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El Santullano – The Pinnacle of Asturian Pre-Romanesque

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Every day, thousands of people fly right past the most well-preserved and impressive Pre-Romanesque church in all of Spain: the Iglesia de San Julián de los Prados. Also known as the Santullano (from Sanct Iulianus), the ancient church lays along the highway which unites Oviedo and Gijón.

El Santullano

The Santullano was built in 812 by King Alonso II, making it even older than the Santa María del Naranco. It’s endured very little damage, and is one of the largest Pre-Romanesque churches still standing. 1200 years old. Mind-blowing.

It’s little wonder that King Alfonso would choose to christen his church in honor of Saint Julian, an 3rd century Egyptian forced into marriage with Basilissa. Julian and Basilissa decided to leave their marriage unconsummated, and were chaste until the day they were tortured and killed as Christian martyrs. Alfonso likewise would die a virgin. Originally his Santullano was part of a large religious and administrative complex outside the new capital of Oviedo, but the church is the only structure to have survived the centuries.

The Santullano is impressive for its architecture: the Roman influences and austere facade. But what most stands out is the interior artwork. 1200-year-old mosaic depictions of pastoral scenes, city buildings and geometric figures. These are the most well-preserved works of their time period in all Western Europe, and are unique in that they don’t portray any human forms, or the kinds of images normally associated with religious artwork.

Although it’s just a kilometer outside of the city, and entrance is less than two euros, the Santullano is something all too many people skip on. Don’t make that mistake.

Location on our Oviedo Map

Iglesia El Santullano
Iglesias Oviedo
Alfonso Oviedo
Santullano
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October 23, 2010 at 6:36 pm Comments (0)

Santa Cristina de Lena

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Looking For a Hotel in Asturias?

“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)

More of Oviedo in Pictures

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The capital of Asturias is one of the most beautiful cities in Spain, and a walk through its streets reveals Oviedo’s 1000-year history, as much as the vibrant, contemporary place it is today. The ancient Pre-Romanesque churches and Baroque palaces are stunning, but we had just as much pleasure photographing the more modern buildings.

Here’s another set of random pictures of Oviedo, taken over the past week. This city is really beautiful.

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August 24, 2010 at 4:44 pm Comments (2)

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)

Day Trip to Cudillero

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Looking for a Hotel in Cudillero?

Asturianu is the indigenous language of Asturias, though there aren’t many people who speak it anymore. And Pixuetu is a dialect of Asturianu spoken only in Cudillero, a tiny village on the Cantabrian coast, distinuished by its use of Nordic words. Its no wonder that parents around the world are in a rush to teach their children Pixueto, since it’s totally going to be the next Chinese.

Cudillero Viaje

After visiting Cudillero, which was originally settled by Vikings, I understand how the village was able to develop and maintain its own dialect. Squished into a narrow valley that empties into the sea, Cudillero is difficult to reach today; centuries ago, it must have been almost completely isolated. The town has always been closely tied to fishing and, in fact, the name of their dialect is a combination of the words “fish” (pix-) and “activity” (-uetus).

I don’t think we heard any Pixuetu during our visit, but we did hear a lot of Spanish. Cudillero has become a true tourist town. We were overwhelmed by the amount of traffic and tourists, but at least they were all Spaniards; the town hasn’t yet been discovered by foreigners. Luckily, the noise and bustle didn’t detract much from the experience.

There’s one important road in Cudillero, running from the train station high up in the hills outside the city, down to the sea. The central plaza is the main area of activity, bordering the port and boasting views of the houses which cling uncertainly to the mountainsides. Away from the tourist filled plaza, we had a blast exploring the back alleys of Cudillero. There are no “streets”, really, just stairs carved into the cliffs connecting one house to the next.

As it has been since the town’s foundation, the port continues to be the nexus of commerce for Cudillero. Unless it’s between the sleepy siesta hours of two and five, hordes of fishermen are always hard at work down by the docks, and walking down towards them is rewarded with the seaside view of Cudillero. The town spills from the mountain valley into the water, like an unmoving river of people and houses.

FEVE operates a train which arrives in Cudillero after a stop in Pravia. We really can recommend a day there.

Location on our Asturias Map

Layers of Mist
Clay Town
Calle Cudillero
Blach and White Cudillero
Bakery Cudillero
Eburido
Town Gossip
Cudillero Church
Lonja Pescado Cudillero
Cudiller Spain
All You Can Eat Fish
Fisher Nets
Catching Lobster
Fish Skin
Cudillero Day Trip
Cudillero Faro
Cudillero Harbor
Magic Rock
Fishing Cudillero
Hanging Out in Cudillero
Don't Walk Too Fast
Cudillero Rocks
Lost
Tourist Trap
Cudillero Roof
Bird Punk
Plaza Majo Cudillero
Harbor Yacht Cudilloro
Lighthouse Cudillero
Mirador Cudillero
Leuchtturm Cudillero

Explore Asturias by Car

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August 19, 2010 at 2:37 pm Comments (10)

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)
El Santullano - The Pinnacle of Asturian Pre-Romanesque Every day, thousands of people fly right past the most well-preserved and impressive Pre-Romanesque church in all of Spain: the Iglesia de San Julin de los Prados. Also known as the Santullano (from Sanct Iulianus), the ancient church lays along the highway which unites Oviedo and Gijn.
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