I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life. FERNANDO PESSOA

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Leon




I arrived in Leon early on the afternoon of 3 December - it was only 19 km from Mansilla - and left at lunchtime the next day, so had plenty of time to explore the city. I spent the night in the Hostal San Martin which was cheap, clean, and situated at the top of a winding staircase in the old quarter close to the cathedral.

Leon, former capital of the kingdom of Castile and present day capital of the Castilla y Leon region, has a population of 140,000. It was originally called Legio Septima in Roman times - because the 7th legion was stationed here. It's a lively, relaxed place full of good tapas bars and restaurants. I didn't eat out at many restaurants on the Camino - but here I did, and the salads, and steaks with deep-fried potatoes, were exceptionally good.

I paid a visit to most of Leon's famous buildings and monuments: the Guzman Palace (see 1st photo), former home the Guzmans, one of Leon's wealthiest families; Gaudi's neo-Gothic Casa de Botines (there's a similar Gaudi structure in Astorga - but that comes later!); the wonderful Romanesque Basilica of San Isidoro - apart from the cathedral, this was my favourite building, with its amazing Puerte del Pardon (Door of Forgiveness) and its royal burial vaults (Pantheon Real) containing the tombs of 11 Spanish kings, 12 Spanish queens and 23 Spanish princes, and its extraordinary frescoes; and the Renaissance Convento de San Marcos with its intricately carved 16th century facade adorned with scallop shells and other pilgrim motifs. This monastery - former home to the Knights of the Order of Santiago - is now a luxurious parador hotel, but the museum part you can look round, and I passed a long time in there. The 2nd photo shows the cloister garden. The 3rd photo, of the pilgrim statue, was taken in the Plaza San Marcos in front of the monastery.

Then of course there's Leon's crowning glory: the stunning 13th century Gothic cathedral with its breathtaking stained glass windows, its cloisters, and its towers and steeples - all of which are individual and unmatched.

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