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.


a day of welcome overcast skies brought us to Nájera, a town astride the rio Najerilla at the base of some remarkable cliffs. again — Roman origins, Moorish control for a while (the name of the town actually has Arabic origins), but a history of more diplomatic rather than military transitions of power. by virtue of its location, Nájera controlled both the east-west traffic on the Camino, but also the transport of goods downriver from the fertile plains nearby. 

Nájera was a multicultural city from early on and part of the first translation of the Qur’an into a European language may have originated here. much of Spanish law derives from the charter granted the town by Sancho Garces III, who also minted the first Christian coinage in Spain following the expulsion of the Moors.  as with many other towns along the Camino, Nájera hosted a sizable Jewish population but unlike persecution endured elsewhere, the 11th-century charter equalized penalty for killing a noble, a cleric, or a Jew at 250 sueldos.

there was a spot of bother with the Monasterio de Santa Maria stemming from the Castillian capture of Rioja in 1076. a Castillian king donated the monastery to the Benedictines of Cluny in 1079, which enraged the bishop of the monastery, who physically relocated the bishopric to Calahorra, downriver. when later appealed to for intervention, the Pope declined and the new bishop took matters into his own hands, raiding the monastery, assaulting monks, and stealing valuables from the altars and library. the Pope did not take to kindly to this, excommunicating the bishop, who was also barred from entering Navarra by its king. shortly thereafter Castilla and Navarra went to war over Rioja and the new prior of the monastery managed to enrich it by playing both sides. 

interesting fact for Anglophiles: Edward the Black Prince led troops at the Battle of Nájera in 1367, supporting Pedro (the Cruel) against his brother Enrique II in the Castillian Civil War (also part of the Hundred Years War). the English-backed Pedro completely routed the French-backed Enrique — the English were attacking dismounted French troops and were using longbows for the first time in the Iberian Peninsula. despite Pedro’s victory here, however, he didn’t hold onto power for very long; he and Edward fell out over money and he couldn’t sustain his throne without the benefit of foreign support.