León, historic city on the Way to Santiago de Compostela
León is a capital city in the Middle Ages, an important stop on the way to Santiago de Compostela, at the crossroads of the Camino Francés and Camino Real. It is crossed by the Río Bernesga, which separates the historic old town from the more modern districts of the western bank.
A jewel of Spanish Romanesque art, the Cathedral of Santa Maria de León, popularly called” Pulchra Leonina” – the beautiful lioness was built on the remains of a Roman settlement dating from the 2nd century. Also important for the city: the basilica, royal collegiate church, San Isidoro which constitutes one of the most beautiful ensemble of the Spanish Romanesque art.
Holy Week of Leon
Among the traditional events, the processions of the Holy Week in León always attract an important public.
In the city, this tradition dates back to the 15th century. There is a parade of images created centuries ago in the studios of Baroque artists. The brotherhoods of the city organize processions, lyrical rounds and a pigeon drop on the morning of the last Sunday.
The processions, including that of the most sought-after Virgen del Camino, take place on the streets. Others include: the Cristo de la Injurias, Los Pasos, Passion and Ronda procession.
During the whole night of Good Thursday, the cofrades, the members of the brotherhoods, announce with great reinforcement of bells, tambourines or cones the departure of the procession which will take place on Friday morning from 7:30 am.
Visit and monuments of León
The Barrio Húmedo
Located in the streets around Calle Ancha, between the Plaza Mayor and the Cathedral, Húmedo, so named for the amount of liquid drunk in its bars, Le Bario Húmedo is one of the most lively neighborhoods of the medieval center of León.
Renowned for the many tapas bars, taverns and restaurants in the narrow streets of the historic city, this is where the best of local gastronomy is discovered.
El cocido maragato, the León stew or frogs’ legs, sweetbreads and mantecadas from Astorga, a dessert based on sugar, flour and eggs are served with wines of controlled origin El Bierzo.
Articulated around the’ Place des Boutiques’, Place San Martin, the streets of this district are named after the craftsmen who once held shop there, shoemakers, shoemakers, jewellers, goldsmiths…
The Roman ramparts
Built in earth and pebbles in the first century BC, the original enclosure, punctuated with several buildings, was restored by the kings of the León kingdom in the 11th and 13th centuries to open new doors. On some sections of the ramparts, one can still notice numerous large cut stones and remains of primitive materials.
The part of the ramparts that we visit starts at the Ponces Tower and ends at the San Isidoro Tower, passing close to the castle gate.
San Domingo Plaza, 8.
The León Museum is divided into two premises: its headquarters are located in the ”Pallares” building, while its second premises, in town and historical headquarters, are located in the convent of San Marcos. Another annex, an archaeological site is located a few kilometres from the city in the Roman villa of Navatereja in Villaquilambre.
Through several exhibitions, the museum tells the historical stages of human activities in León from the Palaeolithic to modern times.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 2pm and 4pm to 7pm (17am to 8pm afternoons from July to September), Sundays and public holidays from 10am to 2pm. Admission: 1 €.
The Cathedral of León
Ordoño II had it built in the 10th century on the site of his royal palace in recognition of his victory over the Muslims at the battle of San Esteban de Gomez. Restored several times, many famous architects took part in its construction.
Declared of cultural interest in 1844, it is best known for its stained glass windows, most of which date from the 13th and 14th centuries on a surface of 1,765 m².
Admission: 6 €, reduced price: 5 €.
The museum presents pieces from all stages of art history, from prehistory to the 20th century. Among other things, it exhibits a magnificent collection of 60 sculptures from the 12th and 13th centuries, Flemish and Castilian triptychs, codexes and a bible from the 10th century.
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday from 9.30am to 1.30pm and from 4pm to 7pm, until 8pm from June to September. Admission: 5 €, reduced price: 3,50 €.
Royal College San Isidoro de León
Plaza de San Isdoro, 4.
A testament to Spanish Romanesque art, the Collegiate Church was founded on the remains of a church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, which was demolished by the Muslims in 988 and rebuilt by Alfonso V de León.
A new temple, which became famous for housing the relics of Saint Isidore and Saint Vincent, was built on the orders of Ferdinand 1st. Originally in Asturian pre-Romanesque style, the collegiate church later became entirely Romanesque then Gothic.
Admission: 5 €, reduced price: 4 €.
The Hostal San Marcos
Built in the eleventh century by Doña Sancha, the wife of King Ferdinand I of Castile, the Hostal San Marcos served as a hospital and resting place for pilgrims.
Considered one of the most important of the Spanish Renaissance, the Hostal also became the mother house of the Knights of the Order of Santiago, monks knights protecting pilgrims on the Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago. It has now become a luxurious hotel with a museum and church.
40 km west of León.
Astorga’s position at the crossroads of the Ruta de la Plata, the Silver Road, and the Chemin de Compostelle has given the city a rich medieval heritage. Fortified enclosure, churches, convents and hospitals invite visitors to immerse themselves in this historic past.
In the old town, the episcopal palace designed by architect Antonio Gaudi is a neo-Gothic masterpiece of modern art. Of Roman origin, it was called Asturica Augustea, Astorga proposes many vestiges dating from this period: parts of a basilica, baths, sections of sewer, villas…
The Town Hall, the 17th century baroque town hall, the Plaza Mayor, the synagogue gardens, the Aljibe park and the chocolate museum are all places to visit.
50 km south of León.
On Via del Plata and the lands irrigated by the River Órbigo, La Bañeza has developed around its weekly market known throughout León, as far as Galicia and Extremadura.
Every Saturday, this market hosts 200 stands offering agricultural products and handicrafts as well as numerous fairs throughout the year.
The most important religious building in La Bañeza is the Santa Maria church with its tower and altarpiece, a Renaissance work by sculptor Francisco de Rivera.
For the gastronomy, don’t forget to taste the wine of the region called ‘Tierras de León’, accompanied by local specialities such as frog legs with beans from La Bañeza.
70 km west of León.
Compludo’s origins date back to the 7th century when Fructuoso de Braga founded his first monastery. There is the church of San Justo y San Pastor (16th century) with a beautiful altarpiece and above all a forge from the Middle Ages, the Herrería, which is accessed by a path bordered by a river. This forge, the only one of its kind still operating in the region, was classified as a National Monument in 1968.
100 km west of León.
Dominated by the castle built by the Templars at the end of the 12th century, Ponferrada, capital of the Bierzo region, is one of the main stages of the Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago de Compostela on the banks of the River Sil.
Of Roman origin, the city developed in the XIth century with the development of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Its medieval fortress overlooking the river and town was built at the end of the twelfth century, a drawbridge spanning a large defensive ditch allows southern access and its facade is flanked by two imposing towers connected between them.
The basilica of the Encina, the Reina Hospital in Renaissance style or the baroque church of San Andrés are with the Museum del Bierzo the visits not to be missed to apprehend this ancient city.
Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, the natural environment of Carucedo, the result of Roman engineering that exploited the region’s gold deposits, is the first step to access the Medulas. For this purpose, a complex system of pipes brought the water from the Aquilanos mountains located about fifteen kilometres away.
Once they had flooded the dug galleries, the Romans waited for the mountain to fall. The crumbling mountain was slipping towards huge washing places that have become lakes such as Pozo Sumido and Lago Redondo.
From this extraction which offered these ochre landscapes from which the green vegetation emerges, the Romans washed two hundred and forty million cubic meters of earth from which nearly 8 tons of gold were extracted.
125 km southwest of León.
The landscapes of Las Medulas, 25 km from Ponferrada, are one of the major tourist attractions of the Bierzo region.
A unique site in the world, the gold mine that changed the appearance of Las Medulas so much, was the most important of the Roman Empire. Indeed, these mountains of ochre earth were dug and shaped for two centuries under the action of a gigantic and sophisticated piping system that used the force of water through tunnels and galleries.
Marked paths, accessible on foot, on horseback or by mountain bike, allow you to discover these extraction sites, Lake Carucedo, the remains of Roman mining villages or castles astures, ancient Celtic fortified villages.
Villaranca del Bierzo
100 km west of León.
A few kilometres from Galicia, Villafranca del Bierzo is the last important stop on the Compostela Route in the province of León.
The area of this inescapable tourist center is formed by the Plaza Mayor, the Calle del Agua. There are manor houses, including one of the Moorish type dating from the 15th century, some palaces and the convent of Agustinas Recoletas.
At one time, pilgrims who could not continue their pilgrimage to Compostela for health reasons had their indulgence under the door of the Forgiveness of the Romanesque Santiago church (12th century) which stands at the entrance to the city.
55 km southeast of León.
Of Roman origin, this village of barely 3000 inhabitants is an interesting stage of the Chemin de Compostelle at the crossroads of the French and Madrid paths.
Perched on a mound whose center is the Plaza Mayor, Sahagún offers beautiful brick houses with wooden or adobe structures. Its heritage includes the monastery of San Benito el Real, the churches of San Tirso and San Lorenzo, the convent of the Benedictine monks, which has been converted into a museum of the city, and the Sanctuary of the Pilgrimage Eccentric, a few kilometres from the centre.