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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)

Senda del Oso – Path of the Bear

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The villages of Tuñón and Entrago, found south of Oviedo, are connected by the Senda del Oso, a popular trail running through the valley carved by the Trubia River. Formerly a track for mining trains, the trail has been converted for recreational use and has a lot to recommend it: rapids, tunnels, cliffs, fountains, villages and, yes, bears.

We did the 22-kilometer walk on a Sunday morning, when the mist was still covering the tops of the mountains, and were amazed by the scenery. When you think “Spain”, mountainous and verdant Lord-of-the-Rings-landscape isn’t usually what pops into your mind. Although very long, the trail was easy — basically flat and endlessly entertaining.

Just south of Proaza, whose most impressive feature is a massive hydroelectric station, you come upon the enclosure of Paca and Tola — two rescued brown bears, orphaned as babies when a hunter slew their mother. They’ve been living in there since 1996, and are now twenty-one years old. We weren’t able to get too close but, even from afar, the bears were cute — playful and almost human-like in their actions. A male bear, Furaco, has been brought in for mating purposes, but the sisters apparently haven’t shown much interest in him. Poor Furaco. Maybe he’d have more luck with another type of bear.

By the time we reached Entrago, we were exhausted. We had time for lunch and a long siesta on a park bench, before the bus back to Oviedo. This was our first experience with the bus system in Asturias — it’s pretty good! Just €2,05 to Tuñón, and €3,75 on the way back. The buses are clean and comfortable, although the curvy mountains roads caused the kid next to me to vomit all over himself. Thanks for keeping it off of me, chaval!

You can find more information about Paca and Tola here and, if you’re so inclined, vote on which one will get knocked up first.

Location of the Hike’s Start on our Map

spooky stairs
spanischer friedhof
spanish flower lady
farming tools
drying asturias
jahr asturias
sidra fria
trubia
hiking break
nature asturias
asturias nature photographer
modern art asturias
crazy wasle
froggy
Asturian Cow
berries asturias
bear walk
hiking spain
Tunnels osos
wandern asturien
climbing asturias
clouds asturias
oso walk
Asturian Village
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August 9, 2010 at 5:03 pm Comments (13)

La Playa del Silencio

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Despite the overcast weather on Saturday, we decided to check out the evocatively named Playa del Silencio: the Beach of Silence. After a 40 minute drive from Oviedo, access to the beach can be found in the tiny village of Castañeras (here).

This was our first excursion in Asturias, and immediately we were struck by the beautiful nature which the region possesses. The N-632 highway ends in Galicia and, on the way, winds its way along the Asturian coast, over rivers and in view of the sea. There’s a lot more vegetation than I had expected, and the old industrial towns and shuttered-up housing we passed provided a romantic, meloncholic air.

The beach was amazing. An inlet trapped between cliffs, the water was still, crystal clear and as silent as it named promised. I was kicking myself for not having goggles or, even better, a wet-suit. Turns out the water of Spain’s northern coast is freezing, even in summer. The few Asturians who were on the beach didn’t seem to mind, jumping in without hesitation, but they were probably warmed up by cider. Besides, I was still accustomed to Valencia and the lukewarm Mediterranean. But I stiffened my lip, and leapt into the sea, managing to stay in for a grand total of twenty seconds.

Now we’ll let the pictures of this hidden Asturian spot speak for themselves. Definitely worth an outing!

Location on our Asturias Map

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August 2, 2010 at 3:27 pm Comments (9)

First-Time Cider: Learning about El Escanciado

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Cider (sidra) is a way of life in Asturias. Asturians drink cider at all times of the day, wherever they are. On the beach, in their houses, with lunch, with dinner and probably breakfast, before going to bed, when they’re happy, sad or bored. Sidrerías blanket Oviedo, particularly on Calle Gascona, otherwise known as the Boulevard of Cider.

Despite having the energy level of celery on our first full day in Oviedo, we couldn’t resist sampling it. We sat down at a sidrería close to our house, and ordered a bottle. As soon as it was set down on the table, I greedily reached for it, but the waiter snatched the bottle deftly away from my grabby hands, tut-tutting as he did so. And then, he provided our first lesson in the art of El Escanciado.

Drinking cider is not as easy as cracking open a beer. Made from apples, it’s a completely natural beverage and bottled without any gas. So the cider must be poured from a height, aerating it as it splashes into the glass. Our waiter held the bottle high over his head, and the glass down at waist level. Without looking at either bottle or glass, he started pouring, splashing a ton of cider onto the ground, and then pushed the glasses into our hands instead of setting them onto the table. The cider was delicious, with an unexpectedly tangy punch. The glasses were only filled the glass to an inch, so we were ready for more in about two seconds. But we had quickly picked up that pouring your own cider is improper ettiquite, so we had to wait until he came back around to our table to perform the ritual again.

The slow drinking is conducive to a long evening out with friends, and the small portions and low alcohol content would make it difficult to get drunk on cider. Plus, it’s cheap (we paid €2,50 per bottle), so there’s no need to worry about ordering another round.

Yep, I think that we’ll be sampling a good percentage of Oviedo’s sidrerías during our time here. And we’ll have to get practicing on our Escanciado skills right away.

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August 1, 2010 at 12:53 pm Comments (8)

Our Arrival in Oviedo

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The drive from Valencia to Oviedo is a long one, so it’s lucky that the Spanish countryside is so beautiful. We needed seven hours to reach Salamanca, where we grabbed a beer in the massive Plaza Mayor, and spent the night. Before leaving the next morning, we had time to explore the cathedral, which must be the only church in the world that has a space-walking astronaut sculpted into its facade.

From Salamanca, we took the highway through the high, dry plains of Castile and León. As we progressed further north, the terrain became more hilly and we soon found ourselves in the mountains. The poetically named Embalse de los Barrios de Luna (Reservoir of the Neighborhoods of the Moon), awaited us at the end of one of the many mountain tunnels, offering up a gorgeous panorama. The sparkling water below us in the mountain’s valley was breathtaking, especially after the hours spent driving through arid plains.

As we passed into the Principality of Asturias, we were greeted by the clouds which would be our constant companions during for the next three months. But the abundant rain makes for a verdant landscape, and the downhill drive into Oviedo seemed to pass in a heartbeat. Without much difficulty, we were able to find our apartment, which was within sight of the train station, and ten minutes from the city’s historic center. Perfect.

The move from Valencia and the long drive were exhausting, but we were anxious to go explore Oviedo and Asturias. From August to the November of 2010, this blog was updated almost daily with our experiences, and impressions of the city and its people — impressions which would evolve a lot over the course of 91 days. Make sure to follow us on Twitter for real-time updates on what we’re up to, now. Hope you enjoy our pictures and anecdotes from Asturias!

And if we have any Ovetense readers, please leave comments with your insider tips on restaurants and other interesting things to do!

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July 31, 2010 at 7:13 pm Comments (5)
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.
For 91 Days