On the road to Spain – driving around the Moncayo and returning to Catalonia

It is November 2019. We are travelling in Spain. Now we leave Soria and return to Catalonia. On the way, we stop in the Moncayo area.

Source: Googlemaps

 

The Moncayo mountain and the wine area Campo de Borja

We have looked at the Moncayo from the window of our room in the Posada de Soria. It reaches about 2300m and is covered with snow.

The Moncayo is located east of Soria. We are travelling eastwards today, to Catalonia, and the shortest way means driving around the Moncayo – first north of it, than east of it. And east of the Moncayo is the DO Campo de Borja wine area. The Moncayo creates a microclimate that allows to grow wine here. The Campo de Borja belongs to Aragón and we have already reached the Ebro valley, west of Zaragoza.

We stop at a small bodega, Prados Bodega Pagos del Moncayo in Vera de Moncayo. The bodega is young and family owned. It produces wines from the grapes Garnacha and Syrah, and their “Fusion” is a blend of the two grapes. We speak with the son. He shows us his cellar and tells us that they use traditional methods to make their wine, mostly working manually. He also mentions a wind, called el cierzo. I later find that the “cierzo” comes from the north or northwest from the Cantabrian mountains into the Ebro valley and towards Zaragoza drying out the area which is beneficial for the grapes. We feel welcomed and I buy a bottle of Garnacha and a bottle of Syrah Privé, the latter being their most valued wine.

Then we look at the mountains of the Moncayo massif from the east…

… most of which is now – like from the other side, from Soria – hiding in the clouds.

We drive down to the Ebro river. I can see the snowy Moncayo massif in my rear mirror almost up to Zaragoza. We continue our way to Lleida and Flix – through the Catalan mountains and down to L’Hospitalet de l’Infant on the Mediterranean coastline, where we reach the small apartment of our friends. Here we will rest from two weeks travelling and may continue to explore the area.

Source: “Vinos de España”, Edition Larousse, Barcelona 2008, p. 201.

On the road to Spain – brave Celtiberans in Numantia and friendly Soria city

It is mid November 2019. We wake up in our luxury room of the Parador de Soria and see snow outside. The Moncayo has disappeared in the clouds. We are on about 1100m above sea level here.

The – still young- river Duero reflects the trees. Golden autumn colours shine amidst white snow.

We admire the view from our room in the Parador de Soria. Then we put on warm clothes and drive to Garray, located some 9kms north of Soria, to visit Numantia.

 

Numantia – the brave Celtiberan village

The Celtiberians founded the oppidum Numantia on the hill called “Muela de Garray” in the 3rd to 2nd century BC. It was the times of the Punic Wars between Carthage and Rome, which ended with Carthage being defeated and with the Celtiberians being subdued.

Numantia withstood the attacks of the Romans twice. In 153 BC, the Numantians threw stones at the elephants, which – frightened – trampled down the Roman camps. The Numantians resisted once more to the next Roman attack in 141 BC. Is Albert Uderzo really convinced that Asterix and Obelix lived in Gaul? They would also have been worthy representatives of Numantia (or perhaps the Numantians were their ancestors, as Gaul was conquered later).

Finally, in 134 BC, Scipio the Younger besieged the village by surrounding it with fences and fortresses. The citizens had no longer access to the surroundings of their oppidum. After 13 months, they burnt their oppidum down, before surrendering. It is said that they even committed suicide, because they did not want to end as slaves of Rome. Later the Romans built a small city here, but without the public buildings typical of Roman cities

We arrive on the “Muela de Garray”, where the reconstructed Celtiberian gate welcomes us. Dark clouds are above us and a chilly wind is blowing.

The archaeological site has been well prepared for visitors. A video explains the history. Some buildings have been reconstructed to illustrate, how the Celtiberians and the Romans lived here. This is the Celtiberian house with a fragment of the town wall (a snow flake was on my lens…).

This is the Celtiberan living and working room, or it is, how the archaeologists imagined it. There is even a sofa, Ursula notices.

From the wall, the Numantians could well observe the surroundings and discover enemies from far.

This is the reconstructed Roman house…

… with the kitchen.

On the more sunny southern slopes, the archaeologists have uncovered the remains of larger Roman villas that disposed of courtyards and porticos. The archaeologists have erected some of the columns found.

In the background, we can see the snow covered Sierra de la Demanda and Pico Urbión, where the Duero starts its long journey to Portugal and to the Atlantic.

We return to Soria to visit the museum about Numantia.

 

The Numantine Museum in Soria

The Museo Numantino shows the items found in Numantia. The most famous artifact is this charming horse, a fibula. Many souvenirs in Soria are decorated with this pretty horse.

This fine piece of silver work has been enlarged under a magnifying glass. I do not recall, what it was.

This charming dog was another fibula.

Much earthenware is on display – I particularly liked the fish platter.

In addition, the museum shows tools and weapons made out of iron uncovered in Numantia. The Celtiberians mined iron in the near Moncayo mountains.

The museum lays out the whole history of the area from prehistoric up to modern times. It is well worth seeing.

 

Round-up walk in Soria

We go for a round-up walk through the pedestrian zone of Soria. We stroll through the Zapatero street,…

… enjoy the windows such as this gourmet shop…,

… and we say hello to the poet in front of the traditional Casa de la Amistad. It is the center for culture in Soria.

On the Plaza Mayor, we admire the town hall or Casa de Los Doce Linajes, where the twelve noble families met until the early 19th century.

In front of the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Mayor, this charming woman offers a seat to passers-by.

We notice that there are more shops open than one and a half years ago and that the pedestrian zone is being enlarged.  The city seems to have thrived. It is now our third time here. The former time it was a short stop over, when we visited the unparalleled cloister of the Monasterio San Juan de Duero. There is more to discover in Soria. It could well be that we will return once more, like the storks.

It IS cold today. Now we are happy to return to our Posada with the gorgeous view of Soria and the mountains that surround it. The Posada of Soria is the red building amidst trees, not really a gem from outside, but very comfortable inside.

Tomorrow we will continue our way to Catalonia.

 

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.

Soria – back at the Duero to visit the unparalleled cloister

On May 17th, Friday, we drive to Zaragoza with a stop in Soria. We are slowly heading eastward. In Soria, we want to visit the cloister of the Monastery San Juan de Duero.

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In Soria we are back at the Duero 

We have been at the Duero in Zamora and we have driven along it through the vineyards of the Ribera del Duero. Now, in Soria, we are back at the Duero and close to its origin, in the mountain range called “Sistema Ibérico” (Atlas geográfico, Esther Carrión Fernandez et alii, Ediciones SM Madrid).  In Soria the Duero is much smaller than in Zamora. Also Soria has its historic bridge from the 12th century, which has been rebuilt over the years.

We were in Soria a year ago, in May 2018. Like Zamora, Soria has layed out a path along the banks of the Duero that I loved to stroll along then, watched by the curious white dog.

In the city center, we found a relaxed atmosphere in May 2018. The inhabitants celebrate Saint John’s Eve all May and June. They played music in the streets and I was invited to drink wine from a leather pouch – well, I thanked, but did not dare try that.

Our hotel was at the Plaza de Oliva.

This is the Plaza Mayor with the ayuntamento and the Fountain of the Lions.

Soria hosts cultural heritage such as the Romanesque San Nicolás church – unfortunately in ruins.

The Renaissance Palace de los Condes de Gómara from the 16th century is impressive.

This is the Concathedral San Pedro, somewhat lost in a meadow. Its origins are Romanesque, and it has been refurbished again and again.

San Pedro or Petrus sits above the gate, with the keys in his hands.

In the past, Soria experienced dramatic events: As a Celto-Iberic settling it resisted the Romans for a century. Just before being conquered, they all committed suicide to avoid becoming Roman slaves. From the 8th century up to 1134, the city was ruled by the Muslims. Having become Christian again, Soria flourished, thanks to the wool industry, a capable Jewish community and the support of the Castilian king. The decline started in the 15th century, when the unified crown of Castilia and Aragón lost interest in Soria and when the Jews had to be exiled. The city suffered again and again, in the wars around 1700 and 1800.

Today, Soria is a quiet town that mainly belongs to the people of Soria. They have started to promote their touristic potential.

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The Monasterio San Juan de Duero with the unparalleled cloister

The most impressive attraction of Soria is the Monasterio San Juan de Duero. A year ago, it was closed, and we took fotos from outside with the city of Soria in the background.

Now we returned after having carefully checked that the cloister is open. The cloister was built in Romanesque style in the beginnings of the 13th century, but Romanesque was interpreted here, as I have never seen it before. It is a mixture of Romanesque and Muslim elements. The arches dance and in the corners they become horseshoes.

The severe Romanesque forms on the left turn into swirling, elegant forms on the right.

Have you ever seen such Romanesque architecture?

It is just magnificent, what we can achieve across cultures and beliefs, when coming together.

I would wish more of that happened today.

Next to the amazing cloister, we enter the small Romanesque church…

… with its sculptured capitals.

It was great to see Soria again, in particular the gorgeous cloister San Juan.

Now we will continue our way eastward leaving the Duero behind us, crossing the mountain range of the Sistema Ibérico and switching to the valley of the Ebro. We intend to spend one night in Zaragoza.