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.