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Oviedo, as Seen by Quasimodo

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The priests at the Cathedral were kind enough to grant us special access to the bell tower to take some shots of Oviedo from above. The stairs are in poor condition, so it’s understandable why the tower is normally closed to the public. Looking out over the city, Juergen and I both became melancholic. Our three months in Oviedo had come to an end.

Bell Tower Oviedo
Oviedo Ciudad
Facade Oviedo
Oviedo Bicho
Bell tower
Bell Tower Oviedo
Oviedo Tower
Ciudad Naranco
Oviedo Spain
Reyes Oviedo
Plaza Cathedral
Tourists Oviedo

Some more random Cathedral images:

Oviedo Cruz
Luz Santa
Oviedo Holida
Oviedo Night Life

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October 24, 2010 at 12:51 pm Comments (2)

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
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October 23, 2010 at 6:36 pm Comments (0)

Covadonga – The Spiritual Capital of Asturias

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Oviedo may be the political center of the Principality of Asturias, but Covadonga is its spiritual heart. This mountain sanctuary near Cangas de Onís is where King Pelayo led a ragtag bunch of Christians to victory over a much larger Muslim force in the 8th century. It was Christianity’s first triumph since the Moorish conquest of Iberia, and marked the beginning of the 800-year Reconquista.

covadonga asturias

The Catholic church wasted no time in claiming Covadonga as its own, and declared the area a religious mega-site. You see, Pelayo’s men didn’t just use the mountainous terrain and their knowledge of it to turn back the Moors, the Holy Virgin of Covadonga assisted them.

Visiting is an odd experience. The grotto of Covadonga is undeniably beautiful, and does have a magical feeling about it. Supposedly, it rests on a ley line. But it’s also a solemn, strange Catholic Disneyland. Step right up kids, and see Pelayo’s final resting place! No talking please, this is a church. And now right over here, folks, we have the Fountain of Marriage! That’s correct, ladies, one drink from this enchanted water and you’ll be at the alter in no time! Pictures are allowed here, since it’s just kinda holy.

Oooh, only brave souls this way! That’s right, we’re entering the Holy Cave! Please no horseplay, kids, this is a holy cave, after all. And who’s this lovely lady, to your right? Why it’s our friend, the Virgin of Covadonga. NO PICTURES! She is most sacred! But if you’ll follow me right this way, we’ll enter the gift shop where you can buy pictures of La Santina and all manner of fabulous religious paraphernalia!

If you’re Catholic or superstitious or new-agey or into kitsch, you’re going to love Covadonga. But for cynics like myself and Juergen, it was a little much. The Basilica is gorgeous, set against the mountains, and it was fun to walk around a bit. There’s also museum on the grounds, which wasn’t very interesting; instead of history, I got artless portraits of archbishops and their robes.

But no trip to Asturias is complete without visiting Covadonga. Regardless of your views on religion and spirituality, it’s a haunting and interesting place.

Visit the Lakes of Covadonga

Covadonga Bell
Cruzes Covadonga
Covadonga Shrine
Covadonga Chapel
Virgin Covadonga
Cueva Silencia
Wedding Fountain
Covadonga Snake
Pelayo Perro
Lost in Covadonga
Organ Covadonga
Cruz Asturias
My Covadonga
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October 22, 2010 at 5:16 pm Comments (0)

The Gothic Cloister of Oviedo’s Cathedral

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After admiring the relics in the Cámara Santa, visitors can continue their journey through the ancient wing of Oviedo’s Cathedral by ascending to the second floor into the Museum of Sacred Art. This museum opened in 1990, and is one of Asturias’ more important collections of religious iconography.

Gothic Cloister Oviedo

Depending on how interested you are in gold-plated crucifixes and ornamental robes, you might spend more or less time in the museum. We chose “less”, but mainly because we were too excited to enter the Gothic Cloister. Descending stairs at the far end of the museum, visitors are deposited in a beautiful courtyard. Rectangular with exquisite pointed arches around the yard, this is Asturian Gothic at its most pure.

Adjoining the courtyard are a number of interesting rooms, including the Crypt of Saint Leocadia, a 3rd century Christian martyr from Toledo whose mortal remains were brought to Oviedo to protect them from the Moors. There’s also a chapter house, with choral benches delicately worked in wood, and a garden with an ancient olive tree. This used to be the cemetery of pilgrims who’d died on the way to Santiago, and legend has it that the olive tree was brought from Jerusalem.

Too many people visit the Cathedral and skip out on the Cámara Santa, museum and the Gothic Cloister. That’s understandable, because these rooms don’t seem enticing from the entranceway, and cost money while the Cathedral is free. But don’t make that mistake, or you’ll miss the aspects which make the Cathedral de San Salvador such a unique place of worship.

Crypt Saint Leocadia
Cruz Oviedo
Gothic Oviedo
Oviedo Window
Columns Oviedo
Oviedo Cathedral
Oviedo Funny
Religion Figure
Goth Crave
Dino King
Pets of Religion
Oviedo Tourist
Gothic Cloister
Judges Oviedo
Jesus Arm Broken
Scenes from the Cross
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October 5, 2010 at 5:35 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)

The Cámara Santa – The Cathedral’s Holy Chamber

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Accessed through a passage on the southern side of the Cathedral, the Pre-Romanesque Cámara Santa dates from the 9th century. It was originally King Alfonso’s private chapel, and today houses some of the most important relics in Asturias. In 1998, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site.


Three treasures stand out in the collection of the Cámara Santa. The Cross of the Angels is the symbol of Oviedo, a Greek-style cross crafted by two angels in the guise of pilgrims, or so the legend goes. The cross suffered massive damage during the Miner’s Strike of 1934, and was stolen from the Cámara Santa in 1977. The robbers took it apart, meaning to sell the individual pieces, though the cross was mostly recovered.

More well known is the Victory Cross, which features on the Asturian flag. The wooden cross is covered in gold and ornamented with precious jewels. It was given to the Cathedral in the 10th century, and legend maintains that this was the cross carried by Pelayo during the history-altering Battle of Covadonga, when a rag-tag group of Christians defeated an overwhelming Moorish army at the beginning of the Reconquista.

Another treasure of the Cámara Santa is the Agate Casket, a beautifully ornate golden box from the 10th century. Like always, the legend about the box’s origin is far more colorful than the likely truth. Many moons ago, a great Moorish king arrived on the shores of Asturias bearing the Agate Casket, insisting on handing it to the priest of Luarca. After he departed, the Asturian villagers watched in terror as a pack of wolves emerged from the woods and surrounded them. But rather than attack, the wolves simply knelt in front of the casket and howled. SUCH IS THE POWER OF THE AGATE CASKET!!

The Cámara Santa is cool, for both its age and architecture. Above the entrance door, float the disembodied heads of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, surely the room’s weirdest feature. The sacred items on display may be more interesting to Asturians who grew up with the legends than to clueless foreigners, but the chamber is still worth the price of entry.

Related posts: The Cathedral in Oviedo fist impressionInside the Cathedral of San Salvador

Entrada Camera Santa
Entrance Camera Santa
Camera Santa
Floating Jesus
Treasure Oviedo
Cruz Victoria
Agate Casket
Jesus Treasure
Camina Santiago 2010
Da Dudes
Hungry Beasts
Holy Head
Hungry Mega Beasts
Stairs Camera Santa
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October 3, 2010 at 3:52 pm Comments (6)


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Looking for a Hotel in Ribadesella?

We were first introduced to this small seaside village during the madness of the Descenso del Sella, when over 300,000 revelers use an annual boat race as an excuse to party. With so much going on, we had no chance to see the town, and so went back.


The river Sella, winding through the mountains on its way to the sea, is the dominant feature of this town of 6000 inhabitants. A popular summertime destination, Ribadesella quiets down completely during the fall. We were able to see the main sights within a few hours, and often felt completely alone.

The highlight of the day was walking to the Hermitage of La Guía, high on a hill, with a vantage over both the city and the ocean. With its canons still pointed to the sea, this was an important defensive point back in the day. Along with the canons, a small chapel with a couple pews and a wall full of model boats, still remains.

Ribadesella is most famous for the Cave of Tito Bustillo, with wall paintings from 11,000 to 22,000 BC. Sounds neat, although we wouldn’t know. Apparently, only a limited number of tourists are allowed in every day. Despite our inquiring about the caves at two different offices, no one saw fit to mention that. Frustrating, but let our loss be your gain: make reservations, or show up early.

Regardless, Ribadesella is beautiful. We finished the day with a long walk along the beach, alternately praising the elegance of the beach-side houses, and venting our frustration about the caves. But it was a fun day, and we can definitely recommend it for an easy, memorable day trip.

Location of Ribadesella on our Day Trips Map

Asturias Painting
Oldtown Ribadesella
Church Asturias
Nature Ribadesella
Ribadesella Cliffs
Seaman Church
Natural Pool
Mirador Asturias
Coast Asturias
Fishing Asturias
Boat Parking
Fishing Ribadesella
Playa Ribadesella
Ribadesella Spain
Villa Rosario

Calatrava in Valencia

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October 2, 2010 at 8:06 pm Comments (3)

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
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)

Villaviciosa – Capital of the Cider Region

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Welcome to Villaviciosa, the Vicious Village, where nightmares are reality and your screaming only makes the villagers thirstier for blood!

Puking Baby

Man, was I disappointed to learn that Villaviciosa’s name actually translates to “Fertile Valley”. Vicious Village would be so much cooler! The capital of the Comarca de la Sidra, Villaviciosa’s fertile valleys (sigh) make it the biggest cider-producer in Spain. We visited out the city after our tour the Sidrería El Gaitero.

Villaviciosa is not big, but definitely has its share of small-town charms. There’s a quiet plaza with a statue dedicated to apples, and we ventured inside the Santa María de la Oliva, a beautifully preserved church from the 13th century. There was a mass going on, and after the churchgoers gave us sufficiently annoyed glares, we left them alone, and went to find food at one of the many local sidrerías.

Combined with our visit to the Gaitero factory, this was a full day, and we left without exploring the surrounding area. In addition to the town, Villaviciosa’s beaches are supposed to be really lovely.

Location of Villaviciosa on our Day Trips Map

Apple Statue
Gaita Villaviciosa
Musica Villaviciosa
Villaviciosa Santa Maria
Villaviciosa Cathedral
Iglesia Villaviciosa
Wild Pig Villaviciosa
No Heads
Men Only
Happy Spanish Opa
Romantic Villviciosa
Self Golden Shower
Cider Region Spain
Ayuntamiento Villaviciosa
Misty Villaviciosa
ciudad Sidra
Cute Villaviciosa
Artist Villaviciosa
Oldtimer Villaviciosa
upside down sign
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September 8, 2010 at 5:19 pm Comments (2)

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Oviedo, as Seen by Quasimodo The priests at the Cathedral were kind enough to grant us special access to the bell tower to take some shots of Oviedo from above. The stairs are in poor condition, so it's understandable why the tower is normally closed to the public. Looking out over the city, Juergen and I both became melancholic. Our three months in Oviedo had come to an end.
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