THE “PULCHRA OF LEON” OF THE FRENCH AIR
The city of Leon is on a very flat terrain, where heights are not particularly plentiful. The elegant Cathedral is located at its highest point, and it is not allowed to climb the towers, so there are not many options to enjoy a panoramic view of the city from a higher point. But no problem, because we can enjoy spectacular views by looking up. Warm up the column because the heights are coming! To do this, we go to Regla’s square, the great plain in front of the Cathedral that covers two of its complete sides: the western facade with its two towers and the entire southern facade as a continuation of Ancha Street.
Once in the Regla’s square, it is necessary to prepare to assume the splendour that will show off before you. Gentlemen, before you, the “Pulchra of Leon”. Built-in, the 13th century to be one of the largest of its time, this Cathedral is a true masterpiece of Gothic art. A stone structure brought to the following expression through tall and thin walls, and in which the summumof light is achieved thanks to its colourful stained glass that represents one of the largest collections of medieval stained-glass windows in the world. In this Cathedral’s construction, the walls were reduced to a minimum to replace stained-glass windows.
As much light as possible had to enter! But let’s admire this Gothic gem in parts. For this, we’ll start by enjoying its main facade, that of the towers. If you notice, the two towers look the same, but they’re not. Almost a hundred years have been part of the two buildings. The one on the left, looking straight at the facade, is the Bell Tower and was the first to be made, reaching up to 65 meters. The tower on the right is 68 meters high and is the Clock Tower. In the middle of both, a large central rose window will leave us with our mouths open. And under the rose window, a spectacular triple entrance gives access to the temple where we can see sculptures of apostles, kings and biblical passages.
Let’s rest our necks for a while and go to the other side of Regla’s square, where the south facade of the Cathedral will give us more visual pleasure. High walls with many stained-glass windows, circular and pointed arches, rose windows, pinnacles. The magic of the Gothic before us! This wonderful Cathedral has shown us all the French splendour of this Regla’s square, but its beauty remains inside. Inside, a rainbow of lights awaits you thanks to its polychrome stained-glass windows! Recently, a bar was opened on the rooftop of the Camarote Hotel, allowing you to enjoy good views from the heights of Leon while having a drink. One of the few opportunities to look “face to face” at the towers of the Cathedral!
Cathedral of Santa Maria de Regla
Reglas Square y/n24003 - Leon
Damaso Merino Street 1
LET’S GO TAPAS!
The province of Leon is like a vast pantry, very diverse and abundant in foodstuff. Meat, vegetables, cheeses, fish, sweets, and wines make up a varied menu of local products that delight Leon’s, visitors, and pilgrims who cross the region on the way to Santiago. In Leon is practised a gastronomic art through which you can taste the delicacies of the region. Tapa’s art consists of having a drink in a bar and, in doing so, we are invited to a small sample of its gastronomy in the form of tapas. And when we say we’re asked, it’s literally like that. The customer only pays for the drink ordered, and the tapas are free, as it is an invitation from the establishment.
This custom, so deeply rooted in the city, is part of the daily lives of Leonese, and for visitors, it is a surprising and always satisfying habit. Any excuse is good for some friends to meet for tapas, both for appetisers and before dinner. It is often a very informal but satisfying and fun way to have lunch or dinner. We will explain what exactly it consists of and where we will find these tapas. The art of tapas takes place in bars with kitchens, not in restaurants or cafes. Be it at the bar counter, at the table or on the terrace, when ordering any drink (a wine, a soft drink, a beer.), the bar staff will invite you to have tapas with every glass.
These tapas are varied and always made with raw material from the region, including many natural products of the highest quality. Whatever the tapa, it will be rich, tasty and sophisticated. What can be tapas ingredients? There are all types and ingredients, but all with something in common. They are addictive because they are rich! Some examples of tapas can be a portion of sausage, spicy fries, a salad from the Leonese vegetable garden, a sample of vegetable stew, some croquettes, and glorious chorizo. And so, we could continue almost to infinity now that the imagination of hoteliers in Leon has no limits.
Imagine the pleasure of ordering a wine from Leon or Bierzo, which are native wines, and which comes with one of these delicacies. The habit of tapas spreads throughout the city, but we will find more bars in the two neighbourhoods separated by Ancha’s Street, the pedestrian street that begins at the Cathedral.These two neighbourhoods, the Húmedoand the Romantic,are full of bars whose employees serve thousands of tapas every day to promote the art of their stoves and the region’s products.
As the stanza goes. “there are so many taverns in Leon that the number of them scares me”. So, let’s have tapas in Leon…?
Húmedo Quarter: on our left, down Ancha’s Street from the Cathedral
Romantic Quarter: on our right, down Ancha’s street from the Cathedral
THE BEST “BEEF HAM” IN THE WORLD
In the previous point, we discussed Leon’s regional gastronomic delights, which are many. Now, among all the ambrosia in Leon, one that stands out especially, even on an international level. Its stellar product stands out as an unmistakable protagonist among all these pleasures of the regional palate. It is the famous Cecina de Leon(dried meat), considered the best in the world. And if you want, we will accompany you to buy it. In the historic centre of the city of Leon is the Húmedo Quarter, where we will find numerous establishments, both in the form of bars and shops, where we can buy and taste the Cecina de Leon.
We recommend that you walk through the streets of this neighbourhood and let your gaze wander among the infinite gastronomic products that these establishments specialising in Leonese food offer in their windows, where a sumptuous feast of delicacies is displayed in addition to the jerky. Without leaving this neighbourhood, a highly recommended visit when buying this product is the Conde Luna Market, located in the heart of Húmedo Quarter itself. Since its opening in 1929, this market has been a reference in the city’s food supply. Inside, 42 commercial stalls offer meat, fish, fruit and vegetable, cheese and preserved products. And among them, the famous Cecina de Leon.
At the Conde Luna Market, high-quality regional products coexist in a modern environment with the centuries-old tradition that sustains them. The result is pure gastronomic culture! But what is cecina,and why is Leon’s so special? Cecinais dehydrated and salted meat obtained after a curing process, and, in the case of Cecina de Leon, the core must come from beef cattle. Cecina de Leon is like a cured or serrano ham but made from beef in more colloquial words. The manufacturing processes for both products have many similarities.
After a purely natural and artisanal process, whose protagonists are the meat as the only raw material, smoke and salt, the beef from the rear bovine are dehydrated and salted. The result is Cecina de Leon, a food rich in calcium, phosphorus, iron, sodium and potassium that provides very little fat and lots of proteins. Due to these qualities, this product is increasingly sought after by athletes and as a food in diets. It’s a product for all audiences! Cecina de Leon is food with its certified name.
This “beef ham” is marketed in several ways, but a very convenient way to get it to take with us is vacuum-packed, whether in blocks, slices or even pieces. Take with you a piece of Leon in red, marbled and succulent form. This is Cecina de Leon!
Municipal Market of Abastos Conde Luna
Count Luna Square
24003 – Leon
POSING WITH A REAL GENIUS
Once and again, a man created true wonders out of nothing, and he did so by combining just two ingredients: lots of love and good technique. Once upon a time, a genius created modern architecture whose works exude love for man and respect for God through all its pores. The city of Leon was fortunate to be a witness of his talent, and because of the relationship between the genius and the city was born one of Leon’s architectural treasures. The jewel, Botines House! The genius, Antonio Gaudí.At the end of the 19th century, two textile merchants from Leon decided to build a building that would house their textile company on the ground floor and basement, and the rest of the building would be used for rent.
These two businessmen, named Simón Fernández and Mariano Andrés, had business relationships with Catalan industrialists. One of them recommended hiring Antonio Gaudí, a very talented architect who coincidentally worked very close to Leon in those years building the Episcopal Palace of Astorga. From here, we are grateful for the advice of that Catalan industrialist, Eusebi Güell, who turned out to be Gaudí’s patron.Very well advised, Fernández and Andrés followed this wise recommendation and hired Gaudí, who designed and built Botines House in 1892.
Its construction was so fast that the Leonese themselves doubted its durability! Since then, we can admire this magnificent building that resists impassively over time, thus defying the disbelief of its neighbours.This work by Gaudí is a neo-Gothic building with modernist influences. It is shaped like a trapeze, covered by four circular towers covered by pointed pins. The building’s windows are inspired by the Leon cathedral’s clerestory (upper nave). Gaudí´s tribute to Pulchra Leonese! In addition, the artist wanted to surprise us with a unique curiosity, as we will see below.On the main facade of Botine’s House as a figurehead, the sculpture of Saint George triumphant over the dragon stands out.
In 1950, due to deterioration, the need arose to replace the primitive sculpture with a replica. The original statue was dismantled, a lead tube was discovered inside, which contained important work´s documents, such as the original plan and the calendar of the pieces. A great surprise prepared by the artist for those who dared to interpret the primitive Saint George! The calendar attests that the results lasted only ten months, something unheard of for the time.But the surprises continue! At the beginning of the year 2020, and by pure chance, it was discovered that there are dozens of wooden dragon heads hidden under the roofs of the four towers, but that they are invisible from the street.
Another symbolic surprise from Gaudí!Botin’s House is one of only three works by Antonio Gaudí outside the province of Barcelona. Take the opportunity to be photographed with this genius who awaits you sitting on a bench in front of Botin’s House!
Gaudí Botines House Museum
San Marcelo Square 5
24002 – Leon
A CONVENT WITH A VERY UNIQUE “GUEST”
Spectacular, superb, majestic, imposing, splendid. This is the former Convent of Saint Mark, now transformed into the Parador of Leon, or what is the same, the most luxurious hotel establishment in the city. We will tour the exterior of this critical Renaissance convent and learn about its impressive history. To know its origins, we must go back to the 12th century. Infanta Sancha Raimúndez, sister of King Alfonso VII of Leon, made a significant donation in 1152 to be built a hospital for pilgrims outside the walls, on the banks of the Bernesga River and beside the medieval bridge of San Marcos.
A simple and primitive construction welcomed all those who needed a refuge or cured on Santiago’s way. Also, since its creation, this original building was the headquarters of the Order of Santiago in the Kingdom of Leon. But at the beginning of the 16th century, it was decided to demolish this modest, primitive building because it was in terrible condition. It was then that the monarch Fernando the Catholic made another generous donation to construct a great convent in the same place. Works began to take shape during the reign of his grandson Carlos V.
In Renaissance, it was erected the monumental building that we can admire today, whose works and extensions lasted about 200 years, but always respecting the early Renaissance style, albeit with extravagant details. Its facade is impressive, a jewel of the Spanish Plateresque (architectural style). A single canvas on a two-story wall at the base of which we find medallions representing important Greek-Latin and Spanish history characters. The facade is covered by a proud comb crowned by a rosette-shaped egg. We can spend hours admiring the exterior of this building, filled with thousands of details such as arches, high reliefs, medallions, shields, statues, columns, pilasters, biblical inscriptions.
We can enjoy an endless array of ornaments, such as the Monument to the Pilgrim, the magnificent tribute to the Santiago’s located in front of the Parador. But suppose there is anything that impresses this building besides its ornate facade, its Renaissance cloister and its late Gothic church. In that case, it is the extensive list of uses it has had throughout its biography. Since its use as a convent was abolished in 1836, these walls have hosted occupations of all kinds. Examples of these uses are the secondary school, the penitentiary hospital, the veterinary school, the missionary house, the city council, and several ministries. As we have already seen, it is currently the Parador of Leon.
But we leave its most unique use for the end, not least because this spectacular building was a prison in the 17th century and its facilities also had a very particular “guest”. These beautiful walls deprived Dom Francisco de Quevedo of freedom for almost four years, who, after losing his royal favour, was punished for his womanising character. Since that time, they didn’t play around!
Parador of Leon (former Convent of San Marcos)
St. Mark’s Square 7
24001 – Leon
AN INVERTED STEW?
Dear travellers, we hope you will be starving when you arrive in Leon because finishing the region’s star dish is almost a challenge. In previous points, we have already seen that the province of Leon is a great producer of food, both animal and vegetable. Its lands provide nutritious and tasty vegetables and, thanks to its developed livestock, the production of top-quality cattle and pigs is guaranteed. One of the most traditional dishes in the region is the cocido maragato, whose name comes from the Maragatería, an area of Leon close to the capital and traditionally dedicated to agriculture. What makes this stew unique is the way you enjoy it, which is unlike any other hash.
Let’s get to know the history and ingredients of this gastronomic wonder! To inquire about the origin of this stew, we must know the region’s history, whose original name was Somoza. During the 16th century, many inhabitants of Somoza began to devote themselves to transporting goods, an arduous task as there were hardly any roads. This trade received the name of mercator or mericato, which ended up becoming maragato. And as many maragatos lived in Somoza, the region was renamed Maragatería.
The work of these maragatos, also known as arrieros (animal carrier), was tremendously arduous. In addition to travelling on roads in poor condition, in adverse weather conditions, they also needed to do it quickly so that the perishable goods they were transporting arrived in good condition at their destination. To get enough energy to do this work and fight the cold, they needed their food to be very nutritious. So, they carried a stew in a kind of pot, and at lunchtime, they heated it on the fire and ate it. But they found a problem: the fire would dry the chickpeas and the meat if they ate the soup first.
They solved it thanks to a very clever idea. They reversed the order of eating the stew! They ate meat first, then chickpeas, then soup. Also, over time, they realised that the digestion of the fuss was less heavy by following this method. That is why it turned into a custom, and the fame of Maragato’s cocidogrew to become part of Leon’s gastronomy. We already know the order: first the meat, then the chickpeas and finally the soup. But what about the ingredients?
The most recommended is to include seven different types of meat: jerky, pork loin, chorizo, chicken, pork snout, ear, bacon, pork feet, ribs. The more, the better! But there is a mandatory rule in Maragato’s cocido: the vegetables are always chickpeas, only! Finally, we would have the broth thickened with bread or pasta.
And already in place, the maragato cocido combines phenomenally with a bottle of wine from Leon or Bierzo.
There we left. Who dares to do this delicacy?
WHAT A NAUGHTY MOLE!
We can consider a cathedral to be the symbol of a city. Observing the Cathedral elements is possible to learn much. At this point, we will go through the history of the Cathedral of Leon, knowing the alterations that it went through over these centuries, which were not few. This will make us admire it even more if that is possible! In the 2nd century, the space occupied today by the Cathedral of Leon was home to Roman baths. Eight centuries later, on the remains of these spas, the Royal Palace of Ordoño II, King of Leon, was built.
This Christian monarch constructed a basilica over the palace in the 10th century, thanking God for his triumph against Muslims. With the death of this king, his sister Urraca promoted the construction of a Romanesque cathedral in this Basilica. Roman baths, royal palace, Basilica, Romanesque Cathedral. How many “ancestors” had the Pulchra Leonese! In 1205, began the construction of a Gothic-style cathedral. For lack of budget, the works were halted, until 1255, thanks to the support of King Alfonso X the Wise. And this force was so powerful that by the year 1302, its main structure was completed.
As two of its three master builders were French, the final style of the work was purely French Gothic. But its workers encountered so many problems during the works that the theory began to spread that there was an evil mole dedicated to mining the underground at night to destroy the masons´ work during the day. The animal was even hunted, and its skin hung like a trophy inside the Cathedral! And today, it’s still there. Today, what prevented the construction from moving forward was having based the building’s foundation on the old hot springs and the numerous water leaks that the land had.
As if that wasn’t enough, at the end of the 14th century, problems began in the building’s architecture that continued over time, requiring many works over the centuries. This time it was no longer the mole! So, what were the causes of these problems? One of them was the construction of low-quality stone sills (wall cladding), which were poorly resistant to bad weather. And the other one. Its pure gothic style, almost without walls, was a challenge to the subject! Over many centuries, it took a lot of work to strengthen the building without detracting from its almost ethereal Gothic appearance.
After all these alterations, you might think the mole cast a spell against the Cathedral, but not long ago, it was discovered that the mole’s skin is the shell of a turtle.
Cathedral of Santa Maria de Regla
Square of Regla s/n
24003 – Leon
A ROMANTIC WALK
The area we are going to visit right now is beautiful even in the name! The Romantic Quarter is on our right as we walk along Rua Ancha, from the Cathedral to Botines’ House. Strolling through the Romantic Quarter explores the city’s history, as its most representative monuments are here. It includes the area bordered by the ruins of the Roman wall, the Cathedral and Ancha’s Street. Some wonders mark the perimeter of a treasure rich in history and composed of parks, palaces, basilicas and squares. We started our walk at the back of Botines’ House. Some remains of the Roman wall welcome us and allow us to climb to its top through some stairs to see the Park del Cid from above.
Then, we can visit this peaceful park built-in 1972 in the former convent of Agustinas Recoletas. Remains of this convent remain in the park del Cid in columns and pilasters spread across the lawn and function as makeshift seats where we can rest a little under lime trees and willow trees. After crossing the park, we arrive at San Isidoro Square. In front of us appears the impressive Collegiate Royal Church of San Isidoro, a Roman treasure from the 11th century and one of the most important monuments in Leon and the history of Spain.
This architectural complex has its origins in a primitive monastery dedicated to San Pelayo built on an ancient Roman temple. In the 11th century, when the remains of San Isidoro, Bishop of Seville, arrived at Leon, the monastery’s ownership was changed. The tomb of this saint became one of the most revered sites on Santiago’s way. Within this set, we find jewels such as its Basilica, the Museum of San Isidoro, and the oldest Roman cloister in Spain. But the Collegiate Church’s most significant treasure is the Pantheon of the Kings of Leon, known as the “Sistine Chapel of the Romanesque” for its spectacular medieval wall decoration.
From San Isidoro Square itself, you can admire essential elements of the Collegiate Church, such as the two ancient doors that give access to the Basilica: Lamb’s Gate and a gate of forgiveness. And looking straight at the Collegiate Church, on the left, we see its tallest tower, which is crowned by a cock-shaped weathervane, considered the city’s symbol. After admiring this Roman treasure, we must walk through the few streets that connect the Collegiate Church and the Cathedral.
To do this, look up, and the tall towers of the Cathedral guide us along this path. Once completed, at the back of the Cathedral, you can see Avenue of Cubes, a unique walkway formed by the remains of the Roman wall surrounding the Romantic Quarter and whose voids have been used over the centuries to construct houses.
A luxury! Approximate duration of the tour: 30 minutes
Gaudí Botines House Museum
San Marcelo Square
524002 - Leon
Park CidCid Street 15
24003 - Leon
Royal Collegiate Church of San Isidoro
San Isidoro Square 4
24003 - Leon
Cathedral of Santa Maria de Regla
Regla Square s/n
24003 - Leon
Avenue of cubes
24007 – Leon
THE ENTIRE ESSENCE OF LEON “IN A GRAIN”
If there’s a place with a lot of atmospheres in Leon, it’s Húmedo Quarter. Everything is cooked here, including thousands of tapas a day. Leonese, visitors and pilgrims of Santiago’s way travel daily through its tangle of streets to eat tapas, shop or absorb up the life of Leon. The Húmedo Quarter consists of narrow streets, squares with arcades, palaces and churches that follow a Jewish and medieval layout. It is a whim to dive among its pedestrian streets, bars, markets, and shops and stop in one of its squares. The name of this neighbourhood is almost a mystery. No sign in the city indicates where it is.
Its name’s origin is not known for sure, so the Barrio Húmedo is always on everyone’s lips, whether it is visitors asking where it is or the locals themselves discussing, over succulent tapas, the origin of the name. Here is the most accepted proposal for the name of this neighbourhood. In the past, the region’s wine was taken to the neighbourhood’s bars through huge barrels. Thanks to some rubbers attached to these tanks, the wine was transferred to the cellars of the bars, but on these shelves, there were always leaks which resulted in the streets soaked with wine.
As wine is a very persistent liquid and does not evaporate as quickly as water, this moisture lasts a long time. Thus, this neighbourhood came to be popularly called Húmedo Quarter. This name was “legitimised” after this denomination appeared in the chronicles of several famous journalists and historians in the city. Camouflaged among its streets, Húmedo Quarter surprises us with several squares to sit and enjoy the Leonese atmosphere. We have, for example, the San Martín Square, considered the origin of the neighbourhood since the first streets around it appeared.
The Mayor Square is in this area and was the city’s market for centuries, and which today houses the Mirador, an elegant Baroque building with two towers covered by pins. But if there is one square that brings together all the essence of the neighbourhood, it is Plaza del Grano, which owes its famous name to the fact that it was the meeting point for cereal traders in the 15th and 16th centuries. This beautiful square has benches and terraces that invite us to sit and watch life. Its cobblestone floor, the 12th-century Church of Santa María del Camino and the visiting pilgrims, creates an extraordinary atmosphere in this small square, enlarged by two sculptures.
In a fountain, there is a statue of two children representing the Bernesga and Torio rivers that embrace the city of Leon. The second sculpture is an elegant cross that reminds us of the exact spot where the Virgin appeared on February 9th. This square is pure Leon!
San Martin square
24003 - Leon
24003 - Leon
Santa María del Camino Square (Gran Square)
24003 - Leon
on our left, down Ancha’s Street from the Cathedral.
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