Oviedo… Pre-Romanesque churches and a relaxed city center

Friday, May 10th – today we aren going to visit Oviedo, the capital of Asturia.


The two Pre-Romanesque churches on the Naranco hill

First thing in the morning, our GPS goes crazy, drives us up on very, very steep narrow roads, until we reach a dead end in the middle of the forest. The view is spectacular: We see Oviedo surrounded by mountains.

We drive back down, up again and finally we find the Pre-Romanesque church Santa Maria del Naranco.

This church was built by the Asturian king Ramiro I around 850, first as a palace and still in the 9th century it was rebuilt as a church. We study the discreet and pretty decoration.

There are small medaillons above the arches.

The window above the terrace is elegant.

The view of the valley and the mountains of Oviedo is great from this palace-church.

Some hundred meters from here we find the chapel San Miguel de Lillo, built at the same time.

Elegantly decorated windows here as well.

This church is closed for renovation.


The third Pre-Romanesque church on the meadows (los Prados)

The third Pre-Romanesque church is San Julián de los Prados, on the meadows next to a large road with heavy traffic.

Inside we find beautiful frescoes – they show floral patterns and buildings (but no people or animals) and have been restored in the 1980’s. Photos are not allowed inside.

We return to our hotel with the lush garden and join Spain for siesta.


The Cathedral San Salvador in the city center

The Cathedral San Salvador, Gothic in style, was built between the 14th and the 16th century. The city planned two towers and completed one of them. I find it graceful.

Sculptures like this woman are all over the city center. This one is called “La Regenta”.

The Cathedral has an open nave, which is untypical for Spain; usually the choir is in the middle filling the nave ungracefully. Not here. The choir has been removed, the nave is open and the view of the golden altar is free. The altar has been created at the brink of Gothic to Renaissance (which is called “Isabelline” in Spain).

Not far from here we find this expressive Romanesque sculpture of San Salvador from the 11th century.

The most important piece in the treasury chamber is the Victory Cross. It is said that Maria handed this cross over to the commander Peylao who defeated the Arabs near Covadonga in 722 (yesterday we were in Covadonga, the craddle of Spain).


Strolling through the narrow streets of the city center

The narrow streets in the city center are good for strolling around. At the end of this pretty street, we can see the tower of the townhall.

Relaxed squares all over and many, many inviting bars like this one.

To wrap up our Pre-Romanesque culture tour, we look at the back of the San Triso church right next to the Cathedral.


Dinner and good-bye

We return to our hotel and have dinner in one of the busy bar-restaurants nearby, in the Tonel. An extremely professional waitor serves us. I have pike stuffed with seafood – prepared the Asturian way. We watch a very tall waitor, as he pours out the cider holding the bottle high above a tilted glass – a real art.

There is much more to see in Oviedo – perhaps we will return…

The cradle of Spain – Covadonga

It is Thursday 9th of May and we discover the cradle of Spain: Covadonga in the Picos de Europa.


The lakes high above the cradle of Spain: Lago Enol and Lago de la Ercina

The forecast announces rain for the afternoon. We arrive in Covadonga around eleven and decide to drive the additional 10km to the glacier lakes above. The route is spectacular, climbs up from the valley (you see it on the photo), then follows the steep hills and after each turn we see more and more peaks of the Picos de Europa.

The first lake, Lago Enol, lies on 1080m. 

The second lake, Lago Ercina, at 1108m, is just below the snow mountains.


With the Asturian cows, we enjoy the view here.

Ursula loves the flowers, gentianes, Christmas Roses and Affodills.


Covadonga – the cradle of Spain

We learn that the two lakes, formed by glaciers, give birth to creeks that disappear later, flow through various karst tunnels and reappear, one such secondary source being under the Cueva Santa, the cradle of Spain. 

The Spanish Reconquista started here in Covadonga in the mountains of Asturia. That was in 722*. The charismatic commander of the Visigoths, Pelayo, was able to unify the mountain people,  motivate them to oppose to the taxes imposed by the Emir of Córdoba (the “Arabs”), lead the Arab troops into traps and vanquished them. It is said that Pelayo and his troops hid in this cave that is now the Cueva Santa.

No photos allowed of the Virgin that is said to have given the wooden cross to Pelayo and this was crucial for his victory. This cross can now be seen in the Cathedral of Oviedo.

As the lions may indicate, it was León with Castilia that later took the lead of the Reconquista. The cradle, Asturia, was downgraded from kingdom to principality. But until today, the Spaniards venerate Covadonga and the Cueva Santa very much.

Near the cave is the Neo-Romanesque Basilika San Fernando.


Heavy rain – we retreat to our next hotel in Oviedo

We have just accomplished visiting the lakes and the cradle of Spain in dry weather. The first rain drops start to fall, when we leave Covadonga. An hour later we reach Oviedo in the pouring rain. The hotel Palacio de la Viñona is comfortable.

We make a short visit of the city center of Oviedo, watch the waitors pour the cider into the glass from high above and eat veal with sauce made from mountain cheese. 

We are wet-through. We return to our comfortable and warm hotel. From tomorrow on the weather forecast announces better weather and warmer temperatures. We look forward to that.


More about the Reconquista

The mountain people of Asturias defeated the Arabs in 722. In Poitiers in France Charles Martel halted the invasion of the Muslims in 732. In 801, Charlemagne conquered the Marca España around Barcelona to prevent the Arabs from further attacking what is Southern France today. At school we had learnt about the two Charles, but not about  Asturias and Covadonga. It was from Asturias and from Catalunya that the Reconquista continued. The two lines unified their forces later, in particular the catholic king couple Ferdinand and Isabella that in 1492 completed it by conquering Granada.