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Oviedo and the Camino de Santiago

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The Way of Saint James, or the Camino de Santiago as it’s called in Spain, is one of the oldest and most famous Christian pilgrimages, probably right behind Jerusalem. Ending in Santiago de Compostela and starting from any number of spots, though usually in France, the pilgrimage requires a commitment of months.

Santiago Shell

The symbol of the Camino de Santiago is the scallop shell. The shell’s multitude of lines which all converge in a single point symbolize the many different paths which pilgrims can take to reach Santiago. And although Oviedo doesn’t lie on the most well-known route (The Camino Francés), it’s become an important stop nonetheless. In fact, for centuries during the middle ages, a detour to Oviedo was considered obligatory, to pay tribute to the relics in the Cámara Santa.

The shell symbol can be found all over the city, on the sidewalks, on signs and engraved in stone within the Cathedral, and demonstrates the importance of the Camino to Oviedo. Alfonso II the Chaste was the king of Asturias when the remains of Saint James were originally “discovered” in Santiago, and is well-known as the first pilgrim to the city. Old Alfie got the ball rolling.

Calle Magdalena, near the park of Campillín, used to be the way pilgrims would enter Oviedo. Within a small niche in the stone facade of one of the street’s buildings, you can still find an ancient statue of Mary Magdalene, whom the pilgrims would pause to revere. The street today is still full of activity, as a popular pedestrian zone with a lot of great little shops.

Amazingly, the Camino de Santiago is gaining steadily in popularity. I doubt it has anything to do with growing religious fervor. Most of the pilgrims we’ve seen on the roads have been young hippies looking for a “life experience”. We were always amused to notice that almost every town in Asturias claims to be on the Camino. The tourist dollars are awfully tempting, and you’ll find the shell sign on every street, in every tiny town.

Have any of our readers done the Camino de Santiago? I can see the appeal — any grand undertaking like this is sure to be an unforgettable experience.

Books on the Camino de Santiago available here: USA, UK, Deutschland

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Camino Asturias
Camino Oviedo
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October 22, 2010 at 3:04 pm Comment (1)

Colombres and the Museum of Emigration

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Looking for a place to stay new Colombres?

At the end of the 19th century, Spain was mired in one of its darkest periods. Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines were gone as a result of the Spanish-American War, and an unsuccessful attempt to conquer Morocco had left the country in a tailspin. Many escaped to the New World, where society was on the rise rather than in decline. This included a massive number of Asturians: mostly single, young and ambitious. They lent their enthusiasm to the growing countries of the Western Hemisphere, and made a fortune doing so.

Colombres Asturias

Many of these newly moneyed youngsters eventually returned home. Known as Indianos, they built fabulous homes and spent their wealth freely, at a time when the Principality desperately needed it. The mansions of the Indianos can be found all over Asturias, but no other town has such a remarkable collection as Colombres, near the border with Cantabria.

One house in Colombres stands out among the rest: the Quinta Guadalupe, constructed by Iñigo Noriega Laso, who emigrated to Mexico and became both extremely rich and politically influential. Today, his amazing mansion is the Museum of Emigration, dedicated to this interesting period in Asturian history. There are emotional photographs of emigrants leaving Spain, models of the boats on which they traveled, personal stories of adventure and danger, and information about the various Centros Asturianos which are still active in Argentina, Cuba, Mexico and the USA.

The museum is interesting, and it’s nice to be able to step inside such a house. Much of the original furniture is still present, and the library is full of tomes dedicated to the immigrant experience. If you’re in the area, definitely stop by.

Location of Colombres on our Day Trips Map

Magnolia Sprout
Water Drip
Bizarre Garden
Quinta Guadalupe
Mexico Asturias
Emmigration Museum
Museo Emmigracion
Detail Asturias
Muebles Asturias
emmigration asturias
Eduardo Urculo New York
Williams B. Arrensberg
Inka
Asturiano Dinero

Visit Stockholm

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October 20, 2010 at 3:14 pm Comment (1)

The Fountain of the Foncalada

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“With this sign the pious are protected, With this sign you shall defeat the enemy”
Fontan Foncalada

This is the inscription engraved upon the Foncalada: a fountain near the city center, and the only remaining civil service structure in Asturias still standing from the Middle Ages. It was constructed in the 9th Century at the behest of King Alfonso III, and features the Victory Cross above the inscription.

In 2008, the Foncalada was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. That the fountain still works is remarkable in and of itself. We walked by about 50 times without ever descending the stairs to check it out. Don’t make that mistake: the Foncalada takes about 10 seconds to see, and is definitely worth a picture.

Location of the Fuente de Foncalada

Cruz Asturias
Foncalada
Fontan Asturias
Middle Ages Oviedo

Oviedo Shirt

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October 18, 2010 at 4:17 pm Comments (0)

Benito Jerónimo Feijóo

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Though he was born in Galicia, Benito Jerónimo Feijóo spent the bulk of his life in Oviedo. One of Spain’s foremost enlightenment thinkers, the intellectual, religious and philosophical works of Feijóo had reverberations throughout the world. The Benedictine monk died in 1769 at the ripe old age of 89, and is buried in the Iglesia de Santa María de la Corte, near the plaza which bears his name.

Benito Jeronimo Feijoo

Don’t ask me how to pronounce Feijóo, because I have no idea. I’ve been saying it like “FIGH-jew”, which is probably way off.

Feijóo was a professor at the University of Oviedo, most well known for his ideas challenging superstition and folklore. He was skeptical of anything of an otherworldly nature, such as exorcisms. He famously “cured” one possessed soul by reading aloud a comical romantic farce in Latin. The afflicted man didn’t understand what was being said, but leaped from his bed upon hearing the Latin words, miraculously free of the devil.

Feijóo held radical ideas for his day. He was a proponent of enlightened thinking, and his teachings challenged the more orthodox Catholic practices. King Charles III studied his essays, and would work the ideas of Enlightened Absolutism into his rule, guaranteeing better freedoms for his subjects. Feijóo is also known to have written one of the world’s first feminist tracts: “La defensa de las mujeres“, where he bravely argues for the equality of the sexes.

During San Mateo, the Plaza de Feijóo plays host to raucous rock concerts; somehow, I think that he would have liked that.

Location of the Plaza de Feijóo

Feijoo
Feijoo Oviedo
3 D Cross
Santa Maria Oviedo

Castle Hotel Oviedo

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October 16, 2010 at 7:08 pm Comments (3)

The Miners’ Strike of 1934

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A couple years before the Spanish Civil War, a mini-revolution would rock Asturias and Oviedo. The Miners’ Strike of 1934, or the Revolución de Asturias, lasted just two weeks but resulted in a lot of carnage. It was one of the first indications that the bad blood between “The Two Spains” was about to boil over.

In 1933, Conservatives swept to power in national elections, freaking out the leftist parties: the Socialists, Communists, Anarchists and the labor unions. In response, a general strike was called across the country. Though it failed miserably in most of Spain due to poor organization and decisive police action against leaders, Asturians were determined to see it through. Workers from mining towns banded together and marched on Oviedo. They encountered little resistance, and captured almost all of Asturias in a short time.

The strike really was more of a revolution, if we can understand that to mean an armed group of discontents overthrowing a democratically elected government. The workers were strongly anticlerical, and over 30 priests were executed during the revolution’s course. The Cámara Santa was dynamited, and churches burnt to the ground.

The rebels weren’t able to long enjoy the fruits of their conquests, however. The national government soon sent in General Francisco Franco, who quickly quashed the revolt with his trademark brutality. 75,000 miners were arrested and 3000 killed in the fighting. Presaging the Civil War which would come a couple years later, in-fighting between the Communists and Socialists spelled doom for the leftists in Asturias against a more efficient, organized enemy.

Oviedo was devastated by the Miners’ Strike. The University building was badly damaged, with the irreplaceable loss of much of its library. The Cathedral and the center of city were heavily injured. Reconstruction would last years, right until the start of the Civil War, when the city was again almost destroyed.

Phew. I’m happy we live in happier times. There’s still quite a bit of tension here… the Church is much more political than I’m used to in the States, and strikes have a more aggressive tone… but generally Spain seems to have figured out how to get along with itself. And I think everyone can be relieved by that.

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October 4, 2010 at 6:34 pm Comments (5)

Inside the Cathedral of San Salvador

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As is the case in almost every Spanish city, Oviedo’s most impressive and important building is its cathedral. With a history stretching back to the 8th century, and an official name which takes nearly eight centuries to pronounce, the Santa Iglesia Basílica Catedral Metropolitana de San Salvador de Oviedo is the must-see highlight during a visit to the city.

Cathedral Oviedo

The original Pre-Romanesque church was constructed in 876 AD by King Fruela I. Very little of that structure remains, and the cathedral of today is the product of centuries of additions and reconstructions; a mix of styles from the Romanesque, to the Baroque and Renaissance. But it’s mainly Gothic. With a long, 67-meter central nave, the adjoining Cámara Santa, patios, gardens and at least 17 chapels, the Cathedral is the massive stone heart of Oviedo; a mute witness to the city’s entire development.

There is a lot to see inside the cathedral. The central Gothic altarpiece, depicting a multitude of scenes from the life of the Savior, is considered one of the most important in Spain, alongside those of Seville and Granada. And for hundreds of years, pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago have venerated the Cathedral’s wooden statue of El Salvador, thought to be from the 13th century.

The most beautiful chapel in the church is the Capilla del Rey Casto, with an amazing Gothic portal and “Pantheon of Kings”, where the mortal remains of the “Chaste King” Alfonso II, along with numerous other rulers of Asturias, are kept. The ambulatory, a Baroque semi-circular passage around the main altar, consists of a number of private chapels, each dedicated to a different saint.

The Cathedral also contains the Cámara Santa: a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the sanctuary of the most important relics in Asturias. Additionally, the Gothic Cloister is an often overlooked section. We visited the cathedral multiple times during our stay, and always found something new to admire.

Organ Oviedo
Unesco Oviedo
Priest Preach
Rose Eye Oviedo
Tour Oviedo
Oviedo Cathredral
Ambulatory Oviedo
Gold Oviedo
Holy Gold
Altar Oviedo
Gothic Altar Piece Oviedo
Capilla del Rey Casto
Oviedo
Jesus Oviedo
Rey Casto Oviedo
Rey Casto Detail
Stuck Oviedo
ceiling rey casto
Key to Oviedo
Camino Santiago Oviedo
Listen To God
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October 1, 2010 at 5:31 pm Comments (4)

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)

Gijón’s Universidad Laboral

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Are you looking for a Hotel in Gijón?

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)

Fernando Valdés Salas – Inquisitor, Educator, Fanatic

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In the middle of the University of Oviedo’s courtyard is a statue of its founder, Fernando Valdés Salas. The statue’s expression is fatherly; benevolent but stern. The sense conveyed is that Valdés was a serious educator dedicated to learning, and a kindly, wise man. But a little research reveals that a loathsome monster reigns in the University’s courtyard — rarely does history provide us such exquisitely evil characters as the Archbishop Fernando de Valdés.

Valdés was a heavyweight in the 16th century Catholic hierarchy; a politically-motivated self-promoter who rose to power via the Inquisition. He was named bishop of Oviedo in 1532 and eventually established himself as the Grand Inquisitor, gaining infamy as a particularly fanatical judge with a special hatred for Lutherans. He hated them so much, that he successfully petitioned the pope for permission to burn groups alive on giant bonfires. All in the name of the Church, of course, because that kind of thing is what Jesus loves most.

Massive piles of burning, living flesh; yes, Salas was an inventive thinker! But he did found a University, so he can’t have been all bad, right? On the other hand, he compiled history’s most draconian List of Prohibited Books. His Index Librorum Prohibitorum even included works from venerated Catholic scholars like Saint Francis Borja.

Salas was terrifying. Knowing his history throws a different light on the handsome statue in the University courtyard.

Location of the Statue of Fernando Valdés Salas

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September 19, 2010 at 11:57 am Comments (4)

The Museum of Mining and Industry in El Entrego

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While we were in Oviedo, I found myself thinking a lot about mining for the first time in my life. The trapped Chilean miners were making headlines worldwide, a miner’s strike was big news in Spain. But once I started considering the profession, I couldn’t turn my mind off it. The vulgar exploitation of both workers and the earth for the further enrichment of corporations makes the mining industry the zenith of human greed and misery. There’s something grotesquely romantic about it.

El Entrego

Coal mining is woven immutably into Asturian history and we decided to spend a rainy day by visiting the museum dedicated to it. 45 minutes from Oviedo by train, in the valley town of El Entrego, is the Museum of Mining and Industry (The MUMI), the second-most visited museum in the principality.

For centuries, coal mining has been one of the principal economic activities of Asturias, especially in the cuenca: the coal-rich valley of the river Nalón. The abundance of “black gold” made Asturias one of Spain’s most prosperous regions for a long time, but the boom ended a couple decades ago. The mines are still active, but the pall of economic hardship on the mining villages is unmistakable.

The museum is fascinating. The top attraction is a “simulated” mine, about which I had been skeptical, but was pleasantly impressed with. If you didn’t know it was fake (and didn’t touch the plastic walls), you might really believe you’d descended hundreds of meters underground. The half-hour long tour of the mine introduces the devices and explosives used to excavate coal, as well as some of the daily dangers which miners faced, and does so with a degree of clarity which would be impossible in a real mine.

Above ground, the museum boasts a number of exhibits, some hands-on, which demonstrate the contraptions used in mining operations: humans who would walk in giant hamster wheels to raise water buckets, the introduction of the steam engine, and of course the singing canary. Visitors are also given a thorough, and disgusting, overview of the illnesses often suffered by workers in the days before health regulations.

The museum recommends two and a half hours for a visit, and that’s not an exaggeration. We found ourselves needing even more time. The MUMI is great; one of the can’t-miss museums in Asturias.

Location of the Museo de la Minería y de la Industria
Official Webiste

Museum Coal Asturias
Coal Mine Tour
Coal Mine
Train Coal Asturias
Mumi
Coal Mine Asturias
Huge Spider Net
Human Hamster Wheel
Mining Industry
Sexy Kumpel
Vapor Train
How to make TNT
Spiral Funnel
Monster Fratze

Oviedo Guide

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September 18, 2010 at 3:13 pm Comments (2)

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Oviedo and the Camino de Santiago The Way of Saint James, or the Camino de Santiago as it's called in Spain, is one of the oldest and most famous Christian pilgrimages, probably right behind Jerusalem. Ending in Santiago de Compostela and starting from any number of spots, though usually in France, the pilgrimage requires a commitment of months.
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