Camino Francés description : 23. Villadangos del Páramo / Villar de Mazarife - Astorga   

 

               Camino de Santiago / French Way : 23. Villadangos del Páramo - Astorga (27.1 km)

                                                  / or Villar de Mazarife - Astorga (22,8 km)

 

                 

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  First route, from Villadangos del Páramo :

 

  At the end of the village of Villadangos del Páramo turn left to return briefly to the main road. After a little while fork left onto a path running parallel to the road. Try to follow this track as far as you can before you have to rejoin the road and walk along the hard shoulder. There is no choice but to walk along the road here as the land hereabouts is criss-crossed with canals, dykes and irrigation channels.

 

  After about 4 kilometres you come to the village of San Martin del Camino.

  Accommodation at San Martin del Camino can be found in 2 private albergues and 1 municipal one. There is a café, a bakery and a shop.

 

  Walk through the village and cross the road forking right down the path running parallel to the road. After about 2 kilometres take a left turn crossing a bridge over a dyke and unfortunately, return to the main road. After about 1.5 kilometres you come upon a gravel works, take a right turn down a lane walking through fields heading towards the town of Puente de Órbigo. Take the Calle Órbigo walking adjacent to the river and cross the fabulous medieval bridge into Hospital de Órbigo.

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  Alternative route from Villar de Mazarife :

 

  Walk through the village of Villar de Mazarife to Plaza Mediovilla and down Calle Camino to the main road, the Carretera Valcalbo. Cross the road where you see a signpost saying Villavente 9.3 km and walk down a minor road continuing straight on for about 6 kilometres before crossing a bridge over the canal. A further 2 kilometres down the line you come to a bridge over a large canal cross it and follow the road into Villavante.

 

  Villavante doesn’t have any accommodation but it does have a couple of bars who unfortunately don’t provide food but there is a small shop.

 

  Walk out of the village passing the church, forking left before crossing the railway line where you will see a notice saying Hospital de Órbigo 3.5km. When you reach the AP71 motorway cross it using the footbridge and follow the arrows showing the Camino route for bicycles, it’s pretty straightforward, soon after you will reach the bridge of Hospital de Órbigo where the two routes merge.

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  Hospital de Órbigo

 

  This 13th century bridge is the longest one on the Camino at 204 metres long (approximately 670 feet) and has 20 arches. The river that it crosses doesn’t seem to appear to warrant such a lengthy bridge, but prior to a dam being built at Barrios de Luna the river was a lot wider. The bridge also has the legend of El Paso Honroso (Honourable Pass) attributed to it. El Paso Honroso was the name given to a jousting tournament of sorts undertaken by the Leonés Don Suero de Quiñones.

 

  Don Suero was in love with a lady by the name of Doña Leonor de Tobar, who unfortunately did not feel the same way. This 15th century knight considering himself a prisoner of her love, decided to wear an iron collar around his neck every Thursday as a symbol of being enslaved by his love for her. As a way to empress both the lady he loved and King Juan II, as well as a way of freeing himself from his enslavement, he decided to embark on a surprising joust in the style of the knights of old. At a meeting in January 1434, Don Suero proposed to the King that he would break 300 lances on the bridge over the río Órbigo close to a pilgrim Hospital run by the order of San Juan (Saint John) and only when he had accomplished this would he remove his iron collar. Many knights arrived from all manner of places including Germany, Italy, Portugal and especially from the kingdom of Aragón. The tournament started on the 10th of July 1434 and lasted a month during which time Don Suero and his 9 fellow knights defeated 68 men, killing only one and managed to break nearly 200 lances. The men who were judging the contest decided that this was enough and during a ceremony removed the iron collar from Don Suero’s neck.

 

  On the bridge at Hospital de Órbigo there is a plaque commemorating the tournament showing the names of the 10 knights who were involved:

  Don Suero de Quiñones - Don Diego de Bazán - Don Suero Gómez - Don Lope de Aller - Don Pedro de los Ríos - Don Lope de Estúñiga - Don Pedro de Nava - Don Sancho Rabanal - Don Diego de Benavides - Don Gómez de Villacorta.

  The plaque also contains the following:

  Por rescate de la prisión en que su señora le tenía - Y con codicia de fama durable - Concertó con nueve caballeros más - Defender el Paso Honroso junto a este puente - Rompiendo lanzas contra más de setenta caballeros - Que al camino de romería del Apóstol Santiago - Llegaron de Castilla, de Aragón, de Cataluña - De Valencia, de Portugal, de Bretaña - De Italia y de Alemania

 

  Roughly translated it says:

  To be rescued from the prison in which his lady held him - And desiring long lasting fame - He set out with 9 other knights - To defend the honourable pass close to this bridge - Breaking lances with more than 70 knights - That to the pilgrim road of the Apostle St James - They came from Castilla, Aragon and Cataluña - From Valencia, Portugal and Britain - From Italy and Germany

 

  There is a slightly different story in that Don Suero offered the tournament to Saint James saying that he and the other 9 knights would challenge those undertaking the pilgrimage to Santiago until 300 lances were broken. When the tournament was finished all the participants went to Santiago de Compostela to offer the arms with which they fought to the Apostle. It is also said that the iron collar (now gold) worn by Don Suero is hung around the neck of the image of the Apostle that is used in processions.

 

  Unfortunately like so many of these stories it doesn’t have a particularly happy ending. A few years after the tournament Don Suero lost his life at the hands of one of the knights that had been defeated and who was seeking vengeance for his defeat. Every year in early June since 1997 the Fiesta de las Justas del Paso Honroso takes place in a field close to the bridge in commemoration of the legend. The story of el Paso Honroso is mentioned in Don Quijote and may have been an inspiration for the old knight himself.

 

  The Iglesia de San Juan Bautista, on the other side of the bridge is what remains of the pilgrim hospital which had been built in the 12th century by the Caballeros de San Juan de Jerusalén (Knights of the Order of Saint John). Accommodation can be found at one of the 3 albergues or one of the 3 hostals in the town. There is also a camping site. There are a number of restaurants near the bridge that offer a pilgrim menu and there is also a small shop in the village.

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  Walk through the town of Hospital de Órbigo down the Calle Álvarez, past the Iglesia de San Juan Bautista and the Iglesia de Santa Maria, continuing down the main street right to the end of the village until you come to some crossroads.

  Again you have two options; the first is to continue on the road to Astorga, this is considered the historic route; or alternatively you can choose to follow a route through the countryside to San Justo de la Vega where both routes meet.

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  If you want to take the first option and follow the road, keep walking straight ahead following the way markers and you come to a gravel path which runs parallel to the N120 road. Just follow the markers all the way to San Justo de la Vega.

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  The other route as we mentioned takes you through the countryside and is a much nicer route. At the crossroads take a right turn and keep walking straight until in about 2 kilometres you come to the small village of Villares de Órbigo. Here there is accommodation available in a private albergue and a café bar and pharmacy.

 

  Walk through the village and walk past the lavadero, this is where people used to go and wash their clothes in the days before washing machines. After a while you will come to a road at which point you will need to cross both it and the canal close by. After about 200 metres you will need to turn left and then walk about 1 kilometre before rejoining the road and entering the village of Santibañez de Valdeiglesias.

 

  There is a reasonably sized albergue here with a kitchen. The village does have a café but they don’t serve food, they do however sell food items as they are the local village shop. The village is small but each year they construct a maze out of maize which is reputed to be the biggest in the world.

 

  Walk directly through the village and take a right up Calle Carromonto Alto. You will start walking up hill and into open countryside. From the top of the hill the path descends into a valley where the way markers can be found on the ground. Walk up the other side of the valley and then down again into the next valley and yes,  you’ve guessed it, start walking uphill again onto an open plateau. Soon after you come to the Crucero de Santo Toribio where the two routes meet.

 

  From the Crucero you get, on a good day, some fabulous views of Astorga in the valley below. From here walk downhill taking a right turn onto the old road which links to the new main road and into San Justo de la Vega.

 

  This is a village that is continuously expanding and has a number of bars, restaurants and a shop. Accommodation can be found at a hostal or at the local casa rural. The village also allows people to camp by the river during the summer months.

                                                   

  Walk through the village and cross the bridge over the Río Tuerto. Take a right turn 100 metres later walking past the merendero, a picnic area. Keep following the road until you come to a bridge with 3 arches across a canal. Cross over it and take a left down a track towards the main road. After a short while you will cross the railway tracks a couple of times using the marked level crossings and then enter the walled city of Astorga through the Puerta del Sol, making your way to the Plaza de la Catedral.

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  Astorga Astorga city map

 

  Before the Romans arrived Astorga was home to the celtic Astur tribe. The region was then conquered by the Roman legion Legio X Gemina. The Romans made it one of their most important forts due to the number of roads passing through the district and more importantly, the sites of many gold mines in the area. The Romans named the town Asturica Augusta. In recent centuries the area around Astorga became the capital of the Maragatos, an ethnic group of people known for their very distinctive dress, customs and building style. During the height of the Camino de Santiago in the Middle Ages, Astorga boasted 22 pilgrim hospitals, the last of which, el Hospital de las Cinco Llagas, burned down early in the 20th century. It is here that the Via de la Plata (the Silver route) meets up with the Camino Francés.

 

  There are a number of buildings worth visiting as you pass through. The first is the Catedral de Santa Maria. Building on the cathedral started in the 15th century under the auspices of Obispo Don Alvaro Osorio y Guzmán as part of a remodelling of the earlier Romanesque cathedral, parts of which can still be found within the current building. The building wasn’t to be completed for further 300 years. Most of the building is gothic in style, but the towers and the façade, added in the early 18th century, are Baroque.

 

  Just across the road from the Cathedral is our next building, the Palacio Episcopal, which despite its name has never been the home of any bishop, even serving as the local headquarters of General Franco’s Falange party during the Spanish civil war. There has been a primitive style of Bishop’s palace on this site since Doña Urraca donated the land to Bishop Don Pelayo in 1120 AD. The building was adapted in numerous ways over the intervening centuries but 2 months after the new Catalan Bishop Don Juan Bautista Grau y Vallespinós moved in it burnt to the ground. So a new palace needed to be built and the new Bishop called upon his very good friend and fellow Catalan Antoni Gaudi to design and build the new Episcopal Palace. Building started in June of 1889 but when the bishop died in 1893 only the first two floors had been completed with the third floor and the roof still to be finished. Following the death of his friend, Gaudi had a number of disagreements with members of the council and he resigned from the project therefore stopping construction for several years. It is even reported that so disgusted was Gaudi with his treatment that he said “he wouldn’t cross Astorga even in a hot air balloon”. It wasn’t until the arrival of the Asturian Bishop Julián de Diego y Alcolea in 1907 that work start anew on the building. In order to finish the building the bishop commissioned the architect Ricardo Garcia de Guereta who completed the building in 1915. The chapel was consecrated in 1913 but the next year Ricardo Garcia de Guereta, like Gaudi, resigned the contract and it wasn’t until 1956 and the appointment of Bishop Castelltort did work to finish the interior restart with work finally being completed in 1961 under Bishop Gonzalez Martin who promptly converted the building into what it is now - el Museo de Los Caminos.

 

  If you are anything like me you will enjoy nothing better than having a lovely bar of chocolate as a treat after a long walk up hill and down dale as a reward for all that hard work. For those of you with a sweet tooth there can’t be anywhere better to visit than the Museo de Chocolate. The museum celebrates Astorga’s chocolate industry which thrived during the 18th and 19th centuries. The museum houses a unique collection of materials and machinery used in the making of chocolate from grinding stones through to the plates used in the printing the labels for the chocolate. You will be able to see how chocolate was and is being made and at the end of the tour sample the chocolate itself.

 

  For those of you with an interest in Roman history you can visit the Museo Romano which has been built over the Ergástula cave which is believed to have been the entrance to the ancient Roman forum. Inside you will find many objects found in archaeological digs in the area which show how the Romans lived and worked.

 

  Like many large towns Astorga has all the usual amenities. For accommodation you can choose one of the 2 large albergues or decide to stay at one of the 4 hostals.

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                                                           delhommeb at wanadoo.fr - 10/01/2014