We left our house in Castro Valley, California at 6am on Friday, May 19th and arrived in León, Spain around 5pm on Saturday, May 20th — three car rides, two air flights and one train ride later. We already knew several things about León and soon learned a lot more. Most of them were facts but some were what has recently become known as alternate facts. Here are some of the most important:
First of all, it’s pronounced “lay-own,” not “lee-on.”
Secondly, the city did not get its name from the king of beasts, despite all of the statues, pictures, coats of arms and flags all over the city displaying lions — our first alternate fact, thanks to city publicists and officials.
Thirdly, if you are not from either Spain or France you will most probably get confused sometime during your life between León, Spain and Lyon, France. Here are some facts about each city:
*Both cities were founded by Romans more than 2,000 years ago.
*Both pretend that they were named after the animal. Neither were.
*Leon, Spain gets its name from the Seventh Legion (Legio VII Gemina) which was stationed here in 74 AD (the Sixth Legion camped here in 29 AD).
*The Romans called Lyon, France Lugdunum, a word derived from the Gaulish Lugudunon meaning hill of Lugus, a Celtic god known as Lug in medieval Irish and llew in medieval Welsh literature. Interestingly, English-speaking people say “lee-on” for Lyon but the French say “leezhown” which sounds more like “legion,” the English word for the Latin legio, meaning a military levy and derived from the Latin verb legere, meaning to choose!
*Lyon is the third largest city in France with a population of over half a million and a metropolitan population of more than two million.
*León is the 49th largest city in Spain and the third largest city on the most popular pilgrimage route to Santiago known as the French Way. Pamplona (#30) and Burgos (#37) are slightly larger.
It takes the average pilgrim on the French Way 33 days to travel from St Jean Pied de Port on the French side of the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela. If you follow A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago by John Brierley (and most pilgrims do), you will arrive in León on Day 20. Some people start their journey in Roncesvalles on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees. Some start in Pamplona. My two sisters began their two-week Road Scholars journey in Burgos. Most Spaniards know that you can start at Sarria (Day # 28 in Brierley’s book) which is only 100 km from Santiago and still get credit for walking the Camino. We began our journey in León.
Our visit to Spain this year consisted of nine days on the Camino: three days in León, three days in Santiago, and three days somewhere in-between. After a little research we decided that that in-between place would be Ponferrada, an hour on the train from León and day # 25 in Brierley’s book. We rode on the train from León to Ponferrada and rode on a bus from Ponferrada to Santiago. We walked a little bit of the Camino but only on portions that were within the city limits of the three cities we visited.
Look for Part Two of our Discovering León series in my next posting. We’ll be going on a walking tour where we discover the four most splendid works of architecture in old town León.
Oh, one more thing I should probably point out: it’s León, not Leon and when I started writing this posting I discovered that I could type Alt-0243 on my keyboard to get that special character!