Late yesterday afternoon we headed, in the still warm air, into Leon. What a vibrant city it turned out to be.
Historically Leon was the capital of the Kingdom of Leon, which, together with the Kingdom of Castille (Capital Burgos) were the leaders of the re-conquest of Spain from the Muslim occupiers in from the 10thCentury onwards. By about the middle of the 13thCentury Castille had become the much more powerful of the two kingdoms and Leon was in its shadow, as a result most of its important architecture predates the mid-13thcentury. The region of Spain is now called Castille Y Leon, but we noticed on our drive yesterday that many of the signs in the Leon region have had “Castille Y” deleted by graffiti artists, so rivalry between the two areas may not yet be dead.
We headed for the old town and before getting there stumbled across a very early example of Gaudi’s achitecture, dating from the late 19thCentury. It didn’t show any of his later hallmarks but it was still a very striking example.
The great thing about touring in Spain is that because everything is closed for a very long siesta, most tourist sites are open until at least 7pm, enable tourists to visit in the cooler part of the day.
Next, inevitably was the city’s Cathedral, which is noted for it’s extensive early stained glass, which apparently covers nearly 20% of the walls. Much of the glass was of a very different style to that designed in later years, but unfortunately much of it was quite dirty and the light was not shining from the correct direction to show them at their best. Sarah was more impressed with the glass than I was. It it another example of a gothic Cathedral, and as with Chartres the builders managed to achieve a very high nave by use of what were, at the time, revolutionary flying buttresses.
The Tourist Information Office provided us with a map of the other highlights of the city and we walked alongside the extensive remains of Roman walls which had been added to my later rulers.
There was also a very extensive and beautiful set of Romanesque buildings, including a church, which contains the bodies of most of the Kings of Leon (for younger readers, don’t worry “your” Kings of Leon are fine and not buried anywhere – yet).
Finally we headed for the area renowned for its tapas bars and visited the lovely old Plaza Major, although prices on that square persuaded us to move on. We found a restaurant and ordered from the menu of the day and then spent the next two hours people watching. The whole city started to come alive from about 8pm onwards. Whole families were wandering about in their finest clothes and picking restaurants and bars in which to eat and drink. Everyone in the family was included from the oldest to tiny babies, it was a wonderful glimpse into Spanish culture.
Today we have driven to a place called La Medulas. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site of abandoned Roman gold mines. The Romans mined about 5 tonnes of gold from a very small area using the power of water to wash away the gold bearing material and leaving behind an extraordinary landscape of twisting, towering columns of bright red rock. It is like a small scene from an Arizonan desert.
We parked up and waited out the hottest part of the day and then headed off at 5pm to explore. We picked up a map at the Tourist information office and opted to undertake a 4 km walk. Even without the almost alien landscape the walk itself would have been worth it. Strolling through a beautiful sweet chestnut forest, where the gnarled barks indicated the trees were probably very old.
The path lead us between various soaring rock formations to a large cave which was part of the gold workings. Even better there hardly any other visitors and so we were able to let the dogs off their leads for a good run in the forest. In Melek’s case it was more of a mild amble!
We are sleeping for the night in a large flat area next to the local cemetery (42.463229, -6.766357). When we got back from the walk we were the only van present which made us very slightly uncomfortable, although we slept on our own wild camping many times last year. Since then another motorhome has arrived, so we have company.