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.