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.
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.
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.
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.
Possibly because I’m from the USA, where a building from 1910 is considered ancient, I’m fascinated by European history. A city like Oviedo, with centuries engraved into almost every corner and churches over one thousand years old… well, it’s too much for my little corn-fed American mind to fully comprehend.
Oviedo’s most celebrated monument is the Catedral de San Salvador, found in the middle of the city and visible from miles away. Closely linked with the Camino de Santiago, the pilgrimage leading to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, the cathedral is also known as Sancta Ovetensis in reference to the abundance of important artifacts stored inside.