Frómista

one of my favorite hotels was in the town of Frómista — memory foam beds and a vegetarian menu del peregrino!! if you ever find yourself there, might I recommend the Hotel Doña Mayor? you could tell them that I sent you but I don’t think it’ll mean much.

Frómista was the first town in the region of Palencia (the second of three provinces of Castilla y León through which we walked) in which we stayed. it’s located at the heart of one of the richest grain-growing areas in Iberia and its name likely derives from the Latin word for cereal. initially settled by Celts, Celtiberos later farmed it, the Romans established a farming community, and the Visigoths retained it as a town. while Muslims destroyed the town, they didn’t deem it worthy of developing a settlement as, sitting smack in the middle of flat farm terrain, it didn’t offer much in the way of defense.


in the 11th century, the doña Mayor, countess of Castilla and wife of Sancho III, invested in repopulating Frómista; a century later doña Urraca donated the entire village to the Cluiac Benedictines of Carrion de los Condes and for 300 years Carrion controlled the monastery while the town was run by its lords and citizens. in the 14th century, while the Jewish population of Frómista escaped persecution, Jews from the surrounding area swelled the city’s population and helped it thrive as a market town for many years. that ended, however, when the town expelled Jews in 1492 and the synagogue in the formerly-Jewish neighborhood was converted into a church. population dropped dramatically — from around 1,000 households before expulsion of the Jews to barely 500 by the end of the 16th century.


one of the most impressive sights along the walk from over the meseta from Castrojeriz to Frómista is the canal system. started in the 18th century, the extensive system of canals took over 50 years to complete and reversed the areas economic decline by improving irrigation, allowing faster transportation of grains and by powering corn mills. we walked along the canal from Boadilla del Camino to Frómista and had to cross over a lock to enter the town. I wish I had some pictures of them to share but … in light of the stupid horse eating trash and its consequences I haven’t any to share.

El Cid

my knowledge of El Cid, the legendary Spanish warrior, is limited to say the least. I probably know more about Don Quixote and I’ve never read a word of Cervantes. when we saw his statue leading the charge over the Arlanzón River in Burgos, I had no idea it represented; only after looking at the inscription of the base in a photo later did I see his name.

born in 1043 as Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, nobleman, military leader and diplomat, El Cid commanded both Moorish and blended Moorish-Christian troops during the mid-to-late 11th century. he came from a family of courtiers, bureaucrats, and aristocrats, though later peasants considered him one of their own. he significantly elevated his status and those of his heirs through his marriage to a kinswoman of Alfonso VI (Jimena Diaz) and by virtue of his daughter’s marriages to other noblemen. to this day, many European monarchs can trace an ancestral link back to El Cid through his grandson, García Ramírez of Navarre, as well as a great-granddaughter. 

his title derives from both Spanish and Arabic — el signifying “he” in both languages; cid stemming from sidi or sayyid, meaning “lord” or “master;” campeador translating to “champion” or “challenger”: The Master Champion. across the continent at the time, it was common for leaders of armies to pit champions against one another to determine a battle outcome. El Cid served Alfonso VI of Castilla (following an exile from the Castillian court and reinstatement after he’d spent several years fighting for the Moors).

he began his military career under Sancho II, fighting against the Moorish stronghold of Zaragoza in 1057 on his behalf and defeating an Aragonese knight in single combat to receive his honorific title of “campeador.” after Sancho III’s assassination (result of a pact — and possible plot — between Alfonso VI and his sister Urraca), Alfonso VI returned to reclaim the throne of Castilla; the populace was understandably suspicious of his intentions. according to the epic poem, El Cid led a group of men to force Alfonso to swear publicly on holy relics that he did not have a hand in his brother’s death. though widely reported as fact there’s little in the way of “historical evidence” to support this proposition.
several years later, and without Alfonso’s consent, El Cid led an excursion against Moorish-held Granada; Alfonso disapproved and consequently exiled the Campeador for several years (for this among other reasons). El Cid moved to Barcelona at first and later entered into the service of Moorish kings, defending some of the very territory he helped to retake on behalf of Spanish kings a few years previously. his success emboldened him and, once Alfonso recalled him (in 1087), he didn’t stick around Castilla very long — he had an eye to allow the weakening of both Alfonso’s army and the army he commanded, providing him opportunity to ruler over Valencia. by the middle of 1094, El Cid had carved out his own principality along the coast near Valencia; although he technically ruled in Alfonso’s name he acted independently.

his reign over Valencia lasted five years before his former allies/subordinates besieged the city and he died. while the famine and unsanitary living conditions that accompanied the siege undermined his health, many believe that the death of his only son the preceding year precipitated his death. legend holds that his wife had his corpse dressed in full armor and set atop his horse in an effort to bolster morale among his besieged troops. two years after his death (and still several months before Valencia finally fell into Moorish control), his wife fled the city for Burgos where his body was buried (and later re-interred at the enter of the Burgos Cathedral).

the city of Burgos

no matter how long it takes to get into Burgos on foot, it is an significant city — both for its connection to El Cid (about which more later) and as the historical capital of Castilla.

earliest settlement of the area overlooking the confluence of Arlanzón River tributaries dates from the Romans. once they left the village plodded along without much excitement the small county of Castilla seceded from León following devastation by Moorish invaders in the early 10th century. thereafter, the heads of León, Aragón, and Navarra fought almost constantly to control the comparatively small buffer state — Burgos proving paramount of the territorial prizes. previous posts have discussed various wars of succession aiming at control over Castilla and/or León; suffice it to say that fortunes for Burgos and Castilla took a tumultuous course.

in addition to its pivotal location on the Camino at the Arlanzón River, trade routes from the Bay of Biscay also passed through here on their way south towards Madrid and Southern Spain. the merchant class that found themselves in Burgos grew into an impressive oligarchy that consolidated considerable political power in the 13th century, using their wealth to bolster the fortunes of various monarchs by providing mounted fighters. by the 14th century, it grew increasingly cosmopolitan, hosting merchants from as far away as London and Bruges. various neighborhoods claimed Castillian, Basque, Aragonese, Frankish, and Moorish inhabitants. the Jewish population, while thriving at one time, was decimated in anti-Semitic riots of the late 14th century. in modern times, Burgos endured battles during the Napoleonic Peninsular and later Carlist wars, as well as serving as the seat of Franco’s Nationalist government. the presence of Franco spurred economic growth of the 20th century as it established textile factories to replace those under Republican control in the east.

the city is known for it’s remarkably preserved old town, as well as the incredible cathedral at the center of it all. as some of you have seen, we snagged a room with a view of the cathedral for our lodging though, because of nice long soaks in the tub and a splendid nap, we didn’t make it out to investigate the cathedral prior to evening mass … which means we only got to enjoy the exterior. but more on that to come …

Belorado

going back a bit to our stop between Santo Domingo and Agés, we find ourselves in the town of Belorado. inhabited since Roman times, its location in a narrow pass between cliffs made it strategically important to Alfonso I in the 12th century as it sits on the frontier between Castilla and La Rioja.

after the Reconquest, many Muslim families chose to stay behind in towns like Belorado, working as farmers or in building trades. as a result, these towns had four quarters — one made up of Francos, one of Christian Castillians, one of Jews, and one of Muslims. during the Middle Ages, most Jews and Muslims were exempt from paying taxes and instead were obliged to maintain one of the town’s defensive towers in good repair.

when we arrived, some sort of noontime celebration in the church was letting out and a group of girls in traditional dress filled the plaza in front of the church. later that evening, out in search of some kind of meal, we saw a performance of the girls — this time in the main plaza in front of a different church. divided into age groups, each performed a set of dances with various props — the youngest group of girls used boughs of some sort while the slightly older group used castanets. I’m still investigating what, precisely, occasioned the costumes and performances (saints day, perhaps?) but whatever the cause it drew quite the crowd on a weekday evening.

apparently, in the 1610s, Belorado became a dance capital and the inhabitants pride themselves on the incorporation of dance into their local and cultural identities. since the 1600s, dance has played an important role in village festivals. I couldn’t find anything as to whether May 12 is a holiday or in some other way special, but it stands to reason that such a strong tradition could render a Tuesday night in May worthy of dance, or perhaps the girls were just presenting an annual recital.

entering Castilla

on day 10 we crossed into the third — and largest — autonomous region on our Camino: Castilla y León. encompassing over 94,000 square kilometers and (in 2011) home to 2.5 million people, it is the largest region in Spain. because the governments are autonomous, each offers slightly different aides for peregrinos — maps, directional markers, municipal albergues. the maps in Castilla y León were perhaps the most useful and comprehensive, though found less frequently than in Galicia, for example. as you can see, it includes all the tiny towns along the Camino, as well as noteworthy sights, plus distances listed by the stages of the medieval method of Camino demarcation — the Codex Calixtinus (about which more soon).


the climate and geography Castilla y León differ quite dramatically from the preceding and subsequent regions and, thinking back, I’m rather surprised at how quickly the change occurred. whereas rolling hills characterize Rioja and Navarra, the terrain of Castilla y León primarily consists of and largely constitutes Spain’s Meseta Central, an arid, mostly flat, high plain with elevations between 610 and 760 meters. basically, it was very flat with the occasional steep mesa or small hill. mountain ranges border and divide Castilla y León into smaller regions; thankfully, for the most part we got to enjoy the mountain views from afar rather than while climbing over ranges. because its buffered on all sides by mountain ranges, the region remains quite arid though, because of its size, temperatures and precipitation vary dramatically. in the central areas, fewer than 18 inches of rain might fall a year while to the west upwards of 59 inches might fall.


as one might deduce, the roots of Castilla y León lie in separate kingdoms of the middle ages. the name of the former comes from the castles and forts built to defend the kingdom’s eastern border (similar to those discussed in previous posts) and was first referenced in 800. over the next century and a half the kingdom was periodically divided and reconstituted until, through the rebellion efforts of Count Fernán González , the kingdom was unified into an autonomous entity in 931 that no longer paid vassalage to León. 

this independence was short lived as a series of political machinations-via-marriage, untimely deaths, and brotherly feuds brought the two kingdoms under the same crown for a brief period during the reign of Ferdinand I. his death in 1065 resulted in division of territories among sons, fighting between said sons, more reunification, more divisions, more fighting, and so on into the 13th century. Alfonso VII divided the territory between his two sons (Sancho III got Castilla; Ferdinand II, León). the two factions finally joined permanently when in 1230, after having assumed the throne of Castilla in 1217 through his mother, Ferdinand III assumed the throne of León through his father Alfonso IX.
 
León was formed when Alfonso the Great (III of Asturias) divided his land among his three sons, with Galicia, León and Asturias going to Ordoño II, García I, and Fruela II, respectively. Ordoño II’s successor, Ramiro II worked ardently to push back Muslim incursions, successfully driving them back from previously-settled territory and establishing a no-go area along the Duoro river valley that divided northern Christian-held territory from Muslim-held territory on the southern Iberian peninsula.

despite Alfonso IX best intentions, the unification of Castilla and León under one crown remains a contentious issue. the people of León did not take the increasing dominance Castilla well and, even today, we saw lots of anti-Castillian sentiment in the western part of the region. (throughout Astorga, for example, someone had gone around town and spray-painted out the “Castilla” part on governmental signs.) despite the royal centralization, the regions retained separate languages, currencies, flags, laws, and governmental systems until Spain centralized its government in the modern era, though by the 16th century Castilla had assumed majority control and León was, in practice, a captaincy-general. (fun fact: in 19th century, the Kingdom of León joined Galicia and Asturias to declare war on France — presumably against Napoleon.)

and all of this is to say that Castilla y León is big. the biggest region we walked through by a long way and despite the unity one might infer by the name, reality is somewhat different. researching all this has put that portion of the Camino into a different perspective for me — at the time it seemed dully monotonous because the terrain remained relatively static; but it turns out there’s a rich socio-political history to uncover. just took a little digging.