You wonder what it’s doing here, between the Mountains of Oca to the east and that enormous stretch of meseta to the west.
Australian cities in places like this usually serve big mining operations. Otherwise, we build our towns for maritime access or as agricultural centres. But Burgos is the scarred bastion of many wars, as well as the hub of perennial overland trade. And it lies on the Camino de Santiago, of course.
It’s seen every war, tugged between Celts, Romans, Visigoths, Moors, Castile, Aragon, Leon. Burgos served as capital of Castile for a bit. The Peninsular wars came here, as did the Carlist and Succession conflicts. And it was Franco’s stronghold, so it was briefly a sort of capital again, after 1938.
And near Burgos was born Spain’s national hero. A warrior, of course, he lies, with his famous wife, in Burgos’ cathedral. I like the odd heroic legend, so I won’t bother taking a revisionist view, particularly because it would be just as foggy as the legend in this case. More about that later.
Even in the Roman era, Burgos area was a crossroads. Leaving aside the theory that the Camino existed as a Celtic rite of passage before Christianity, Burgos was a hub of the ancient Ruta de la Lana, or “wool way”, connecting the south with the Bay of Biscay. Stretching things a bit more, maybe when those prehistoric people started to leave their caves at Atapuerca, Burgos with its river and defensive heights was a natural place for human expansion. It was certainly close.
So with development and trade and work in mind, I was happy to do what some pilgrims complain about, and walk with my companions through the extensive poligono, or industrial estate, that leads to the historic centre. Let me not be a prissy avoidnik. A modern industrial smudge on Way of Saint James is a welcome ingredient in the experience, just like the Celtic trinket shops of O Cebreiro or the thundering autopista flanking the trail along the meseta.
Anyway, not only did we strike a particularly good tradies’ cafe for our lunch, but the approach to Burgos had some nice surprises.
But then you enter the casco antiguo, the old city.
And then you see it.
My squeezy little Fuji Finepix won’t do it justice. I may have to follow the example of KiwiNomad and acquire something more substantial to do justice to the exterior of Burgos Cathedral. It is the most thrilling Gothic exterior I have seen, maybe the most thrilling exterior. As fine as the interior is, it’s the outside that punches the spirit the way Gothic was meant to do.
Happily, further along the Camino, in another great regional city, there is a Gothic interior which spirit-punches just as hard. But we’re not there yet.