BURGOS was the capital of Old Castile for almost five hundred years, the home of El Cid in the eleventh century, and the base, two centuries later, of Fernando III, the reconqueror of Murcia, Córdoba and Seville. It was Fernando who began the city’s famous Gothic cathedral, one of the greatest in all Spain, and Burgos is a firm station on the pilgrim route. During the Civil War, Franco temporarily installed his Fascist government in the city and Burgos owes much of its modern expansion to Franco’s “Industrial Development Plan”, a strategy to shift the country’s wealth away from Catalunya and the Basque Country and into Castile. Even now, such connotations linger – the Capitanía General building still displays a 1936 plaque (admittedly, under protective glass) honouring Franco, the “supreme authority of the nation”.
But Burgos is also a changed city, much scrubbed and restored over the last few years due to its candidature for European City of Culture for 2016 (burgos2016.es). Every paving stone in the centre looks to have been relaid, and while it’s no longer a clearly medieval city, the handsome buildings, squares and riverfront of the old town are an attractive prospect for a night’s stay. Despite the encroaching suburban sprawl and a population of almost 200,000, when it comes down to it, Burgos really isn’t that big. You can easily see everything in the centre in a day, and while its lesser churches inevitably tend to be eclipsed by the cathedral, the two wonderful monasteries on the outskirts are by no means overshadowed.Read More
El Cid Campeador
El Cid Campeador
Principal landmark along the leafy Burgos riverfront – right on the Puente de San Pablo – is the magnificent equestrian statue of El Cid, complete with flying cloak, flowing beard and raised sword. The city lays full claim to the Castilian nobleman, soldier and mercenary, born Rodrigo Díaz in the nearby village of Vivar in 1040 or thereabouts. Actually, his most significant military exploits took place around Valencia, the city he took back briefly from the Moors after a long siege in 1094, but no matter – El Cid (from the Arabic sidi or lord) is a local boy, whose heroic feats (not all strictly historically accurate) have been celebrated in Spain since the twelfth century. His honorific title, Campeador (“Supreme in Valour”), is some indication of the esteem in which he’s always been held, though there’s generally a veil drawn over his avarice and political ambition, not to mention the fact that, as an exiled sword-for-hire in the 1080s, El Cid turned out for Moorish princes as easily as for Christian kings. He died in Valencia in 1099, and the city fell again to the Moors in 1102, after which his wife Jimena took El Cid’s body to the monastery of San Pedro de Cardeña, south of Burgos, where it rested for centuries. The body disappeared to France after the ravages of the Peninsular War, but husband and wife were reburied together in Burgos cathedral in 1921.