|Santa Maria del Manzano|
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 …
after leaving Agés at just after dawn (as I mentioned — some peregrinos get up really early to start their day’s walking), the first town we walked through was home to an archaeological sight excavating caves around Atapuerca. filled with fossils, the caves contain all manner of evidence dating back 1.2 million years; the hominid remains are the oldest ever discovered in Europe.
the first remains came to light at the end of the 19th century because of excavations for railroad expansion; the regional hub of Burgos lies just over the mountains from Atapuerca. full-scale archaeological excavations began in the mid 1960s and continue today. at the most famous area of the site, some 5,500 human bones have been unearthed since 1995 dating from early humans onward. some of the remains might demonstrate the link between homo sapiens and a precursor of neanderthals (known as homo antecessor).
while its archaeological significance has put Atapuerca on the map, it also hosted a major battle in the middle of the 11th century between brothers and rival kings of Castilla and Navarra. problems arose from the father splitting his territory among son and, according to some sources, perhaps fraternal betrayal, double-crosses and imprisonment. whatever the reasons leading to the Battle of Atapuerca on the first of September in 1054, at the end of the bloodshed King García Sánchez III of Navarre lay dead and his brother Ferdinand I of Castilla emerged victorious, reclaiming land he’d previously annexed to Navarra.
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.
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.