…didn’t build these walls.
As far as I know, these stones were laid by order of the first count of Castile, in 884 AD. He’s the same count who’s said to be buried in that little ruin of San Felices, the one we passed before the Montes de Oca.
That’s a couple of centuries before El Cid. Yet when one visits Burgos, one is encouraged to visit “El Cid’s Fortress”. We know he lived in the late eleventh century, and was born near Burgos. He would have spent time here, in the service of his Castilian sovereigns, the first of whom made Burgos the royal seat of both Castile and Leon.
He and his wife, Ximena, have their tombs in Burgos Cathedral…but are their remains there? Probably.
What matters is the legend. The story of a soldier who made his sovereign swear he was innocent of killing his own brother. A general who fought single combats, thus becoming a Campeador, a champion. A popular leader, who like Belisarius, fell victim to the jealousy and insecurity of his sovereign. And the man who reversed the Muslim tide and held Valencia as a Christian city, ruling in his own right.
Historically true? Oh, please!
Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, El Cid, has been well served by story. Whether he was a freebooter or truly léal or – which is more likely – a mix of both, it’s the stories that matter. And El Cid has been well served in this regard.
The Poem of El Cid is Spain’s national epic; though the language is a bit hard to follow, it’s clearly Castilian. Verses from the epic are inscribed in stone along the River Arlanzón.
Beau comme Le Cid. As fine as Le Cid. It used to be a common term of praise in France. It referred not to Rodrigo, but to Pierre Corneille’s play, first published in 1636. Concerned with the amorous and family conflicts of El Cid and Ximena, it was an enormous hit, considered an artistic pinnacle, and it made the name of El Cid synonymous with honour and romance for new generations. (To swoon over the actual play, it helps to be 17th century French.)
Just when we were about to forget Rodrigo, Hollywood made one of its best ever spectacles, combining many of the heroic aspects of his life with his romantic problems. Charlton Heston’s Yankee Protestant Cid is probably closer to the actual Visigothic Rodrigo than many Latin peoples would like to think. Yet the real star is the quality spectacle laid on by a well-practiced Hollywood, which had learned how to use every hair on every head of that “cast of thousands”.
And when Spanish people, especially those on the right, express a yearning for ideal leadership, they will cry out for a Cid Campeador. When they feel they have found a champion or political hero, he is Mio Cid Campeador.
Burgos is another great town for a rest day. Its historic centre is largely traffic free, full of architectural and historical interest, the bars and restaurants are thronged. I’ve got a thing about Spain’s regional centres, haven’t I?
And who’s that still directing the traffic near the river?
Feel like arguing with Mio Cid Campeador? Feel lucky? Well do you, punk?