. It was commissioned by a fabric merchant. The bottom floor served as a textile warehouse and the rest of the building was used for residences. 

Nowadays a bank occupies most of Casa Botines but the bottom floor is kept for cultural exhibitions. We had a quick look but the inside of the building does not have the Gaudí style.

El Catedral de León
This cathedral was made to impress. When we stepped into the square where it stands we were completely taken aback by its sheer size. Leon is an important stop on the Camino Frances therefore the square was full of pilgrims on bikes and on foot. We had a coffee while making a plan for the day on a terrace and watched an impressive number of pilgrims having their photos taken in front of it.

During my time in Spain I have visited quite a few cathedrals so I wouldn´t have insisted on seeing this one except for one thing. This cathedral is very unique as it is full of stained glass windows. There are actually 1800 square meters of glass windows up to 12m high that go around the whole building. They were built between the 13th and the 20th century and are believed to be some of the best in Europe.

The light effects in the interior of the building are amazing! The sun lights up different windows depending on the time of the day therefore it is a completely different experience to visit it in the soft morning light or during midday in the strong light. This is definitely the cathedral with the most sunlight in it.  

There are other things to marvel at too, for example the gorgeous carvings or the lovely stone sculptures. Unfortunately the organ was being tuned while we were there so my memories are somewhat apprehensive about the visit but it was still worth the five euro entrance fee.

The visit does not end with the interior, however. You can visit the cloister as well and I have never seen such a beautiful cloister before!

Roman city walls
These walls were built in the 3rd century by the Romans in order to protect the city and later a few kings restored them during their rule. Nowadays there are only two sides left of them but they still give out the feeling of something very old.
Here´s a photo we took of them. Note the motorcyclist who poses for the photo by not holding on to his bike! 

San Marcos Monastery
This is a place with an action packed history. It was built to be a hospital for the pilgrims of the Camino de Santiago in the 12th century. Later the Order of Santiago took charge of it, that´s where all the scallop decoration comes from. Later the building was demolished then rebuilt as a monastery and became one of the most impressive examples of the Spanish Renaissance. Today it serves as the Parador of Leon. Although you have to book a night in there to truly appreciate the luxury the chapel and the cloister is open to visitors…most of the times but not when we were there. It still looked amazing.

I thought I´d throw in a little culinary note, too, for those who are interested in food.
Cecina means cured meat but instead of cured pork which basically jamón is, it´s a different meat, beef, horse, sometimes goat or rabbit. The most well-known is the Cecina de León, which is meat from the hind leg of a cow, salted, smoked then dried by air in the province of Castilla y León.

While we were walking around the city we noticed that there´s a procession going on. We didn´t know what was going on so I asked a family who were standing next to us for an explanation. Apparently one of the churches nearby held a procession for its statue of Jesus. They do this every year. Unfortunately we didn’t understand anything else.

Some more pictures of the city.

The town seemed to be a popular stag/hen party place for the Spanish. There were many tourists and even more pilgrims around. It´s a great day trip from Oviedo or Madrid, too. We were happy to have spent an otherwise rainy Asturian day in the lovely town of León. 

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