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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
Santiago Pilgramage
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Santiago Camino
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October 22, 2010 at 3:04 pm Comment (1)

The Regenta, by Clarín

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In 1884, Leopold Alas, better known by his pen name of Clarín, wrote a massive novel which would eventually be regarded as one of the 19th century’s best. La Regenta is a fictional account of the life and loves of Ana Ozores, a noblewoman who marries a man far older than herself, but allows herself to be pursued by two other suitors: the town’s resident heartthrob and a priest. Scandal!

La Regenta

The novel is set in an Oviedo superficially disguised as “Vetusta” and, with a rich ensemble set of eccentric secondary characters, wickedly satirizes Spanish society. In the well-stocked bookshelves of the apartment in which we’re staying, I discovered a copy of La Regenta, and immediately declared, “Yes! I shall read this!”.

These plans lasted until I felt the heft of the book, 9,183,433 pages thick, and opened to the first page of fine-print 19th century Spanish prose. “On second thought”, I considered, removing my smoking robe, lowering my reading glasses and substituting my brandy for a beer, “Dude Where’s My Car is on TV tonight. I can get to La Regenta later.”

The novel has had a huge influence on Oviedo, where approximately half the hotels and restaurants use the name “Vetusta”. And Clarín’s likeness is all over the place, on murals and statues. La Regenta herself claims the best spot in the city, right in front of the cathedral. Her statue must be among the most-photographed in Spain.

Despite its wide-reaching influence and universal praise, La Regenta is difficult to find in English. I don’t want to tell Oviedo’s booksellers how to run their businesses, but here’s some unsolicited advice: stock La Regenta in English! If there’s a classic book which has partially defined a city, tourists to that city will often want to read the book. Trust me.

Order La Regenta here: USA, UK, Germany

Location of La Regenta on our Oviedo Map

Vetusta
Regenta Oviedo
Regenta Clarin
Oviedo at Night
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October 21, 2010 at 5:20 pm Comment (1)

The Butt Statue

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It’s a butt! A huge, shiny butt, right next to the Teatro Campoamor. And what’s more: it’s a double butt.

Eros Oviedo

Butt on the back, and a shimmering pair of matching cheeks on the front. This bizarre sculpture is called the Culis Monumentalibus or El Culo, and is the work of Eduardo Úrculo, who also created the Williams B. Arrensberg statue.

Is it art? I think so. Do I want to slap and/or grind on it? Definitely.

Location of El Culo on our Oviedo Map

Culis Monumentalibus
Culo
Ass of Oviedo
Big Ass
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October 16, 2010 at 7:43 pm Comments (2)

The Plaza de España and Francisco Franco

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I love living in Spain for a lot of reasons: siestas, wine, crazy parties, friendly people, the beautiful language. Also, I’m fascinated by history, and Spain is full of it. The Spanish Civil War is of particular interest; the ultimate left-right clash, the workers against the privileged, the cohesion of the Francoists and the suicidal splintering of the liberals, the cowardice of the world’s democracies, the brutality shown by foreign fascist powers, the self-sacrifice of the International Brigades and of course the war’s terrible, soul-crushing end. In this movie, the bad guys won. It’s utterly captivating.

Francisco Franco

Years later, the wounds haven’t completely healed over; the war was too brutal, and the disastrous reign of Franco too long. In an attempt to finally help Spain reach a sense of closure, the government passed the Historical Memory Law in 2007, officially condemning the Fascist regime. It honors the victims on both sides of the war and grants honorary Spanish citizenship to all members of the International Brigade. But most tangibly, the law mandates the removal of all Francoist symbols and statues from public areas.

It appears that regal, conservative Oviedo didn’t get the memo. In the Plaza de España, one of the country’s last Francoist statues is still standing tall, looking over the Campo de San Francisco. It was erected to commemorate the Caudillo’s death. Franco’s face appears on a medallion on the statue’s base, below an inscription reading “From Oviedo to Francisco Franco”, while above, Hera the Greek Queen of the Gods, presides over the scene. Franco’s face has been the target of paint, graffiti and defamation over the years.

We never heard an official explanation as to why this statue which honors Spain’s most infamous ruler is still standing in the middle of the city. I’m not necessarily an advocate of the forced removal of such monuments, but Oviedo sure seems to be flaunting a national law, despite the pressure of groups dedicated to erasing the lingering memory of Franco.

Location of the Plaza de España on our Oviedo Map

Franco Oviedo
Delfín Oviedo
Franco Hate Spain
Hola Franco
October 14, 2010 at 4:36 pm Comments (4)

Oviedo’s Statues: Maternity

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Columbian artist Fernando Botero has an instantly recognizable style. Plumpness, I suppose it could be called. Plump animals, plump objects, plump prisoners and, above all, plump women.

Naked Oviedo

One of Oviedo’s best statues is Botero’s La Maternidad, found in the Plaza de la Escandalera. A woman, hugely fat but also strikingly beautiful, looks to the right while her happy, fat infant plays on her knee. The proportions of the woman’s body are wild, with massive legs and hips supporting a relatively lithe upper body. Her breasts are small and pert, and her hair tied back into a long ponytail.

Despite her obesity, the feeling conveyed is one of health, with its clearly loved and well-nourished infant. Maternity an exuberant celebration of life, paying tribute to the joys of motherhood, and there can be little wonder that it’s one of the most popular of Oviedo’s many statues.

Happy Baby Oviedo
Fernando-Boterol
Fernando-Botero-Oviedo
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August 25, 2010 at 7:39 pm Comments (7)

To the Top of Mount Naranco!

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Oviedo is bounded on the north by Mount Naranco, which stretches over five kilometers in length and reaches 634 meters in altitude. 634 meters? Pfah, that’s nothing… let’s climb it!

Jesus Sacred Heart Oviedo

And so we did. Starting from San Miguel de Lillo, a path winds up the mountain, through a forest and finishes at the top. It’s all uphill, but the path zigzags and isn’t too difficult. Unless, of course, you’re like us: stupid.

We thought we’d take a shortcut, since well-trodden trails are so boring. The little path shooting off through the shrubbery looked promising! Soon enough, the path disappeared but, clever as we are, we decided to push through the thicket anyway. Thorny branches were soon scraping our legs and arms to shreds. I clutzed through a spiderweb and, spotting its hairy owner crawling up my stomach, unleashed a deafening shriek of ladylike terror. Clever and masculine, yep that’s me.

Bloody and agitated, we eventually made it to the top, where we were greeted by a giant statue of The Sacred Heart of Jesus. With his arms open towards the city, Jesus seems to be embracing Oviedo, protecting it. Underneath the statue is a version of the famous Cruz de la Victoria, which features on the flag of Asturias.

Climbing the mountain was worth the effort for the incredible view over Oviedo and its valley. There’s no better place to get a sense for the layout, size and topography of the region. You can also drive up to the top of Mount Naranco, if you don’t feel like a hike. Either way, make sure to go on a sunny day; the panorama is unforgettable.

Location on our Oviedo Map

Bitchy Gease
Fairy Tale Asturias
Awesome Bug
Farn
Painful Hike
Oviedo Panorama
Sacrado Corazon Jesus Oviedo
Mountain Around Oviedo

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August 18, 2010 at 4:15 pm Comments (6)

Famous Ovetenses: Alfonso II the Chaste

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King of Asturias for 51 years, from 791 until his death in 842, Alfonso II el Casto had an impact on Oviedo that has barely diminished over the course of the centuries.

He moved the kingdom’s throne from Pravia to Oviedo, and built numerous churches in his new capital, including the Iglesia de San Tiro and the Cámara Santa. Renowned for his brave military victories against the Moors, particularly the history-changing conquest of Lisbon, Alfonso played an important role in re-settling the north of the Iberian peninsula for Christianity.

Ole Alfie was chaste during his reign. Nary a woman did he touch! So many centuries have passed that most knowledge about him comes from folklore but, by all accounts, he was an intensely sober and religous man who eschewed the pleasures of the flesh for those of the spirit. In fact, he was one of the very first pilgrims to travel to Santiago de Compostela, to visit the newly-discovered remains of Saint James the Greater. His unshakeable faith served as a model for the citizens of Oviedo, who to this day are more strongly religious than most of their countrymen.

Besides the regal statue found next to the cathedral, Oviedo has honored Alfonso’s memory by naming its most picturesque plaza after him.

Location on our Oviedo Map

A visit to Vienna

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August 10, 2010 at 1:41 pm Comments (5)

Oviedo’s Statues: The Return of Williams B. Arrensberg

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Oviedo is renowned for the statues which have been graced its streets since the early 1990s. From classic sculptures to modern art, a walk through Oviedo is like strolling through a giant open-air museum. A few really stand out, none more so than El Regreso de Williams B. Arrensberg, by Eduardo Úrculo, in the Plaza de Porlier.

The life-size Arrensberg stands silently with a trench coat thrown over his shoulders, surrounded by luggage. Leaning against his largest suitcase, he’s wearing a fedora, sporting a moustache, and carrying an umbrella. But who is he? And where has he returned from? Nobody knows, and the artist never provided any clues. Arrensberg’s expression is one of bitter contemplation, and when you step behind him, you can see what he’s staring at: the city’s Cathedral.

Something sinister must have happened in the Cathedral, years ago. And something else will surely occur, now that he’s returned! Studying the statue, it’s easy to get sucked into the spirit of film noir, and invent possible scenarios for the mysterious Mr. Arrensberg.

Location on our Oviedo Map

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August 3, 2010 at 6:17 pm Comments (6)
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.
For 91 Days