Tusayan Ruins

visiting the Grand Canyon at the end of January proves an understandably more subdued experience than making a trip in the height of the summer tourist season. off the main track on the road to the eastern entrance to the park, it’s a bit hard to imagine more than a handful of people exploring the Tusayan ruins on a given day during the peak of the year. that said, I am thankful we took the 20-odd mile trek to find it before heading back to Vegas.

storage rooms

people have inhabited the Colorado Plateau for thousands of years, first as hunter/gatherers, and later in established settlements, like Tusayan or those at Mesa Verde, as subsistence agriculture became the norm. people constructed this pueblo site around 1185 C.E., based on tree-ring data. at any time during the twenty years in which the site was inhabited, somewhere between 16 and 25 individuals lived in the pueblo. the excavated ruins consists of a series of living chambers, storage rooms, and a kiva. down the hill from the structure, a small parcel of farm land has also been identified. compared to the farms near which we live, it’s interesting to consider how a community of nearly two dozen people could subsist on a plot of that size, supplementing their diets with gathered plants and what animals they could hunt or trap.

evidence on the site suggests that a small, timber-construction kiva burned down and was replaced at some point with a much larger, stone one in the southeast corner of the compound. used for ceremonial activities, both kivas are larger than any other room in the complex. it’s large enough to for the entire community to gather comfortably, perhaps when colder winter weather kept them inside and the living quarters (really only large enough for sleeping) might prove a bit to close for comfort. the kiva ruins have a bench lining about half of the interior of the structure, with posts set into them to help support the roof of the kiva. entrance to the kiva was via a ladder that descended through a main hole in the roof; early kivas were often located underground, but by the time the Tusayan kivas were constructed, kivas were becoming more elaborate and were more likely to be constructed above-ground.

ruins of the larger kiva

there is no clear evidence as to why the inhabitants of this pueblo abandoned it after only twenty years, though it may have had something to do with conflict with other people nearby. charred timber ruins at other once-inhabited sites around the Colorado Plateau suggest that fighting among bands of people in the region was likely common. whatever the reason, Tusayan was largely left alone until the early 20th century, as tourism to the Grand Canyon became more popular. in 1928, a “trailside museum” sponsored by Laura Spelman Rockefeller (wife to John D. Rockefeller) in the style of a Hopi structure was erected to introduce tourists to the site. two years later, a group from the Gila Pueblo Archaeological Foundation of Globe, Arizona (founded by a New York stockbroker) began investigating and excavating the site further. preservation took place in 1948 and again in 1965, and the government placed the site on its National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

tree of Jesse & the Pórtico da Gloria

one of the more striking scenes in “The Way” is when the motley group of peregrinos arrive at the Catedral de Santiago. in turn, each of the peregrinos enters the Cathedral by way of the middle doors in the Pórtico da Gloria, past the Tree of Jesse, which is grooved from hundreds of years and hundreds of thousands of peregrinos placing their hand on the carving to acknowledge and express their devotion.

the Pórtico da Gloria was erected between 1168 and 1188 under the direction of Maestro Mateo in a Romanesque style. in order to construct it, he had to build up from the basement to create an adequate “porch” for a narthex. Ferdinand II of León provided the funds for the project, a sum of money every year for twenty years. in addition to the intricate stonework, at some point during the 12th century the work was polychromed and then repainted during the 17th century; traces of color remain today.

the entire Pórtico depicts the Last Judgement, though each architectural element has its own theme. the left door illustrates themes from the Old Testament and Judaism, as precursors to Christianity; the central door focuses on the resurrection of Jesus and features an array of musical instruments and musicians; stonework on the right door proclaims the “promise of the future;” depictions on the door jams of the central door represent a holy kingdom on earth.

at the top of the middle pillar is Santiago, holding a scroll proclaiming “Misit me Dominus” (the Lord sent me) — acknowledgement that Santiago de Compostela is watched over by a higher, divine power. (for more on that, may I recommend Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe’s Rifles, which not only depicts the terrain we covered but also discusses a siege and liberation of Santiago during the Napoleonic wars.) beneath Santiago is the Tree of Jesse, outlining the family heritage of Jesus. Maestro Mateo’s work greeted weary peregrinos to the Catedral for nearly six centuries before the now resplendent facade facing the Praza do Obradoiro was completed in 1750 and enclosed the porch

in “The Way,” the more religious of Sheen’s companions, the Dutchman Joost, approaches the central pillar on his knees, penitently, before placing his hand where so many faithful had done before. there are finger holes worn into the carving where the fingers of hundreds of thousands of peregrinos have placed their hands. it’s not unlike the stairs in Old Main at Knox though, I must confess, more awe-inducing. we couldn’t follow that example — the pillar is now guarded by metal fences that keep you well back from the Tree of Jesse, as well as away from the self-portrait Maestro Mateo carved of himself on the other side of the pillar, kneeling in prayer looking up towards the altar. tradition held that those who knocked heads with the Maestro’s statue would benefit from his genius; students would often visit the Catedral in advance of exams for a different kind of preparation.

Villafranca del Bierzo

thinking back, it’s kind of impressive how much stuff got crammed into day 26 on our Camino — the Castillo de los Templarios in Ponferrada, TAL episode #465, tasting at Cuatro Pasos, taking a potentially risky shortcut to shave off a couple of kilometers at the end of the day, Brent Spiner on the Nerdist, and the second-craziest shower I experienced while in Spain. I suppose it should come as no surprise then just how relieved we were to stumble into our boutique hotel in Villafranca del Bierzo, Hotel Las Doñas del Portazgo. (if you ever find yourself in Villafranca del Bierzo, I recommend it).

the earliest settlements around Villafranca date from the neolithic age and there’s evidence to suggest it served as an important hub for communication during the Roman period, sitting as it does at the confluence of two rivers (the Burbia and Valcarce) at the western edge of the Bierzo basin and at the foot of the narrow pass that ascends to O Cebriero and Galicia beyond. in the 11th century, the sister of Alfonso VI granted a church to Cluny for establishing a monastery that began cultivating wine. this, along with the explosion of peregrinos during the 12th century, gave rise to a sizable foreign population including many French who aided developing wines. by the middle of the century more than half the town’s inhabitants were foreign.

the city flourished for several centuries because of the Camino and in 1486 the Catholic Monarchs established the Marquesado in the town; the second man to hold the title, Pedro Álvarez de Toledo, built a castle though the one that overlooks the valley and town dates from the 1490s and was recently restored to clean up the damage done when the French burned it in 1812. following the second Marques’ death, the city endured its first of many significant hardships that concluded with the burning of the castle by the French. the plague decimated the town’s population in 1589; a flood washed out much along the river in 1715; during the Peninsular War the town served as headquarters for the Galician army and was sacked three times by the English until finally, after the municipal archives were burned, churches robbed, and castle wrecked in 1810 Spain regained control of the area. sort of — the French briefly occupied the town following the expulsion of the English. twelve years later el Bierzo was declared an independent province with Villafranca as its capitol; that lasted two years.

much of the late medieval and Renaissance character remains in Villafranca (as much of the modern industrial revolution passed the city over) including several well-preserved churches. subsequent to its construction in 1186, the Iglesia de Santiago offered ailing peregrinos an alternative to crossing the remaining 187 kilometers of the Camino; if you were too ill or too injured to continue on to Santiago you could pass through the northern entrance — the Puerta del Perdon — and receive a pardon for your sins as you would at the cathedral in Santiago if only you were physically capable of continuing onward. along the narrow streets are facades you might imagine lining prosperous towns of the middle ages — sturdy construction with impressive stonework — though care for these buildings varies widely.

our hotel stood at the end of one such street; it used to serve as the gatehouse for the bridge over the rio Burbia and has been attentively restored and updated; while the entire place exudes comfort, during the update process they left elements of the original building exposed to give a sense of what the place might have felt and looked like a century ago. while the hotel at the end of the road was lovingly restored, there were many other buildings along the way that hadn’t received the same attention. from the refurbished window balcony of one updated home you could look directly into the dilapidated and burned-out husk of another once-magnificent home that hadn’t received the same attentions. Villafranca del Bierzo was clearly thriving, but it didn’t take much to see signs of the common challenges afflicting the rest of Spain.

Cruz de Ferro

the Cruz de Ferro (Iron Cross) marks the highest elevation on the Camino at just over 1,500 meters. it was one of the more iconic images to strike me when watching “The Way” — a cross perched atop a pole above a mound of stones, left behind one by one by peregrinos. as a symbol of the spiritual foundation of the Camino, the potential profundity of our approach to the Cruz was undercut by one of the largest groups of cyclists we’d yet seen.

while the precise origins of the Cruz de Ferro remain unknown, they might lie in the traditions of any number of inhabitants or visitors, many of whom used stones as markers. the pre-Roman Celts marked passes with cairns; Romans did the same in honor of Mercury, patron saint of travelers. as my book puts it — the hermit Gaucelmo (who built a church in Foncebadón in the 12th century and put the cross on top of the existing cairn) “essentially Christianized a pagan monument.” another theory posits that Galicians traveling eastward to work on farms during the growing season would deposit a stone to mark crossing over the Monte Irago in each direction.

whatever the origins, however, peregrinos have taken up the tradition of leaving behind stones or other mementos. we’d first encountered the mound in the film, but more than a few people mentioned it early on the Camino; some people bring items with them (there were a couple of printed sheets memorializing individuals, some flags, and other unique items), some people pick up pebbles or rocks along the way. for some these mementos symbolize the sins the hope to absolve by completing the Camino; for some they represent the person for whom they are undertaking the Camino; for some its an acknowledgement of the physical task to which they’ve set themselves. from atop the mound you can see the mountains of Galicia — still another full day’s walk away.

as I mentioned above, the Cruz de Ferro was one of the more solemn places on the Camino; approaching from a distance after hiking for 25 days and hundreds of miles, anticipating it for weeks and finally seeing it against the clear blue sky… it lends itself to reflection. we arrived along with about 20 cyclists who were quite boisterous and clearly aiming for (and having) a different experience. they certainly weren’t rude or disrespectful, per se, just having a very different experience than most of the peregrinos that arrived on foot. as we entered the final week of the Camino, the differences between cyclist peregrinos and pedestrian peregrinos became more apparent. perhaps it had something to do with knowing that the people you saw today, all kitted out in their spandex with panniers, will reach Santiago in three our four days whereas on foot it will take twice as long or more. and the Camino makes different physical demands on the cyclist versus the pedestrian. there was a woman who arrived on foot a few minutes behind us who was quite upset that the cyclists were taking photos and chatting, generally more boisterous and vocal; she wanted a more somber experience, in addition to a more solemn one, and didn’t take it well that not everyone at the monument a the time felt the same way. but as someone observed, everyone does the Camino in their own way; everyone has their own experience and everyone has their own expectations for what they’ll get out of it. sometimes it’s good to just let the experience wash over you and accept what happens — especially on the Camino. there was almost always an expansive blue sky to bring you back to yourself.

Convento de San Marcos – a site to behold …

while sufficiently impressive as a structural marvel, the building occupying the Plaza San Marcos — once a monastery, now an up-scale hotel — has a rather remarkable back-story to go with it. in the 12th century, Alfonso VII provided funding at the behest of Dona Sancha to construct a simple building outside the walls of León to serve peregrions, later becoming headquarters for the Knights of the Order of Santiago. by the mid-15th century, however, the structure was mostly in ruins and offered little in the way of services for peregrinos; improvements were recommended but little done for another eighty years or so, when a grant from Ferdinand prompted the demolition of the modest accommodations for replacement by the far grander building that stands today.

consecrated in 1524, the church and attached convent was designed by architect Juan de Orozco (church), with help from Martin de Villareal (facade) and Juan de Badajoz (the Younger — cloister and sacristy). Ferdinand fired the original architect when the project did not proceed at his desired pace; this decision proved only partially successful as it took a further two hundred years to complete the structure.

one of the most impressive examples of a plasteresque facade in the Renaissance style, work on the the front of the building in San Marcos began in 1515, was interrupted in about 1541 and resumed in 1615, and features an array of portraits of important historical and mythical figures. the medallions sought to exemplify human virtue and include such notables as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Hercules and Hector, El Cid … and an array of Spanish political figures of the period whose names have largely faded into obscurity. to say some seemed out of place next to momentous such momentous figures of history, religion and myth is a monumental understatement. (yes, yes I did that on purpose.) the plinths above all these medallions were designed to display sculptures but funding ran out; seems in the best for the impressive array of grotesques adorning the rest of the facade — sirens, sphinxes, winged horses, dolphins, dragons, and more. in 1715, the crowning piece was installed over what is now the entrance to the Parador — a Baroque depiction of Santiago Matamoros (Santiago the Moor Slayer … have I discussed that story yet?). in addition to grotesques and medallions, the buildings are also covered in scallop shells — the sign of Santiago.

Santiago Matamoros

Codex Calixtinus

as I mentioned in an earlier Camino post, the first guide for peregrinos on the Camino was the Codex Calixtinus, an illuminated manuscript from the 12th century, originally attributed to Pope Callixtus II from whom the text takes its name. in reality, it was written by many authors over several years in the 1130s and the product was compiled by a French scholar named Aymeric Picaud. moreover, it appears that in order to give the manuscript some weight, the authors prefaced it with a letter purportedly signed by Callixtus (who had been dead for 15 years by the time they completed the text).

the earliest edition of the codex, dating from 1150, was held in the archives of the Cathedral in Santiago, but was lost and forgotten until the 1880s; copies were made, however, and distributed to Barcelona, Rome, Jerusalem, and the Cluny Abbey. the Santiago version includes five volumes (one of which was ripped out, either by accident or design, in 1609 and later restored): one of liturgies, one of reported miracles, one on the transfer of Santiago’s body, one on the legends of Charlemagne and Roland (the one removed in the 17th century), and one a “guide for the traveler” with handy tips on the route, sights to see, art to admire, and local customs.

I hadn’t realized that this masterpiece of Camino history lay at the center of a recent theft scandal. in July 2011, the Codex disappeared from the Cathedral archives, where it was kept in a reinforced glass case to which a limited number of people had access. some speculated the theft might have stemmed from personal or professional grievances, or may have been an attempt to illuminate comparatively lax security in the Cathedral. (at the time of the theft, which went unnoticed for several days, it turned out security cameras were not turned on and the case containing the manuscript may have been unlocked.) almost a year to the day on which the manuscript disappeared, Spanish police arrested a former worker (along with his wife, son, and son’s girlfriend) who, at the time the theft, was suing the Cathedral for wrongful termination after 25 years of employment. after searching his property, eight copies of the Codex were recovered along with a host of other documents of value from the Cathedral archives. oh, and 1.2 million euros in cash.

Santo Domingo de la Calzada

the popular town of Santo Domingo de la Calzada takes its name from Domingo García, an 11th century hermit who improved conditions on the Camino for peregrinos. he repeatedly tried to join the Benedictines, spending time studying at two different monasteries, but he proved so inept in his studies they refused to let him continue. still determined to live a religious life, he became a hermit and, following a dream, went to work with San Gregorio Ostiense (who’d been sent by papal envoy to to address a locust plague affecting Navarra and Rioja) improving the Camino in Rioja. when Gregorio died, Domingo returned to the region of the rio Oja (where he’d been a hermit) to continue their work.

his first project was building a stone causeway (calzada), leading to the wooden bridge he’d helped Gregorio construct. it served served as an alternative to the Roman route between Burgos and Leon. that done, he used a sickle to cut 37 kilometers of road through forests to improve the route between Nájera and Redecilla del Camino (on the way to Belorado). as this route became more popular, he replaced the wooden bridge with one of stone. soon thereafter, García Sánchez III granted Domingo permission to convert an old fort into un hospital de peregrinos; around this hospice a larger village grew.

peregrino statue/fountain

when King Alfonso VI of Castilla captured the area in 1076, he enlisted Domingo’s help in civic works projects like those he’d already undertaken. (Alfonso VI was the first to officially refer to the region as “La Rioja” after the river that is the region’s focal point. I felt silly for not noting this fact earlier.) together with a disciple (San Juan de Ortega), Domingo devoted the remainder of his live to improving the Camino — rebuilding bridges, clearing more roadway, anything that bolstered his vision. he devoted his last few years to constructing a church in the village, where he was buried upon his death in 1109. though his church burned in the mid-12th century, the replacement (a colegiata) was much larger and sufficiently impressive to warrant the transfer of the bishopric from Calahorra there in 1227.

as with all saints, miracles are attributed to Santo Domingo de la Calzada, about which you can read more here. suffice it to say that, in honor of Domingo’s miracles, a rooster and a chicken (with white feathers) are kept on the cathedral grounds and peregrinos used to gather feathers from the birds and affix them to their hats. it was said that if one of the chickens ate directly from the hand of a particular peregrino it meant he (or she) would make it to Santiago de Compostela safely.

again, the village location on the Navarra-Castilla frontier meant it changed hands more often than residents enjoyed — six times between 1076 and 1143 (with Castilla ultimately victorious). two centuries later it was also the focal point of Pedro the Cruel’s ill-fated war against his brother; leading up to 1364, Pedro had 38 towers and 7 gates built along a 1.6 kilometer wall that enclosed the city. those walls remained largely intact until 1886; today only the fragments of 8 towers, 2 gates, and 300 meters of wall remain.

unlike many of the other small towns that we passed through on our way to Santo Domingo de la Calzada, this town has grown fairly steadily since the 1850s. as of 2010 the population stands at just under 7,000 inhabitants.

Los Arcos

because it is so close to the Castillian frontier, as well as along the Camino, Los Arcos became a toll-collecting station and place to change money. in the 12th century, the king authorized weekly markets and equalized rights between locals and immigrant Francos in an effort to encourage growth of the town. the proximity to Castilla also made it a frequent military target.

the town’s location — on a river with a hill overlooking and farmland spreading out — means it has likely been inhabited since Roman times. a castle protected the city on a hill to the northeast of the city beginning in the 12th century, but that didn’t stop Castilla and Navarra from periodically annexing and/or taking the town by force over the course of the next three hundred years. as elsewhere in the region, the Napoleonic and Carlist wars took their toll on the town, which played host to two battles during the first Carlist War (the one launched from Estella, some 20 kilometers away).

Los Arcos had a tidy, compact plaza in front of the Iglesia de Santa Maria where we enjoyed our afternoon restorative cervezas and, once the kitchen reopened, dinner. construction of the church occurred over six centuries, beginning around 1175. consequently the interior offers an array of decorative and architectural styles including Flamboyant and Flemish Gothic, Baroque, Mannerism, Churrigueresque, and Rococo. beyond the far end of the plaza is the Arco de Felipe V, the last remnant of the defensive system that protected Los Arcos from the 18th onwards.

Roman bridge at Cirauqui

crossing the Roman bridge

the hike between Puente la Reina and Estella was challenging — the temperature reached 26 degrees Celsius by the time we reached our destination and we had trouble finding lunch and a place to refill water during the day. we also learned what the sun can do to the back of a pair of legs if given motive and opportunity.

the name of this town — Cirauqui — means “nest of vipers” in the Basque language, alluding either to the snakes found among the rocks on this steep hill or bandits that roamed the hills nearby. the town grew in three stages beginning in the 9th century, and some of the nicer manor houses remain with familial crests above central doorways throughout town. one of the more interesting monuments in the town is the Civil War monument, which only lists victims on the Nationalist side (fighting for Francisco Franco). while many towns removed the ubiquitous monuments after Franco’s death, loyalty to the Falange movement that brought him to power remained strong in Navarra and in some places these memorials remain.

as the title of this post also alludes to, we climbed over a Roman bridge just outside of Cirauqui. while much of the Camino follows old an old Roman road, the path down the hill leaving Cirauqui and over this bridge are the best-preserved of the entire route, by far. granted, some of the paving stones were repaired or replaced during the Middle Ages, but the essence remains — and besides, a bridge from the Middle Ages is still a sight more impressive than anything I walk over on a daily basis. as our cultural guide explains, the method for constructing our modern roadbeds doesn’t differ much from those used by the Romans. a shallow trench is dug and filled with a layer of gravel, tamped down, bordered by large, vertically-set blocks, and filled in with closely-fit paving stones. it’s interesting to think that the workers digging out, marking off, filling in and paving over Trumpy Road near our house are following in the footsteps of the people (probably local slaves) that built this road and bridge thousands of miles and years away.

an “early Gothic” bridge that dates from “only” the medieval era

the puente of Puente la Reina

Puente la Reina lies at the meeting of two paths of the Camino – that from France and that from Aragon. not surprisingly, the king established the town in the early 12th century to serve and assist the flow of peregrinos.

in the early 11th century, peregrinos had to rely on ferry operators up and down the banks of the Arga to get them across to continue their Camino. not surprisingly, there were some unscrupulous characters operating these ferries doing their best to hoodwink, misdirect, or just plain rob unsuspecting peregrinos. (obviously an age-old problem: who’s going to complain about terrible service when they’re never going to be in that position ever again? and how would you communicate that information anyway? fortunately, we didn’t have much of that on our Camino.) to eliminate this problem, a Queen of Navarra (usually thought to be Doña Mayor, wife of Sancho III of Pamplona, or Doña Estefanía, wife of García III of Nájera) ordered the construction of a bridge over the Agra.

the bridge has six arches, the most easterly of which is now underground. When it was built it also had three defensive towers, one of which featured carvings of the Virgin of Puy (which means bird) and which, according to legend, a bird came to wipe away cobwebs and wash the statue’s face with water from the river.

the town flourished for several centuries; the Templars were present for a period; several churches were constructed; citizens participated to varying degrees in wars, rebellions and the Carlist wars. besides the bridge, there’s a Templar-built church with a unique Y-shaped crucifix said to have been carried by German peregrinos from their homeland.