On the road to Spain – the Cartuja Miraflores, the church Santa Maria de Lara and Fuente de Berro

It is November 2019. After having spent four days in Burgos, we continue our journey through Spain. We drive via the Cartuja of Miraflores to the Visigothic church Santa Maria de Lara, then we look for the source of the river Duero and find the source of its short affluent Berro. We arrive in Soria, where we have booked two nights in the Parador of Soria with the great view of the white Montcayo in the mountains called Sistema Ibérico.

 

Cartuja de Miraflores or Miraflores Charterhouse

The Carthusian Monastery of Miraflores is located just 4km outside of Burgos. It is our first stop. In 1442, the monastery was founded by the parents of Queen Isabella I of Castile (called the Catholic). Her parents were John II and his wife Isabella from Portugal. This is the church of the charterhouse from outside.

The church is of late gothic style, built with just one nave. Gates divide the one nave into several consecutive sections.

The choir is decorated with the gothic altar of Gil de Siloé. He completed it at the end of the 15th century. He broke with the strictly rectangular structure of most former altars. His altar is organized around the circle with Christ in the middle and with the scenes from his Passion grouped around him. I like the airiness of this altar that breaks with traditional rules.

The parents of Isabelle are buried in front of the altar. Their alabaster tomb is decorated with many fine sculptures. I like the dog and the lion at the feet of Isabella’s mother.

There is a strong smell of incense in the church which makes me feel sick (my only allergy, since I have been a child). I leave the church and sit down on the steps of the porch. Here I listen to the monks singing solemnly – they are somewhere behind a thick wall, in seclusion.

Above me is Maria mourning under the cross decorated with the moon and the sun.

The sun accompanies us, while we continue our way eastwards.

 

Santa Maria de Lara – the church of the Visigoths built before the Islamic invasion

Our next stop is the mountain village Quintanilla.

About 700m away from Quintanilla, we find the Visigothic church Santa Maria de Lara (also called Santa Maria de Quintanilla de las Viñas). The church has been built around 700, before the Islamic invasion that happened a few years later.

Next to the church is a small wooden house. The gatekeeper is in that house, waiting for visitors. He shows us round and opens the church for us.

The bricks have been laid with precision and without using plaster. Three bands with elegant reliefs decorate the outside walls of the church.

Some are abstract symbols, some are animals.

We enter the church. Only the choir and part of the aisles are left. The horsehoe shaped arch is typical of the Visigoths.

The columns on the sides are decorated with the moon and the sun that are carried by angels. This is the sun.

The gatekeeper knows the Visigothic church San Pedro de la Nave that we have seen in Zamora. We have also seen Pre-Romanesque churches in Oviedo (Santa Maria del Naranco and more), and in the Empordá we have visited the tiny Visigothic church Sant Julia de Boada. I am always impressed by these early manifestations of Christian life.

 

Dinos were here before – much, much earlier

Just below Quintanilla we have noticed signs pointing to this shelter.

Petrified tracks of dinosaurs have been found here. They are marked with white chalk.

On the way to Soria we see more signs pointing to traces of dinosaurs or announcing museums that talk about dinosaurs. There must have been a dinosaurs’ land here,

 

Looking for the source of the Duero, ending up with the source of Duero’s little brother Berro

At Duruelo de la Sierra, we meet another old friend of ours, the river Duero. This stone shows the long route that the Duero takes from the source in the mountains of the Sierra de la Demanda at the Pico de Urbión to the mouth at Porto in Portugal.

A sign points to the source of the Duero in 11km. We feel like seeing the source of the Duero and follow the sign. 11km is not a long detour, we think. After about 6km we find this source on 1600 to 1700m above sea level.

We understand that this is not the “real” source of the Duero, but the source of one of its early affluents called Berro.

The real source of the Duero is located on 2140m just below the Pico de Urbión and it requires a real hike to get there. We are not prepared for that. We return to Duruelo de la Sierra. The Duero is still small here.

At Molinos de Duero, just before the dammed lake, the Duero is already larger.

We follow the Duero until Soria.

 

Settling in the Parador of Soria above the Duero with the view of the Montcayo

In Soria, we settle in the Parador high above the river Duero. Our window has a wonderful view of the mountains in the east…

… and in particular of the Moncayo (2314m) that is covered with snow. The Moncayo massif belongs to the Sistema Ibérico.

Again we notice, how rough the north of Spain is. From everywhere we see mountains that are covered with snow – already in autumn and still in spring.

Sources: Marion Golder, “Nordspanien und der Jakobsweg”, Dumont Reise-Handbuch, Ostfildern 2018; leaflet of Santa Maria de Lara; leaflet of the Cartuja Santa María de Miraflores (Burgos); “Burgos, Artística y Monumental”, Edilera 2018.

On the road to Spain – cathedral, churches, and monasteries in Burgos

In rainy November 2019, we spend four days in Burgos. We stroll through the charming city center and we visit the Cathedral, the Monastery Las Huelgas and various churches. I am now telling about us discovering the cultural-religious side of Burgos.

 

The Cathedral of Santa Maria – overwhelming treasures

The fine towers of the Cathedral Santa Maria in Burgos have been built by Hans von Köln who had been influenced by the plans for the Dome of Cologne (Köln). The Cathedral was built and inaugurated in the 13th century, whereby constructions continued for 300 years more.

We enter the Cathedral through the southern porch. Christ, the judge, is surrounded by the four evangelists. Below are the twelve apostles. A bishop stands in the middle of the porch.

Inside, the overview of the nave is impeded by the choir that, as in most Spanish churches, has been placed in the middle. I walk around it and enjoy these fine stairs with the golden balustrade (escalera dorada). The king used them to enter the Cathedral through the western porch which is higher than the main floor, as the Cathedral has been built into the castle hill of Burgos.

Above the stairs, I locate Papamoscas, a figure made from iron sheet that opens the mouth, when the bells ring. Papamoscas means “catch-flies”. There is room for humor in the Catholic religion – nice.

The graceful cupola tops the intersection of the naves. The fine pattern has a Moorish appeal, I believe. The grid of the choir (located in the middle) is pointing to the cupola. El Cid has been buried just in front of the choir and under the cupola. .

This is the chapel of the Condestable Pedro Fernandez de Velasco (ca 1425-1492). He was crown commander and died during the conquest of Granada. The Flamboyant-Gothic chapel has been constructed by the son of Hans von Köln, Simon. It is from the end of the 15th century. The noble grave of the crown commander has been made from Carrrara marble.

The crown commander and his wife look up to the altar in Renaissance style…

… and into this elegant cupola – it is like a heaven with stars.

The small dog sleeps at the feet of the commander’s wife.

Around the cloister are many, many treasures. My take aways are the Mudejar ceiling in the chapter house…

… and the wall hanging that shows Adam and Eva in Paradise being seduced by the snake to take the apple.

 

The Monastery de Las Huelgas – a wealthy church with Mudejar chapels and the flag captured from the Moors

From our hotel, it takes us half an hour along the promenades of the river Arlanzón to reach the Monastery Las Huelgas. “huelga” today means “strike”. But no one is on strike in this monastery. Once the Castilian king had a hunting palace here. “Hunting” was leisure and, in Spanish, “holgar” is one of the synonyms for “descansar” or “to have a rest”. In the 11th century, king Alfonso VIII (1155-1214, married to the daughter of the king of England, Eleanor) decided to reuse his leisure palace for a Cistercian monastery. It was then named “Monastery of Santa María la Real de Las Huelgas”. The nuns originated from noble families, the first abbot being the youngest daughter of the king. Furthermore, the abbey was used as a wedding and burial place for the Castilian royal family. Today 30 nuns live in the monastery.

This large square with the fountain is part of the monastery and can be accessed freely through the solid gate.

Only guided tours are possible in the monastery. No photos are allowed, except in the cloister. This is the elegant cloister surrounded by double columns…

… with mostly floral decoration as well as some architectural representations such as this one.

We buy the “Guía Santa María Real de Huelgas – Burgos” which will remind us of all the treasures seen in this monastery.

The church contains Royal tombs of the kings of Castile from the 12th to the 14th century. Also the founder of the monastery, Alfonso VIII and his wife, Eleanor, are buried here.

In the church, the entrance to the choir shows the battle of Navas de Tolosa of 1212, where the confederated kings of Navarra, Aragón, Castile and Portugal defeated the Moorish Almohads decisively. We had come across this battle in Roncesvalles, where king Sancho VII the Strong is buried. Lead by him, the Navarrese broke the ring of slaves that were chained together as bodyguards of the Almohad calif (it is said that for this reason Navarra’s flag contains chains). The calif flew and so did his army leaving their treasures on the battlefield. One of these treasures, the standard (pendón) is hanging in the chapter house of Las Huelgas.

I very much like the Mudejar chapels of Ascension and of Santiago as well as the Mudejar ceilings in one of the cloisters. The visit closes with the exhibition of clothes from the 13th and 14th century – most of them are in perfect condition.

 

The gorgeous alabaster altar in the San Nicolas church

San Nicolas de Bari is the name of the church just opposite of the Cathedral of Burgos. This carved door gives access to it.

The gem inside is the alabaster altar made by Hans von Köln (who had already worked for the Cathedral of Burgos). 465 figures can be found here, mostly telling the life of Saint Nicolas. He stands in the middle of the altar. Above him is the Coronation of Maria occurring in a ring of angels – interesting, how the rectangular structure of the altar is broken up by circles and half circles.

Thinking about Saint Nicolas… when I was a child, he came from the Black Forest on 6th of December, was also called “Santi Niggi Näggi”, and he brought gifts, but also punished the nasty children, even taking them home to the Black Forest to peel carrots for a year (that was what we children were told – we then calmed him down by singing for him). When traveling to Turkey, I discovered that Saint Nicolas actually was bishop of Myra (Asia Minor) in the 4th century… Myra is called Demre in Turkey today and it is located not far from Antalya. Saint Nicolas was said to have distributed his wealth amongst the poor. Saint Nicolas later became patron of the seafarers, because he is said to have stopped a storm near Myra and saved the life of the sailors in distress at sea. Therefore, the altar shows scenes with boats and sailors.

Before the Seljuks conquered Asia Minor, Italians transfered the relics of Saint Nicolas to Bari. Now I understand, why, this church is called “Saint Nicolas de Bari”. (Source: Wikipedia)

The life of Christ and Maria are also represented on the altar such as this Annunciation and Last Supper.

 

Church San Gil – charming gothic with filigree pulpit 

To the north east of the city center and built into the town wall is the smaller church San Gil, also gothic in style from the end of the 13 to the 14th century. Later a series of chapels were added, the most famous of them holding the Christ of Burgos. The altar is Renaissance and tells about Maria and her son.

My favourite item in this church is the wooden pulpit, finely carved and adorned with a pigeon under the cupola. May the Holy Spirit inspire the priest and his speech.

I could not find any explanations about this outstanding pulpit.

 

The church Saint Stefan or San Estebán

The last church we visit is Saint Stefan or San Estebán, not far from the Cathedral. The church is from the 13th century. In the 1980’s, the church was converted into the museum for altars and treasures that have been collected from churches decaying in the province of Burgos. In addition, the original altar dedicated to Saint Stefan has been kept in the choir. The altars are mostly from Renaissance and Baroque. Many of the altars on display are dedicated to martyrs. It is not allowed to take photos. The Website of Saint Stefan gives an impression of the overwhelming wealth shown in this church. We are overwhelmed and have our welfare dinner in the friendly and cosy restaurant Rincón de España.

 

Good-bye Burgos, our next target will be Soria.

 

Source: Marion Golder: “Nordspanien und der Jakonsweg”, Dumont Reisehandbuch, Ostfildern 2018; “Guía Santa María la Real de las Huelgas – Burgos”, Reales Sitios de España 2014.

 

On the road to Spain – Santo Domingo La Calzada and city strolling in Burgos

Mid November 2019 we drive from Pamplona to Burgos with the first stop over in Laguardia and Elciego and with the second stop over in Santo Domingo de la Calzada. We then settle in Burgos, where we have booked the hotel for three days.

Source: Google Maps

 

Stop over in Santo Domingo de la Calzada – with hens in the Cathedral

Santo Domingo la Calzada is a small town with a Cathedral. “Calzada” means “paved road”. In the 11th century, Santo Domingo noticed that the trails of the Way of St. James were bad, and he spent his life repairing them. In addition, he built a bridge, a hostel and hospital here. For fixing trails, Santo Domingo received the surname “Calzada”.

Santo Domingo de la Calzada is not far from the mountains, as the window of the nice pastry shop shows.

The hospital is now the Parador of Santo Domingo La Calzada. We have coffee here to warm up.

We enter the Cathedral. Around 1100, the king of Castile had the church of Santo Domingo built that later became the Cathedral of a newly created bishopric. The choir has been freed from the altar, which allows to admire its Romanesque structure.

Santo Domingo de la Calzada’s tomb is near the choir. He is buried in the crypt.

The attraction of this cathedral is the beautifully forged cage with one hen and one coq. The animals are being replaced regularly.

The cage goes back to the legend of a German couple that pilgrimaged with their son Hugonell. In the hostel of Santo Domingo de la Calzada, the daughter of the host fell in love with Hugonell who did not return her affection. She hid a silver cup in Hugonell’s luggage. Her father, the host, noticed that one of his silver cups was missing and he asked the police to chase Hugonell. Because the cup was found in Hugonell’s luggage, the poor boy was hanged. The parents continued their pilgrimage, and, when they returned, they found their son still alive. He said that Santo Domingo had supported him all the time. They all returned to the hostel. The host said that he would only believe that Hugonell was innocent, when this coq would come to life again – it was steaming on his table ready to be eaten. The coq became alive again – and the coq and the hen in the cage of the Cathedral remind us of the miracles around Hugonell.

The cloister is a museum with sacral artifacts. The children love the large Christmas crib built out of Playmobil elements.

 

Burgos – we settle in NH hotel, enjoy the view of the Cathedral and eat in the Restaurant Rincon de la España

In Burgos, we settle in the NH Collection Hotel Palacio de Burgos that formerly was the Merced Monastery – a charming setting.

From our room we can see the Cathedral of Burgos named after Santa Maria. Even in these rainy and chilly November days, the sun comes out from time to time and the filigree towers shine in white.

We cross the road and enter the city center through the gate of Santa Maria (called “Arch”) .

Under the Arch of Santa Maria, the view of the mighty Cathedral of Santa Maria is overwhelming.

We have dinner in the restaurant Rincón de España near the Cathedral. It serves meals already at seven pm – all other restaurants open only at 8:00 or 8:30 pm. In the Rincón, the oven with the tiles creates a cosy atmosphere.

I have delicious veil cheeks with a tasty Rioja Ardanza Reserva from the Bodega Rioja Alta.

At night, the Arco de Santa Maria is illuminated. Carlos V of Habsburg (or Carlos I of Spain) is surrounded by the founder of Castile and by El Cid who is venerated for having fought the Moors (though the historical facts say that he sometimes also fought WITH the Moors).

The woman selling chestnuts sits in front of the gate watching the citizens and tourists walk by.

 

Walking around the pretty city center 

Burgos stretches along the river Arlanzón.

Parks with promenades invite to walk along the river…

… and various pedestrian bridges cross the Arlanzón.

We climb up to the castle hill to get an overview of the city. Burgos has emerged around this hill with the castle from the 9th century. The castle is now a ruin for having burnt down in the early 18th century. It is snowing and raining, when we look down at the city with the Cathedral and the church San Estebán.

 

Strolling through the pedestrian zone of the city center

The city center of Burgos is a large zone for pedestrians.

It is so quiet that you can carelessly read in the pedestrian streets.

In this inviting shop, Ursula finds the elegant shoes she has been looking for already for a long time.

We find the old-style shoe shop with the carton piles at the Plaza Mayor.

It is an evening offering nice dawn photos of the Plaza Mayor with the Cathedral in the background.

Later, red stripes appear in the sky above the Cathedral.

This is the townhall at the Plaza Mayor…

… the columns of which indicate that the river Arlanzón has flooded this area twice in June, once in 1874 and once in 1930.

I can hardly believe that the tame Arlanzón, now flowing calmly in its riverbed, can swell to inundate the city.

The stroll through the pedestrian city center ends at the square of El Cid. His statue is nick named “bat”, because of his “flying” coat.

 

The Museum of Human Evolution (Museo de la Evolución Humana)

North of Burgos is the Sierra de Atapuerca, about 1000m above sea level and about 7km long, with a karst network of galleries. Since at least 1.3 million years, human beings and their antecessors as well as animals have lived here in the karst caves.  They left their traces in sequential layers and archaeologists, uncovering meticulously one layer after the next, gained new insights into human evolution in Europe. The most famous discovery was this front jaw (mandibula). It belongs to a human being that lived about 1.2 Mio ago and was found in the Elephant Cave in 2007. These are the oldest remains of human beings found in Western Europe. The type of hominids has been named “Homo Antecessor”.

We have come to see this jaw, but it was not on display. It has been given to an institute for further investigation. Nevertheless, we found the museum exciting. It is well curated. In the basement floor, they show the excavations in the various karst galleries, the Elephant Cave being one of them. The bones and tools found are on display. The next floors explain the history of mankind and I learn that before the emergence of Homo Sapiens Sapiens some 100’000 years ago, the evolution of hominids began in Africa between 6 and 7 Mio years ago. Many varieties of hominids emerged and disappeared again. The museum displays life-sizes statues of some of them. With the twinkling of an eye, it lets the visitors become one of their human antecessors.

We decide to stay four days instead of three in Burgos. It has much to see and, above all, it is a charming city.

Source: Marion Golder: “Nordspanien und der Jakobsweg”, Dumont Reisehandbuch, Ostfildern 2018; Material seen and received in the Museum of Human Evolution.