Castillo de Castrojeriz

the hill overlooking Castrojeriz has been fortified since Celtiberiena times (the final centuries BCE) — the location on a steep-sided mesa in the midst of the Meseta Alta is remarkably defensible. Romans defended roads to Galician gold mines while later its location near the frontier of Muslim-held territory meant it endured frequent recaptures by Muslims and Christians. it fell permanently under Christian (Castillian) control due to the efforts of Nuno Nunuez in about 912 and received its first charter in 974, which sought to repopulate the area with Christians through a Second Grade of Knighthood that granted any soldier who owned a horse (of noble birth or not) a knighthood. this proved successful and the town grew and thrived as a fortified way station and commercial center that attracted many foreign merchants, as well as peregrinos.
archaeological excavations indicate pre-Roman habitation atop the meseta where the castle ruins now stand. the Visigoths likely built a fortified settlement which was overtaken and destroyed during one of many Moorish attacks. once Nuno Nunez secured the town under Christian control, the castle was reconstructed during the Middle Ages by the powerful Condes de Castro. their luck didn’t last long, however, as siding with the losing side in the Guerra de los Comunidades against Carles V in 1521 boded ill for the town, which slid into decline.
Santa Maria del Manzano
the old town, which runs about mid-way down the hill, is one of the longest existing urban medieval routes that the Camino follows. we stayed in a splendid hotel along that road, just a few steps from a church that had, among other adornments, a skull and crossbones carved into the wall. unlike some of the small towns we walked through, most of the houses along that main street were renovated or at least had been kept up. 
there are a total of four churches in Castrojeriz: Santa María del Manzano de Castrojeriz (begun in 1214); Santo Domingo (now a museum); Santiago de los Caballeros (now in ruins, but with the carved skulls on the walls to “warn passers-by to heed the inevitability of death”); San Juan de los Caballeros (13th century and probably the most ornate and elaborate). Leonor de Castilla y de Portugal, wife of Alfonso IV of Aragon, was buried in the Iglesia de Santa Maria after her assassination — on her nephew’s orders — in the castle in 1359.

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 …


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.

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.