The city of Burgos (pop.161, 984), one of the key links in the cultural chain running the length of the road to Santiago, looks back on along history. First emerging as an urban enclave in the mid-9th century, it was the capital of Castile during the Middle Ages, only relinquishing this position in favour of Valladolid after the fall of Granada. Enriched by lordly buildings, Burgos is ideal for exploring forgotten corners and basking in the purity of the light.
Entry to the old town is by way of the Arch of Santa Maria , a gateway opened in the walls during the 14th century and adorned with statutes of local personalities. Opposite rises the Cathedral, which Theophile Gautier described as “delicate as a feminine jewel”. This the city’s most important monument and is the third largest cathedral in Spain. Built in the Gothic style, the first stone was light by Fernando III in 1221. Its many marvels include the Sarmental door, the magnificent Constable’s chapel with the tomb of this Castilian magnate, the Golden staircase by Diego Siloe, and the renowned Cathedral Museum.
Behind the cathedral is the Church of San Nicolas, with a grand altarpiece in polychrome alabaster. And in the barrio del Castillo, at the foot of the ancient fortress, is the Church of San Esteban. Begun in 1280, this now houses and splendid Museum of Altarpieces.
The way to the rivers passes by the Casa del Cordon, the city’s most outstanding civil edifice. It was here that the Catholic Monarchs received Columbus in 1497 on his return from the second voyage to America. Across the bridge of San Pablo, on the other bank of the river Arlanzon stand the Casa de Miranda and the Casa de Angulo. Both buildings together constitute the Museum of Burgos, which has important sections on archaeology and fine art.
On the outskirts of Burgos are two religious buildings well worth the visit. To the west stands the Royal monastery of Las Huelgas Reales), erected by Alfonso VIII in 1187 on an area of pleasure grounds. Intended as a great funeral pantheon, it boasts a gothic cloister decorated with Mudejar motifs, and the chapel of Santiago which preserves a wooden image of St. James the Apostle with an articulated arm that was used to dub knights.Among other unique pieces of the period the Museum of Fine Fabrics contains the historic standard wrested from the Arabs at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa.
East of the city lies the Carthusian Monastery of Miraflores, built between 1454 and 1488. The church preserves the tomb of the Infante Don Alfonso, brother of Isabel la Católica, and also a spectacular polychrome altarpiece by Gil de Siloe. Legend has it that it was gilt with the first gold to be brought back from the Americas.