The emblematic city of Leon (pop. 193,809) an accumulation of two thousand years of history and stone, began life as a Roman camp built by the 7th Legion between the rivers Torio and Bernesga. Capital of the Kingdom during the Middle Ages, Leon is an ideal place to slowly absorb the scenarios handed down by history.
A town which blends modernity with age-old tradition, its true heart is the Plaza Mayor historically a stage for all kinds of civic activities, the square is dominated by the Consistorio Viejo or Old Town Hall , a palatial building with a long façade which for centuries has been the “eye of the city”. The surrounding area, with its epicentre in the Plaza De San Martin , is packed with lordly mansions and churches housing venerated images.
Only a short walk away is the city’s crown jewel, the Cathedral , know as the “pulchra leonina” and one of the loveliest examples of Spanish Gothic. Construction of the existing cathedral began around the year 1255 on top of an ancient Romanesque church on a site once occupied by Roman baths. Its great fame derives from almost 1800 square metres of artistic window-work, defined by Miguel de Unamuno as “a miracle of light and stone “. The Cathedral Museum is one of the most comprehensive of its kind, with exhibits spanning the ages from prehistory to Neo-classicism.
A walk down the Calle Ancha leads to the Casa the Botines a modernist work by the brilliant Antonio Gaudi. Opposite stands the Palace of the Guzmanes headquarters of the Provincial Deputation, which display a superb main facade and a Plateresque courtyard. Only a little further on is the Basilisca de San Isidro, which backs on to part of the mediaeval city walls. The vaults of the royal panteon, resting-place of 23 Leonese monarchs, are adorned with exceptional 12th-century mural paintings, which have earned it the sobriquet of the Romanesque Sixtine Chepel. The Museum of San Isidoro contains an exquisite collection of codices.
On the far side of the city rises the Hostal De San Marcos. A former convent and refuge for pilgrims, it was built between the 16th and 17th centuries in the Plateresque style. Now a luxurious Parador, it was once a bitter prison, where the poet Francisco Quevedo was incarcerated. In the church cloister is the Museum of Leon, which exhibits such treasures as the Cisto de Carrizo, a little 11th-century marble crucifix.