Today, we left Burgos and headed west along the Camino de Santiago to León, the next stop on our tour. We drove for about two hours across the northern Castilian plain—averaging 2500-3000 feet above sea level—with the snow-capped mountains that run the length of the northern Iberian peninsula on our right, and the fields and pastures of the Spanish heartland on the left. Passing by plowed fields and pueblos, it was easy to imagine the region as it might have looked 800 or 900 years ago*, when the north of Spain was under the control of a number of small Christian kingdoms at the edge of Muslim al-Andalus. Burgos and León were, for a time, neighboring capitals, of the Kingdoms of Castile and León, respectively; kings were crowned at both cathedrals, and ruled from separate castles, only a little over a hundred kilometers apart.
León, with its position along a river that flows south from the mountains, has been an important habitation since its settlement by Roman legions in the first century AD. Revived under the early Medieval kingdom of Asturias, it is clearly a cultural center early on, as marked by the 11th-century Basilica de San Isidoro, named after Isidore of Seville, the late Roman bishop and Father of the Church. Even here, where the area was not directly under Muslim rule for any significant period of time, the cultural impact of the Islamic world is immediately visible in the architecture from the period. Largely in a Romanesque style, the scalloped and keyhole arches immediately call to mind the great palaces and mosques of Cordoba and Grenada, as does the constant use of a checkered motif, which also appears on the standard of the Almohad caliphs that ruled southern Iberia. Especially impressive at the Basilica were a typhanum depicting the binding of Isaac, an ornate 12th century chalice purported (by locals) to be the Holy Grail, and incredibly well-preserved, colorful frescos that also dated from the 12th century.
In the evening, we had a chance to rehearse at the church where we’ll be singing tomorrow; I’m looking forward to it very much.
- Tajin Rogers ’20
*though the windmills of the Man of La Mancha have been replaced in the 21st century by arrays graceful, lithe wind turbines
Images courtesy of Megan Ormsbee '20, Tajin Rogers '20 and Anna Dong '20