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  • Roman Walls. Astorga © Turespaña

    Roman Walls. Astorga © Turespaña

  • Astorga Cathedral © Junta de Castilla y León

    Astorga Cathedral © Junta de Castilla y León

León, Castile-Leon

The capital of the county of Maragatería in the province of León offers a rich medieval legacy, the result of its location at the crossroads of: the Pilgrim's Road to Santiago de Compostela and the Ruta de la Plata (Silver Road). Its walled town preserves churches, convents and hospitals which take travellers back to the purest tradition of the Pilgrim's Road. Another outstanding feature in the town's streets is a culminating work by the Modernist architect Antoni Gaudí: the Bishop's Palace. Astorga is, also, a good opportunity for enjoying the rich cuisine of this area. Its historic center has been declared of Cultural Interest.

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Astorga appears at the junction of two important Spanish routes which used to be pilgrimage roads. The origin of the older of the two, the Vía de la Plata, goes back to Roman times. Following this route, (Gijón-Sevilla) the metal extracted from the mines in the north of the peninsula was transported to the trading ports in the south. During the Middle Ages, it was used by Arab and Christian troops in times of conquest and reconquest. An excellent communication route, it became a pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela.And the main Pilgrim's Route to Santiago, now declared a World Heritage Route by UNESCO, also led here. It formed part of a set of paths that ran across Europe and northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela, a holy city because it housed the tomb of the Apostle Saint James. The historic centre of this Galician city is also a World Heritage Site.

Asturica Augustea

Astorga, the former Asturica Augustea, was born under the Roman empire. The majority of archaeological remains belonging to this historical period have been brought together in a theme park, where you can see interesting Roman relics: sections of a basilica, baths, mansions and part of the sewerage system, among others.

The Puerta del Sol leads into the fortified area, where the Cathedral is the outstanding feature. Construction work on the current building began in the 15th century, although work continued until the 17th C. So, its layout preserves Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque elements and works by masters from all the periods. Its initial plans were by Gil de Hontañón, while the High Altar was the work of Gaspar Becerra. The Baroque carving of La Inmaculada is the work of the sculptural genius Gregorio Fernández, although a Romanesque sculpture of La Virgen de la Antigua is also preserved. You can also admire the exemplary craftsmanship of a silver chest that belonged to Alfonso III el Magno (the Great). Other important churches with Baroque plasterwork are those of San Andrés, Santa Clara and San Bartolomé.

In the past, as well as this group of buildings, there were pilgrim hospitals. Today, travellers can approach this tradition through the Pilgrimage Museum, housed in the Bishop's Palace. This is a Neogothic work by the Modernist master Antoni Gaudí. Another notable monument is the City Hall, which is Baroque, from the 17th century. This work by Manuel de la Lastra has its beautiful façade in the Plaza Mayor. Two towers flank a beautiful balcony with railings running round it and a steeple supported by flying buttresses. Colasa and Perico, the most popular Maragatos (as the local people are known) in Astorga sound the hours on a great bronze bell.

The tour of this León city can continue in the Gardens of La Sinagoga, in the Aljibe Park or in the Chocolate Museum. Another excellent option is to stop at one of the restaurants in the city centre to try some of the traditional recipes from the county. The high quality of vegetables from León is shown in dishes like "cocido maragato", (a kind of stew) which here is eaten in reverse order to the traditional cocidos. The meal begins with the meat, chorizo and stuffing and ends with the chickpeas, cabbage and soup. "Cecina" (cured, dried and smoked beef), "botillo" (sausage made of cooked pork products), berciana pies, cod and trout are the most mouth-watering options. Reineta apples, cherries, pears, peppers and chestnuts form part of the region's cookbook. Among desserts, Astorga lardy cakes are the most popular. Wines must be from the Bierzo Denomination of Origin.

All León

From Astorga you must visit León, a stop on the Pilgrim's Route to Santiago de Compostela and capital of the province. Its main architectural treasures are the Cathedral, the Basilica of San Isidoro and the Hospital of San Marcos (now the Parador de Turismo). The best example of León's cuisine must be sought in the El Húmedo district, a network of streets where the tapas (small portions accompanying a drink) are served ahead of more elaborate dishes.

Castrillo de los Polvazares, declared a National Monument, is a genuine example of Maragato culture. Cobbled streets lead to strong houses with wide doorways where the tradition of León lives on. The nearby Sierra de Teleno has a habitat on the banks of the River Duerna where there are deer and badgers - an ideal place for lovers of the environment - excellent places to rediscover crafts and customs of the past are Rabanal del Camino, Foncebadón or Quintanilla de Somoza.

Following the Pilgrim's Route to Santiago, you reach Ponferrada and Villafranca del Bierzo. In Carracedo stands the monastery of Santa María, declared a National Monument. Meanwhile, Compludo offers the chance to see a medieval ironworks while Carucedo is on the way up to Las Médulas. These reddish mountains are old Roman gold mines which have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO because of the landscape and historic value.


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