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Santa Cristina de Lena

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“Pre-Romanesque” is a confusing architectural term. The style didn’t appear until centuries after the Romans, so it’s not exactly pre-Roman at all. Instead, the term refers to buildings which pre-date the Romanesque architecture of medieval times, named so because of its rounded Roman arches.

Santa Cristina de Lena

Further adding to the confusion is that the term “Pre-Romanesque” doesn’t have a concrete definition. There are no defining characteristics that relate the Pre-Romanesque architecture of Spain to that of, say, Croatia. It’s just a generic designation for any Western architecture that predates the Romanesque.

In other words, “Pre-Romanesque Architecture” has nothing whatsoever to do with Romans, nor with an architectural style. Maybe I’m slow, but that confused me for weeks.

The only Pre-Romanesque architecture in Spain is found in Asturias, since the rest of the peninsula was under the rule of the Moors (with their non-Western Mozarabic style). In and around Oviedo, there are many well-preserved examples, including the Santa María del Naranco and San Miguel de Lillo. A less-visited church lays about 30km south of the city: Santa Cristina de Lena.

High up on a hill with an incredible view of the valley, the ancient church was constructed in the year 852. Those kind of dates still blow my mind: more than the length of my life squared. There’s clearly been a lot of reconstruction on the Santa Cristina, but the custodian pointed out many elements which are original, including a 7th-century Visigoth lattice which was worked into the decoration. This was a church built for the use of the king, with a royal tribune above the entranceway, and we found engravings of shells, indicating that it must have been (and probably still is) a minor stop on the Camino de Santiago.

It’s hard to find, but this church is definitely worth tracking down for fans of architecture. There’s also a Pre-Romanesque interpretation center in the nearby train station. Personally, the more of these buildings I saw, the more interesting they became.

Location on our Oviedo Map

Fairy Tale Asturias
Ray of Light
Sun Hole
A Sign
Santa Cristina de Lena
Churches of Asturias
Camino Santiago Shell
Asturian Monster
Roman Arches
Cristina Grill
Santa Cristina
Hear Cristina Lena
Asturias Heart
Details Churh Lena
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September 27, 2010 at 4:04 pm Comments (2)

The University of Oviedo

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Established in 1574, the University of Oviedo has been an important part of the city for centuries. Its founder was the Archibishop Fernando de Valdés Salas, an inquisitive chap whom we earlier profiled. Oviedo’s is the only public university in Asturias, and currently educates more than 25,000 students.

Lamap Biblioteca Oviedo

We took a tour of the original university hall, which is now used for exhibits, cultural events and special ceremonies. Set around a perfectly square courtyard, the lovely building includes a chapel, auditorium, classrooms and an impressive library.

The University chugged along through the Ages of Reason and Enlightenment, and into Modernity, until the Miner’s Strike of 1934, when it was nearly destroyed by workers who saw it as a symbol of the privileged bourgeois. The destruction was completed shortly thereafter, during the Civil War, and teaching came to a complete halt. It remained closed for years, and evidence of warfare is even today visible in the holes and scars of the building’s walls.

The 45-minute long tour was interesting throughout, especially when demonstrating how tightly connected to religion the Spanish education system used to be. Today, classes take place in the modern University buildings of the neighborhood of El Cristo, as well as on campuses in Gijón and Mieres.

Location on our Oviedo Map
More Information about the History of the University

Archibishop Fernando Oviedo
Uni Sigel Oviedo
University Bells
Oviedo University
Miner Strike War
Spain Traces of War
Lady Full of Wonders
Like a Painting Oviedo
School Curtain
I heart school
Oviedo University Tour
Philipus Oviedo
Fluffy Hat
University Hallway
Biblioteca Oviedo
Buechrei Oviedo
Spain Library Stairs
Oviedo Biblioteca

Camiseta Oviedo

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September 25, 2010 at 6:00 pm Comments (2)

Gijón’s Universidad Laboral

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The largest building in Spain is found in Gijón. About three miles outside the city center, the massive Universidad Laboral gobbles up 66 acres of land. Built between 1946 and 1956, the Laboral is an astounding memorial to the grandiloquence and megalomania of the Franco era.

Universidad Laboral

The Laboral was originally designed to be an orphanage for the children of miners. But during construction, they adapted its purpose to that of a Technical College (“screw the brats!”). Luis Moya, the lead architect, envisioned the Laboral as a Utopian, fully enclosed and self-sustaining city, with its own “Plaza Mayor”, church and theater, and even a farm.

For generations, the university was one of Spain’s largest, churning out legions of highly-skilled craftsmen. No one can complain about that, but the building itself has always been highly contentious, with many viewing the Francoist monolith as an embarrassing blight on the edge of Gijón. That disdain worsened in the 1980s, when the university closed up and the Laboral fell into an awful state of disrepair. But the Asturian government came to the rescue in 2001, initiating reforms that have today converted the Laboral into a multi-use complex, with art exhibits, tours, theater and music, and educative functions.

There’s something haunting about large structures, and since we visited on a quiet, drizzly Sunday afternoon, the eerie sense of desolation was emphasized. As we wandered the deserted halls, I kept expecting to hear shrieks from forgotten laboratories behind shuttered doors, or be attacked by a disfigured hunchback hiding around a darkened corner. If it wanted to, the Laboral could host the greatest haunted house of all time.

Besides our trip up the tower, we visited an awesome temporary art exhibit in the old university kitchens, and got a drink at the cafe overlooking a large pool, but soon ran out of things to do. I’d recommend calling ahead and making sure to visit while guided tours are going on. In any case, the building is outrageous, and well worth seeing if you’re in Gijón.

Location on our Asturias Map
Official Website (English)

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September 22, 2010 at 3:40 pm Comments (2)

San Tirso – Oviedo’s Oldest Church

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Originally constructed in the 9th century by Alfonso the Chaste, the Iglesia de San Tirso is the oldest church in the city center. Due to the great fire of 1521 and numerous reconstructions, though, not much of the original remains apart from a supporting wall and the church’s general layout.

San Tirso

San Tirso is found adjacent to the city cathedral, an unassuming lumpy little building which is completely overshadowed by its magnificent neighbor; the Igor to the cathedral’s Dr. Frankenstein. But the very age of the church makes it worth visiting. The interior is small, with a modest altarpiece and just a couple chapels. Within the church rest the remains of Balesquita Giraldez, a 13th century noblewoman famous for her charitable donations, and for whom the nearby Capilla de la Balesquida is named.

San Tirso, or Saint Thyrsus in English, was a 3rd century Christian who was martyred in Turkey. By being mostly sawed in half! Miraculously, the saw became too heavy for his executioners to hold, so they had to leave the task before it was completed. Nasty. But I suppose for a thing like “murdering someone with a saw”, halfway is probably good enough. Hey God: for my “miracle”, how about you increase the weight of the saw before they begin carving?

Location of the Iglesia de San Tirso on our Oviedo Map

Oviedo Ventana
Roman Oviedo
Iglesia San Tirso
Jesus Oviedo
Saint Oviedo
Oviedo Angel

Hong Kong Photos

September 14, 2010 at 3:42 pm Comments (0)

Carbayón – The Tree

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For centuries, a massive oak tree stood in the heart of Oviedo. Known as El Carbayón, it was an important symbol of the city’s identity.

Carbayón Oviedo Arbol

Even today, people from Oviedo refer to themselves as “carbayones” despite the fact that their tree was chopped down in 1879. Urban planners had wanted to modernize the city, and their proposed road leading to the train station (today’s Calle Uria) had to go directly through the Carbayón. A bitter fight over the fate of the tree ensued, and progressives won the council vote by 14 to 9. The oak was felled.

There’s a memorial plaque to the Carbayón found at the end of Calle Uria, and a replacement oak affectionately named El Carbayín has been planted near the Teatro Campoamor. Also, a local baker invented a special treat, in tribute to the deceased tree. The pastry, also known as a carbayón, has become an Oviedo institution in its own right… sticky, sweet and worthy of its own post, another day.

Location of the Memorial Plaque
Location of El Carbayín

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August 24, 2010 at 1:11 pm Comments (5)

Calatrava’s Palacio de Congresos

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In the bird’s eye view of Oviedo acheivable from the top of Mount Naranco, one building sticks out more than any other. Massive and gleaming white, with an otherworldly design, the Palacio de Congresos is unmistakable.

Congresos Princesa Letizia

Perhaps in reference to its status as a modern-day palace, the building was named after a member Spanish royalty, and one of Oviedo’s most famous children, Princesa Letizia. The two side wings of the horseshoe-shaped complex hold ministry offices, a hotel occupies the back and, in the center, under its audacious roof, is an area for expositions. Underground is a shopping mall. In all, the size of the palace is over 15,000 square meters.

The building is the work of famous Spanish archtiect Santiago Calatrava, who also designed the new World Trade Center Transportation Hub in New York City. We had lived in Valencia for a few years, which is Calatrava’s hometown and favorite sandbox, so we were already familiar with his work. The City of Arts and Sciences is especially unforgettable. I doubt that any modern architect has so singular a style, and Oviedo is lucky to have one of his incredible constructions.

Location on our Oviedo Map

Calatrava Tower
Calatrava Congresos
Palacio de Congresos Oviedo
Calatrava Space Ship Oviedo
Calatrava Whale
Calatrava Comb
Calatrava Phone
Calatrava Arche
Calatrava Arrow
Calatrava Oviedo
Calatrava Triangle
Mouth of Calatrava
Calatrava Architecture

More Calatrava Architecture: Prince Felipe Science Museum and The Agora in Valencia

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August 20, 2010 at 2:16 pm Comments (21)

El Mercado del Fontán

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The largest market in Oviedo is found in the Plaza del Fontán, which has been home to the city’s food merchants since the mid-16th century. In the middle ages, the plaza was still on the outskirts of the small city, and bordered a small lake filled by natural springs, which gave the plaza its name. The lake is gone but the focus on food remains.

After the lake was drained, a proper market hall was finally built in 1885. With a pale green exterior and oddly shaped arches, the Mercado del Fontán certainly sticks out. It’s not as big as other central markets around Spain, but there’s still plenty to be had.

Stands hawking fresh fish from the Bay of Biscay, including huge bonitos, join those dedicated to meat and vegetables. One of the more popular spots offers fresh milk out of a vending machine, from a nearby farm called Los Caserinos. There’s a restaurant on the upper floor, and a few stands are dedicated entirely to Asturian products. Everything is fresh and looks delicious, making it all too easy to drop a ton of cash here.

Take a look at our pics, and try not to get hungry!

Location on our Oviedo Map

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August 13, 2010 at 5:06 pm Comments (5)

San Miguel de Lillo

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Just 300 steps from the Santa María del Naranco, we find its companion building: San Miguel de Lillo. Ramiro I built both in the same year, 848, for different purposes; Santa María as a recreational palace, and San Miguel as a church. Together, they make Oviedo’s Naranco Hill one of the most important areas for Pre-Romanesque art in all of Europe.

Unlike the fully intact palace, the church of San Miguel has only partially survived into the present day. In the 12th or 13th century, a landslide caused the collapse of most of the cross-shaped structure, leaving only the western third. That’s still enough to impress visitors, though, as well as architectural scholars. Like the Santa María, the San Miguel de Lillo was far ahead of its time.

Architectural highlights of the church’s remains include original wall paintings, faded by still visible, depicting a throne and a human form. A gorgeous window at the top, intricately sculpted from a single stone, allows light into the church, illuminating the perfectly preserved door jambs at the entrance. These are carved in the shape of the sovereign and his court. Another unusual feature of the San Miguel is an upper royal balcony, for the king to listen to services.

Unfortunately pictures were not allowed inside, probably due to the fragile wall paintings, but we got some shots of the church’s exterior. Guided visits to San Miguel de Lillo are in conjunction with the Santa María, from where they leave.

Location on our Oviedo Map
Architectural information about San Miguel
Our Visit to Santa María del Naranco

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August 11, 2010 at 10:40 am Comments (6)

Santa María del Naranco

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Originally constructed in 848, the Santa María del Naranco and San Miguel de Lillo are Oviedo’s most important Pre-Romanesque structures.

Santa Maria

The monuments are situated high upon the Naranco hill, overlooking the northern side of the city. They’re easy to find: just follow the “Avenue of the Monuments”. Walking from the train station takes about 40 minutes, almost all uphill, but city buses can take you most of the way. Visits are only possible in guided tours, which depart frequently from the Santa María del Naranco.

The Santa María del Naranco claims to be the oldest palace in Europe. Built in 848 by King Ramiro I as a recreational palace, the building is still in tremendous condition — I hope to look that good when I’m over 1100 years old. Almost all the walls, ceilings and engraved artwork are original and the building has suffered very little corrosive damage.

The palace was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, and is famous among architecture buffs for its rich decorations, lack of wooden ceilings, and the elegant designs which demonstrate influences from regions as diverse as Ireland, Syria, Byzantium, Greece and Italy. The Santa María is unique in the world, and researchers have been left puzzled as to how an Asturian architect from the 9th century was able to build such a magnificent and structurally perfect palace, with so many foreign flourishes. It marked a leap forward in Pre-Romanesque architecture and had a great influence on later Asturian constructions.

In the 13th century, the palace was put to use as a church, and is still in use today for weddings and baptisms. If you’re interested in architecture, you can read a lot more on a website dedicated to Spanish Pre-Romanesque Art. Before you make the hike up, be sure to check the opening times on the palace’s official website or the Spanish Tourism site.

We’ll be writing about the second building, San Miguel de Lillo, in a separate post.

Location on our Oviedo Map

Santa Maria del Naranco
Santa Maria Window
Oviedo Palace
calatrava Oviedo
Santa maria ventana
Naranco palace
Palace Doors Oviedo
Shadows in Oviedo
ältester Palast Europas
Oviedo Coins
Oldes Palace in the world
T Stone Oviedo
Maria Stairs
Piedras Oviedo

A Visit to Granada

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August 7, 2010 at 5:46 pm Comments (17)

The Cathedral of Oviedo – First Impressions

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Oviedo’s most celebrated monument is the Catedral de San Salvador, found in the middle of the city and visible from miles away. Closely linked with the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage leading to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, the cathedral is also known as Sancta Ovetensis in reference to the abundance of important artifacts stored inside.

The location has always been the religious apex of Oviedo. In 765, four years after the founding of the city, King Freula the Cruel choose the spot for a modest church, which was soon destroyed by a Moorish raid. Shortly afterwards, King Alfonso II ordered the construction of a basilica. It wasn’t until 1377 that work began on the Gothic cathedral which we recognize today.

The bell tower dominates the cityscape. Despite being massively damaged over the centuries by lightning, tornadoes and war, it’s a thing of beauty. Over 80 meters tall, the five levels of the tower resemble joints; Oviedo’s most famous author, Clarín, described it as a “stone finger pointing to heaven”. The best place to photograph the tower is from the Calle Santa Ana, where it exhibits its least-damaged side.

The cathedral’s interior is austere, very dark. I suppose all churches are serious places, but somehow this one seems more so. The detail in the engravings and artwork is difficult to make out, especially within the chapels. There’s not much information, let alone an audioguide, for visitors, which is slightly disappointing. But the cathedral is mightly impressive, and we visited many times during our stay in Oviedo, devoting time to the Cámara Santa, the Gothic Cloister and the bell tower.

Location on our Oviedo Map

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August 4, 2010 at 8:04 pm Comments (10)

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Santa Cristina de Lena "Pre-Romanesque" is a confusing architectural term. The style didn't appear until centuries after the Romans, so it's not exactly pre-Roman at all. Instead, the term refers to buildings which pre-date the Romanesque architecture of medieval times, named so because of its rounded Roman arches.
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