Camino Rest Day 3 – León

Sunday 10 September 2023 – As you will have read (you will have, won’t you? Good!), we arrived here yesterday. Walking through the city to our hotel gave us a chance at some of the sights. Since our hotel room was available and a Nice Lunch was forthcoming there, we needed a walk afterwards, and we also went out during the evening to see if any of the sights looked nice lit up. Today we took another walk around, so we’ve covered a few miles and seen quite a lot of what the city has to offer,  It’s-a nice-a place – the centre is very handsome and has such a cosmopolitan feel that I actually found it difficult on occasions to remember that I was in Spain.

This post is going to be mainly just a selection of the photos I took, and most of them are of the many religious buildings that litter the place.  If you’re content with that, please read on….

The City

León has a long history, having been founded as the military encampment of the Roman Legio VI Victrix around 29 BC. So the city’s name comes from the latin for Legion, and not from Lion, although you’d never guess from the number of Lion statues around the place

The lion has also been adopted as a local emblem for the Camino

though this is apparently not popular and I’ve heard some of these signs even feature bullet holes. I’m not surprised; it’s a rubbish idea, and demeans the Camino, the animal and the City all at once.

In 1188, the city hosted the first Parliament in European history under the reign of Alfonso IX, and this is why it was acknowledged as the “cradle of Parliamentarism”. Now, the Icelanders might have a thing or two to say about that, since the Althingi, established in 930 AD, is often regarded as the world’s oldest extant parliamentary institution. However, it’s essential to note that it was a very different kind of assembly from modern parliaments, being an outdoor gathering of chieftains, rather than a systematic process of representation from local burghers as well as noblemen and clergy. The city’s prominence began to decline in the early Middle Ages, partly due to the loss of independence after the union of the Leonese kingdom with the Crown of Castile, consolidated in 1301. This still rankles with the locals; all over the place you can find signposts where the “Castilla y” part of “Castilla y León” has been black spray painted over. The signpost above is one of the few I saw where this had not happened.

After a period of stagnation during the early modern age, it was one of the first cities to hold an uprising in the Spanish War of Independence, and some years later, in 1833, acquired the status of provincial capital.  This chequered but consequential history goes a long way to explain why it is such an important city.

Religious buildings

Apart from the cathedral, there are many churches and other religious buildings across the city.  Our hotel, the Hotel Real Colegiata San Isidoro, is part of the fabric of the Basilica of San Isidoro, which has a striking interior.

and also features a museum.   I took some unofficial photos in the museum.

Some of the books date from the 16th century

In the Pantheon part, they actually police the prohibition of taking photos, so I was reduced to buying a couple showing the Pantheon and some of the mural painting that has survived nearly a thousand years.

The Basilica has some lovely cloisters.

Somewhat away from the old town is the Convento de San Marcos, which has a splendid portico

and much of which is now a parador hotel (featured in the “The Way” film, apparently.

And of course, there is the cathedral.

In the 100 years after the Moors were defeated, 200 Christian cathedrals were built over Iberia. The three largest are Toledo, Burgos and, yes, León. It gives less of its interior over to the vast number of chapels that there are in the Burgos cathedral, so the inside space feels much larger.

It’s difficult to realise from the outside, but inside is one of the largest arrays of stained glass anywhere.

The choir is exquisitely carved.

The stained glass is so famous that people even use it as a garage door decoration.

The cathedral also has very grand cloisters.

There are, of course, other churches, such as the Iglesia de Santa María del Camino o del Mercado, on Plaza del Grano.

Thinking of which, there are lots of plazas, such as del Grano,

several smaller ones, inevitably with a selection of bars and restaurants,

the main one, of course, being the Plaza Mayor.

The plazas tend to feature buildings with cloisters or galleries under building overhangs,

All around the place you find statuary

The above is on a plaza outside a building designed by the famous Antoni Gaudi, whose buildings contribute to the unique feel of Barcelona. This one, by comparison is somewhat muted,

but still features an extravagant entrance.

There are other lovely architectural settings, too numerous to articulate in full.

but the tout ensemble makes the old town a very pleasant place to wander about. As we did so, it was nice to bump into some of our “Camino Family” – Molly and Mike from Minnesota, and Petra and Tom from Kõln. In the evenings, some places are lit up. This makes the cathedral even more impressive, for example.

and the shopping streets, which feature innumerable bars and restaurants, have a wonderful buzz about them.

Mind you, occasionally things take a slightly more rowdy turn, such as when we came across this bachelor party celebration in one of those plazas.

León has provided a wonderful break from walking the Camino, but we have to get back on it tomorrow.  We will retrace our steps to the convent and cross the Roman San Marcos bridge

as we make our way towards Villar del Mazerife, about 23km away – a medium-distance walk which we hope will get us back into the swing of progressing along The Way. We’re hoping for decent weather, of course, as we start this next segment of the Camino. Do please keep in touch so you can find out how it all works out, eh?

4 thoughts on “Camino Rest Day 3 – León

  1. Ian Burley

    You should get yourself sponsored by the local tourist office. Thanks to this post, León is now on my (long) list of place I need to see in Spain.

  2. Karin Wennas

    After discovering Léon last year I was surprised to find out noone who hasn’t walked the camino really knows about it, here in Sweden. But maybe we shall keep it a secret, eh?

  3. Katharine Burridge

    Gorgeous photos & detailed history!
    I understand how Iceland would be ticked off about having their 1st Parliament claim disabused.
    In the presidential elections here, both Iowa & NH claim to be 1st in the nation. We always want to be 1st (and the 1st voting state for president has always been NH!)


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