de Santiago / French Way : 21. Mansilla de las Mulas - León
Mansilla de las Mulas by crossing a stone bridge
over the Río Esla, then take a left onto the old
road which soon becomes a track that runs more or
less parallel to the main road for about 5 kilometres.
As you leave Mansilla de las Mulas you can see in
the distance the first signs of the Cordillera Cantabrica
mountain range. Up on your right hand side atop
a hill are the remains of the Castro de Lancia once
populated by Celtic Asturians until the Romans took
it in around 24BC. Rumour has it that when the Romans
finally captured the fort Emperor Augustus closed
the Temple of Juno in Rome, something that was only
ever done when Rome was at peace, thus marking the
beginning of a period known as Pax Augusta.
on the track after 4 kilometres you pass through
the village of Villamoros de Mansilla and
then 2 kilometres further on you cross the 200 metre
long, 20 arched Puente de Villarente over the Rio
Pormo and enter the village that shares its name
: Puente de Villarente .
aware that this bridge is extremely busy with traffic
so can be pretty dangerous at times. The authorities
in this area have mentioned the building of a temporary
Pilgrim footbridge, but when this will happen I
don’t know. The government is also building a new
motorway that will pass close by which should alleviate
some of the congestion when it is completed some
time around 2012. The village has the usual restaurants,
cafés and shops as well as a couple of albergues
and a couple of hostals.
through Puente Villarente and after a petrol station
on your right you will find the way-marked gravel
path which runs parallel to the main road passing
through the small village of Arcahueja after
about 4.5 kilometres. There is a small albergue
couple of kilometres further on you come to the
village of Valdelafuente where you can get
something to eat at the bar/restaurant.
from here the path disappears and you have to follow
the main road. You will start to walk uphill towards
the Alto del Portillo from where you will get some
great views over the city of Leon and the mountains
in the distance. Eventually you come to a bypass
called the Avenida de Madrid which veers to your
right but you will need to fork left towards the
Puente Castro over the Rio Torio. Cross the
pedestrianised footbridge about 50 metres from the
main bridge and keep going straight on down the
Avenida del Alcalde Migue Castaño for about 1.5
kilometres till you come out on the Plaza Santa
Ana. Follow the Calle Barahona then the Calle Puertamoneda
passing the Iglesia de Santa Maria del Mercado on
your right, down the Calle de la Rua and the Calle
Ancha until you reach the cathedral in León.
city map (Rabe) -
city map (Pombo)
on the banks of the Rio Bernesga, León is
the last major city before you reach Santiago and
before you climb through the mountains of the Cordillera
Cantabrica. The city was founded as a Roman fort
in AD 68 to protect the roads leading to the gold
mines at El Bierzo a little to the west. The town
was home to the Legio Septima or Seventh Legion
of Imperial Rome from whence the city is believed
to get its name. León was Christianised in the 3rd
century becoming the oldest Bishopric (diocese of
a bishop) in western Europe. It also became the
Christian capital of Spain in the 10th century during
the reign of Ordoño II, king of Galicia and León
until it was destroyed by the Moors some time around
987 AD. It was reconstructed by Alfonso V.
its sister city Burgos, León is worth spending some
time in, especially if you have an interest in architecture,
there are some wonderful examples in the city including
a building by the famous architect Gaudi.
first building to visit is the Catedral de Santa
Maria, a gothic masterpiece. The building that
stands here today was begun in the 13th century
and built over the original Romanesque cathedral
that in turn had been built over a palace erected
by Ordoño II. The palace that the king built had
been built over the original roman baths which led
to some major problems as we shall recount later.
Over its lifetime the cathedral has undergone some
major reconstruction and restoration. Because of
its not too suitable building plot, the use of poor
quality stone and the sheer weight of the amount
of stained glass used (some 1,765 square metres
in all), the building became somewhat unstable.
Much of the stonework was replaced in the 19th century
requiring the removal of whole sections of the building.
This in itself is a remarkable piece of engineering
as it could well have caused the collapse of the
whole building. I tip my hat to those engineers.
are many statues within the cathedral but one of
particular interest is the Virgen de los Dados
(or the Virgin of the Die or Dice). The legend tells
of a captain of the Tercios de Flandes who went
to eat in one of the numerous taverns in the Calle
de la Bodega Vieja (now known as Calle Mariano Dominguez
Berrueta). After having a large meal and plenty
of wine to drink he started to talk about the numerous
battles he had been in and generally telling a few
tall stories and after while, fuelled by the copious
amounts of alcohol he had consumed, he started to
gamble. Unfortunately, the alcohol was having a
detrimental affect on him and he began to gamble
irresponsibly losing quite a lot of money, but this
didn’t seem to stop him as he thought he could recoup
the money he lost if he continued to play. This
continued most of the night until he saw that he
no longer had any money to bet with and anguished
by the loss of his money he left in a huff. Wandering
the streets of León at night he began cursing the
bad luck the dice had brought him until he came
upon the statue of the Virgin and child at the north
wall of the cathedral. He hoped that by looking
upon the figure of the Virgin that he would get
some sort of peace but quite the opposite happened.
In a fit of pique he threw the dice towards the
Virgin hitting the head of the Christ child. At
that very moment blood sprang forth from the wound
and the poor Captain felt a chill go through his
body and he fell to his knees begging forgiveness
for what he had done staying there until dawn.
few days later the man presented himself to the
local Franciscan monastery just outside the walls
of León. After explaining what he had done he entered
the monastery never to leave, living the rest of
his life as a Franciscan monk. The story of what
had happened soon spread around the city and the
statue has been known from that day hence as the
Virgen de los Dados. The council of the Cathedral,
fearing that this might happen again decided to
bring the Virgin into the cathedral where it can
be found today with her hand outstretched as if
to say that she is willing to receive the dice of
any person displeased by their game.
still in the cathedral it is worth visiting the
museum which is housed in the cloisters and
sacristy and reached by a beautiful plateresque
stairway. The museum contains many examples of religious
art as well as the tombs and statues of much of
far from the cathedral is the Real Colegieta
de San Isidoro. This beautiful Romanesque building
built partly into the city walls, is one of the
most important buildings of its type. Built over
the 10th century remains of a monastery built by
Sancho el Gordo it was consecrated in the 11th century.
In 1063 King Fernando I named the church after San
Isidoro after having repatriated the saint’s remains
from Muslim held Sevilla. As you look at the building
the right hand door is called La Puerta del Perdón
or the door of forgiveness. It was believed that
any pilgrim who was too ill to continue on their
journey to Santiago could gain absolution by passing
through this doorway. The other doorway, to your
left, is La Puerta del Cordero or door of the lamb.
Inside the church below the retablo is the casket
which holds the remains of San Isidoro.
real treasure of the basilica is its museum.
The first area you enter is the royal crypt or Panteón
Real with its amazing painted vaulted ceiling. The
crypt holds the tombs of 11 of the Kings
of Leon and their families, but unfortunately
the bodies were taken by the French army during
the Napoleonic wars. Towering above the cloisters
is the Torre del Gallo or the tower of the cockerel
which is topped with an 11th century weathercock.
building that fascinates me is the nearby Casa
Botines. This building is by the famous architect
Antoni Gaudi, who designed the Sagrada Familia and
various other buildings in Barcelona. The building
was commissioned by fabric merchants and construction
started in 1891 and was declared a historic monument
in 1969. For Gaudi this is quite a subdued but rather
beautiful building which would not look out of place
in a fairy tale. Part of the building houses an
exhibition centre with the remaining floors being
taken up by a bank. You may be lucky to be allowed
to look around but please ask at reception first.
too far, near the Plaza Mayor, is the former
pilgrim hospital and monastery of San Marcos.
The hospital was built under the orders of King
Alfonso VII and was in operation from the 12th century
through to the 15th century. The present building,
with its 100 metre façade was begun in 1515 by the
Order of St James who used it as their headquarters.
It wasn’t completed until some time in the 18th
century. Most of the building is now taken up by
a luxurious Parador but the chapterhouse
contains an archaeological museum. You can wonder
round the ground floor of the Parador if you ask
permission first at reception, alternatively you
can join one of the regular tours that are put on
daily. Just across the square there is a statue
of a pilgrim looking towards the building.
area to the north of Calle Ancha is an area known
as el Barrio Humedo or the wet district said
to get its name from the sheer number of bars in
this area. There are plenty of places where you
can spend the night, from albergues right through
to the luxurious parador. There are also plenty
of bars, restaurants and cafés. If you want to spend
the day here the tourist information office is located
opposite the cathedral.
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