We stayed at the NH Plaza Major Hotel during our three-day visit to León and our walking tour starts from there. Along the way we will stop and stare at the four most impressive works of architecture that the city has to offer.
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Our hotel room had the best view of the plaza. It was the only room on the third floor with a window facing the plaza.
We walk from our hotel across the plaza passing the glass-walled structure that covers the stairway entrance to underground parking. We then walk up the narrow street (Calle Mariano Dominguez Berrueta) between the red and yellow buildings for two blocks to the top of the hill. And at the top of the hill we stop and stare at our first architectural delight.
Calle Berrueta ends at the south side of Plaza de Regla and there before us in all its glory is the southwest tower and south facade of the León Cathedral, probably the most famous Gothic cathedral in all of Spain. It was built in the 13th century in the French Gothic tradition and is one of two major cathedrals on the French Way to Santiago. The other cathedral is in Burgos and is mostly Romanesque in design.
Here’s another view of the Cathedral. There was a major restoration of the west facade toward the end of the 19th century. The south facade has had major restorations in each of the last three centuries. The other two sides have been relatively stable over the years.
I’ll have a couple of postings devoted entirely to the cathedral in the next few weeks.
Calle Ancha is often considered the main street in León’s old town. It starts at the southwest corner of Plaza de Regla and is not too long. It is wider than most streets, though, and usually has heavy pedestrian traffic. We continue our walk by going down Calle Ancha for three blocks and then turning right at Calle Cid.
Calle Cid is another short but interesting street even though it’s only two blocks long. Dozens of tapas bars line its right (east) side and after a block the left (west) side forms the border of Parque del Cid, a quiet city park during the day. We walked by the park one night and detected a strong marijuana aroma emanating from the trees and bushes. It was also a little noisy but not as noisy as the tapas bars on the other side of the street.
Calle Cid ends abruptly at the edge of the park and the beginning of Plaza de San Isidoro. And here we get a chance to stop and stare again for before us is our second architectural splendor: the Real Basilica de San Isidoro de León.
Moors conquered León in the 10th century and completely destroyed the church but it was rebuilt a century later. Many kings and queens of León are buried in the Basilica. St Isidore, a famous theologian and archbishop of Seville is also buried in the pantheon. For hundreds of years pilgrims were encouraged to visit the basilica and pantheon and the Camino runs northward through the city to the basilica before turning west to reach the Bernesga river.
We then walk back down Calle Cid to Calle Ancha and turn right and walk one block to find the third structure on our list. This one was built in 1893, just a baby when compared to the two ancient religious buildings we have seen so far.
Antoni Gaudi is famous for his architectural masterpieces that can be found all over Barcelona and we fell in love with many of his treasures when we visited Barcelona two years ago (see here, here and here for three examples of his work). But Gaudi also designed a few buildings outside his beloved Catalonia. One was the Episcopal Palace in Astorga. And another was a combined residence – business mansion that was sold to a bank a few decades after it was built. It’s called Casa de los Botines or just Casa Botines and was built in the Modernist fashion with a number of medieval and neo-Gothic touches.
Here’s a close-up of St George defeating a dragon above the main entrance to Casa Botines. It looks more like an American alligator to me. Oh, well.
I leave Antoni on his bench and we walk on toward Plaza de Santo Domingo. In the Old Town automobiles are discouraged. But we are outside of the Old Town now and automobiles are everywhere. Eight streets, each clogged with cars, converge on the plaza and pedestrians wait forever for signals to change so that they can maneuver their way out of the noisy, smelly bottleneck. We choose Gran Via de San Marcos because it is an eight-block beeline to our final destination. Unfortunately, we encounter another major bottleneck called Plaza Inmaculada after only four blocks. Nine streets begin or end at this circle. But we trudge on and finally come to the end of the Gran Via and the beginning of Plaza de San Marcos. We again stop and stare at the immense structure in front of us. It was built in the 16th century and used to be a monastery and church. Now the left side is a five-star hotel called the Parador de San Marcos. The right side is still a church, the Iglesia San Marcos. In the middle is the church’s cloister.
In Emilio Estevez and Martin Sheen’s The Way Martin’s character decides to escape the daily ritual of cheap albergues on the Camino and opts for one night of luxury and so he invites his three friends to spend a night at the Parador, each in his or her own suite. And so the four friends relax in solitary luxury for awhile but of course all four end up partying in Martin’s suite. Then they are all back on the Camino the next day.
In the plaza facing the Parador a pilgrim takes off his sandals and rests his aching feet.
I have a couple of stories about our trip to the Parador but I will save them for another day.
After our visit to the Parador we turn around and retrace our steps back to our hotel. We reach Plaza de Santo Domingo again and I take a picture of a statue as we pass. That photo will be my entry to this week’s Monochrome Madness Challenge in my next posting.