Tag Archives: Burgos

Northern Spain – Mountain Drive, Burgos to Cantabria

Cantabria Road Hazard

Not long after leaving Burgos and as we travelled north the landscape began to change.  Only gradually at first and then more rapidly as we approached the snow capped Cantabrian Mountains.

The endless brown prairies of Castilla y León started to slowly give way to enclosed green fields of Cantabria and now there were ridges and escarpments each one playing host to a clutch of wind turbines.  There was livestock in the fields as we began to climb, gently at first and then more dramatically into the mountains.

After an hour or so we left the main road and took a minor route into the mountains where the fields became smaller, the grass became greener and the sky seemed a great deal closer as we drove past verges of wild flowers sheltering under the dry stone walls, soaring buzzards and occasional herds of the horses of Cantabria.  We climbed high into the clouds, way above the snow line with strips of ice clinging defiantly to the crevices where the sun doesn’t reach and stopping frequently to enjoy the stunning views stretching away in all directions as we reached the highest point of our drive at one thousand two hundred and sixty metres.

There was a price to pay for these grand views and that was the temperature which dropped so dangerously close to zero that Kim made a change of clothes into something much warmer and more appropriate for the prevailing conditions.

At the very top the grey clouds were crawling like a contagion over the mountain tops and then as quickly as we had started to climb we started to descend through a succession of sweeping theatrical bends where bubbling waterfalls twisted and roared down every narrow gorge and overhead there was a canopy of swaying emerald which parted just now and again to let the sunlight through and allow views of the mountain peaks wearing their lace bonnets of cloud.

The road kept dropping in a dramatic fall, through hairpin bends, alongside vertiginous drops to certain death in the river valley below and adjacent to soaring grey mountains and constant warnings of rock falls and debris in the road and this wasn’t the only danger because, although there was an absence of traffic we frequently found ourselves competing for road space with local farm livestock which thankfully announced their presence with a loud clanging cow bell.

Valle de Cabuérniga Cantabria Spain

Eventually the road began to level out and we followed the route of a river valley, the Valle de Cabuérniga with the River Argoza carving its relentless way through the hills as we made for our first stop of the day, the Cantabrian mountain village of Bárcena Mayor which is a village nestled in the mountains and the only residential community within the beech wood nature reserve of Saja.

It is said to be the oldest town in Cantabria and was declared a historic-artistic site in 1979.  Because of this designation it is now one of the most visited places in Cantabria as tour buses fill the road and the edge of town car park but it was quiet enough today and we walked through the pretty medieval stone streets and houses with wooden balconies and washing lines in a hanging mist which added to the character and the charm of the place.

We left Bárcena Mayor just as the intrusive tour buses started to arrive and spill their passengers into the narrow streets and then carried on to our second village visit at Carmona sitting in an impossibly attractive natural fold in the landscape surrounded by lush green fields and with a stunning backdrop of the Pico de Europa.

Carmona was rather similar to Bárcena Mayor except there was a bit more activity in the tiny cobbled streets with wild flower verges and where sunlight spilled into the dark  corners of the workshops where traditional wood carvers were busy making customary products of cattle yokes, sandals, clogs, canes, and cutlery which, I am told, are distinctive to rural Cantabria and I say that in a slightly cynical way because I got the impression that there isn’t really a great deal of tradition here and that whilst a man was busy whittling wood in an open barn for the benefit of the tourists there was probably a factory somewhere full of drills and lathes where the products for sale were being produced as the villagers were taking advantage of the new roads that brought the visitors to the once isolated communities.

I liked these little stone villages but not that much that I wanted to stay all afternoon and after we had walked through the streets, admired the wooden merchandise and dodged the free roaming dogs we returned to the car and made our way to our final overnight stop at the town of Santillana del Mar.

Carmona Cantabria Spain

 

Northern Spain – The Plaza Mayor and an Updated Top Ten

Cities of Castilla y Leon

Tomorrow we would be returning to the coast in Cantabria and so now we had come to end of our drive through Castilla y León and our visit to the main cities although, and I apologise for this, we had missed out Soria.

It would have been just too much of a detour as we came to the end of our travels but I have promised to go back one day and apologise for this rudeness because Soria has one of the most bizarre festivals in Spain where once a year local men demonstrate their faith and fearlessness (stupidity) by walking over red hot coals!

We had visited a lot of new cities and it was time now to reassess our top ten list of favourite Plaza Mayors.  The more places we visit the more difficult this becomes so I have now extended this list from five to ten and introduced two categories – cities and towns.

Salamanca Plaza Mayor

The Plaza Mayor is arguably the most important part of a Spanish town or city and I really cannot think of an equivalent in the United Kingdom where we have public squares but use them in an entirely different way – all day drinking, littering and anti-social behaviour.

In Spain the Plaza Mayor is the place where people meet, relax and enjoy themselves; it is generally flanked with shops and restaurants and usually has the town hall and the main church somewhere close by.  This is the beating heart of a Spanish community and when we arrive somewhere new it is usually the first place we make for because sitting with a glass of wine and complimentary tapas it is the best place to be to get a feeling for the town and its people.

Plaza Mayor Siguenza Castilla-La Mancha

In the search for real Spain (not the coasts and the Costas), in the past five years, we have visited and enjoyed dozens of Plaza Mayors; Madrid, the largest, Salamanca, the second largest, Toledo, next to its towering cathedral and the tiled Plaza de España in Seville.  We liked them all and we began now to compile a list with a view to choosing our favourites.

We considered Ávila,  Mérida and ValladolidCáceres and Santiago de CompostellaOviedo and León  but after a lively debate weighing up the pros and cons and putting forward the case for each one in turn we finally agreed on the top five in each category but could not reach consensus on the actual order.

Valladolid Spain

First the cities:  Segovia in Castilla y Leon because of the Cathedral and the architecture and the little streets running away from it like spokes from a wheel, Trujillo in Extremadura, because of its unspoilt medieval charm, its grand palaces and dusty, sunburnt aura and then Salamanca with its grand baroque architecture and after that Alcala de Henara and the Plaza de Cervantes with its statues and gardens and grandly colonnaded perimeter.  These were all from previous visits to Spain but we both agreed that after this journey then we would simply have to add Palencia  because of its unspoilt charm and the timeless quality of the buildings and architecture – a real gem!

And so to the towns: the unpretentious and functional Ciudad Rodrigo and reeking of the Spanish Peninsula War in every crack and crevice, Chinchón with its open balconies and bullfights and Siguenza with its stone simplicity, cobbled alleys, sharp stairways, deep arches, shady courtyards and stone buttresses leaning across the street and leaving barely a single shaft of sunlight and which was the probably the closest yet that I have been looking for in Spain.  Almagro with its stone colonnaded arches and Tuscan columns supporting overhead galleries all painted a uniform shade of green and fully glazed in a central European style which makes this place unique in all of Spain.  Finally Tembleque which we visited on a dreary overcast day but despite that there was no ignoring the quality of its fine Plaza.

That was a difficult debate and lasted as long as a couple of San Miguels and two dishes of olives but once we had finished we drained our glasses and returned to the Meson del Cid to prepare for a second night in the town.

Chinchon Madrid Spain

 

Northern Spain – Pilgims and the Way of Saint James

Pilgrims' way Santiago de Compostella

Sir Walter Raleigh wrote:

Give me my scallop shell of quiet;
My staff of faith to walk upon;
My scrip of joy, immortal diet;
My bottle of salvation;
My gown of glory (hope’s true gage);
And then I’ll take my pilgrimage.

Burgos lies on one of the principal pilgrim routes of the Camino or the Way of Saint James and during our visit we had to share the streets and the restaurants and the hotel with dozens of foot weary walkers all sharing their hiking tales as they walked towards their ultimate objective – the city of Santiago de Compostela.

Santiago de Compostela is the capital of the autonomous region of Galicia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is located in the most northwest region of Spain in the Province of A Coruña and it was the European City of Culture for the year 2000.  I didn’t know this but after Jerusalem and Rome it is the third most holy city in Christendom and the cathedral is the destination today, as it has been throughout history, of the important ninth century medieval pilgrimage route, the Way of St. James.

Santiago is such an important pilgrimage destination because it is considered the burial site of the apostle, James the Great.  Santiago was one of the twelve disciples and a devout follower of Christ but in 44 A.D. he became the first of Apostles to suffer martyrdom when Herod Agrippa arrested and (according to the story) personally beheaded him (this seems rather unlikely to me) in Jerusalem.   According to legend Santiago had preached for a while in Iberia prior to his execution and after his death his own disciples returned his body by boat back to the peninsula (this also seems rather unlikely).

On the way they were caught in a storm and almost certainly doomed when a ship miraculously appeared, led by an angel, to guide them to land and safety.  They buried the saint near Compostela, ‘field of stars,’ where Santiago lay forgotten for nearly eight hundred years.

The tomb was conveniently rediscovered in the ninth century in a time of great need when Christian political and military fortunes in Spain were at their lowest ebb after they had suffered defeat time and again at the hands of the Muslims, until that is God revealed the Saint’s remains, and inspired them with the confidence that he was on their side, fighting in the battlefield with them through the heroic figure of Santiago and the holy saint became a warrior.

Santiago Pilgrim

People continue to take the Pilgrim trail and there were many here in Burgos who could be instantly identified by the pilgrim staff and the symbol of the scallop shell.   The shell is the traditional symbol of the pilgrimage because the grooves in the shell, which come together at a single point, represent the various routes that pilgrims travelled, all eventually arriving at a single destination.  It is also symbolic of the pilgrim because just as the waves of the ocean wash scallop shells up on the shores of Galicia, God’s hand also guides the pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela.

I have been giving some thought to perhaps tackling the Camino myself one day and have been looking at the various different routes.  I have to say that I may have a preference for the one that starts in Plymouth in the UK because that would seem to include rather a nice cruise on a P&O ferry across the Bay of Biscay and an evening in the duty free bar followed by a just short stroll from A Coruña to Santiago de Compostela.

Way of St James

St James the Apostle is the Patron saint of Spain and if El Cid represents the secular aspects of heroism and military conquest during the Reconquista the spiritual hero representing the religious justification and the Christian ethos of the crusade against the Muslims was Santiago.  In ‘Don Quixote’ Cervantes wrote – ‘St. James the Moorslayer, one of the most valiant saints and knights the world ever had … has been given by God to Spain for its patron and protection.’  Since the reconquest ‘Santiago y cierra España’, which means St James and strike for Spain has been the traditional battle cry of Spanish armies.

The truth was that as the Northern Kingdoms began to assert themselves they needed spiritual assistance and justification and in this era of crusading reconquest there was a need for the living presence of a religious-national figure as an emblem of Christian strength and supremacy that was capable of rallying around themselves the Spanish Christian forces.   This was to be Santiago whose image fulfilled the desire of the Iberian Christians for heroes to emulate, and unite them in their struggle for political and religious independence from Muslim rule.

An important manifestation of the crusading mentality during this time was the creation of an iconic patriotic creation of Santiago and the mythical military contribution of St James to the Reconquista was the inspirational presence of the Saint on the battlefields of the peninsula.

The most famous of these was the legend surrounding the battle of Clavijo in 844, where the vastly outnumbered and demoralised Christian forces were inspired by the appearance of St James in a full suit of armour riding on a galloping white horse with a sword in the right hand and the banner of victory in the left.

Modern historians dispute that there ever was such a battle but the story goes that the night before the encounter, Santiago appeared in a dream to the leader of the Spanish forces, King Ramirez of Castile, and promised him a victory over the Muslims.  The following day, at the height of battle, the warrior-saint appeared on the battlefield, leaving behind him the defeated infidels that he has slaughtered and crushed to the ground and in front of him what remained of the terrified enemy promptly surrendered.  Thus was born the legend of Santiago Matamoros, the Moorslayer.

Burgos Pilgrims Weary

Northern Spain – The City of Burgos

Burgos Cathedral

It was late afternoon when we arrived in Burgos and we located the hotel without too much difficulty and checked in.  I had chosen the Meson Del Cid because of its location and because the hotel web site boasted about the panoramic views of the Cathedral.

Unfortunately our room didn’t have a panoramic view of the Cathedral or its celebrated ornate front door as we were allocated a room at the rear with a view of a tiny courtyard and the back door of an adjacent church and I immediately decided (perhaps unfairly) that this was most likely going to adversely affect my customer review scoring.

I was especially keen to visit Burgos because the first time I was there in 1985 I dashed through with indecent haste on a road trip from the Algarve to the English Channel and at that point we were seriously behind our schedule and didn’t have time to stop but mostly because this is the spiritual home of my Spanish hero Rodrigo Díaz de Bivar, better known as El Cid.

There was time for a brief excursion into the city but with a full day ahead in Burgos we ignored the sights and looked instead for a likely restaurant for later.  The one that we selected served a nice evening meal, but not the best that we had had this week and our mistake was not to have the menu del dia which was being served up by the plateful to the pilgrims who made their way inside.

El Cid Alvar Fanez Burgos

My way of getting our own back on the hotel for the disappointing room was to boycott their expensive breakfast at €11 each and instead found a good alternative at only €4 each just around the corner in a place with the tempting aromas of the first meal of the day, pungent coffee, sizzling eggs, newly fried churros and the faint hint of charred toast.

It was a miserable cold morning and immovable grey clouds filled the sky, the walkers were all wearing their warmest clothes and most people on the street were taking the sensible precaution of carrying an umbrella.  We walked first to the Plaza Mayor which isn’t going to get into my favourites list because although it was large and colourful the place was spoilt by the inappropriate placement of recycling containers where, in my opinion, there should have been pavement tables.

From the Plaza we walked to the river through one of the original city gates, the Arco de Santa Maria, and then along a boulevard, Paseo del Espolón, lined with trees like lines of Greek dancers each with their hands on their partners shoulders and then towards the Plaza del Cid.

Greek Dancer Trees Burgos

Once over the river we crossed a bridge lined with statues depicting the heroes of the Reconquesta and then, there he was – El Cid, looking fearsome with his grizzled beard, wild cloak flowing madly, his sword La Tizona, too big for an ordinary mortal, extended ahead of him, his eyes fixed ferociously on an enemy army as he led a charge against the Moors sat on his magnificent famous white horse Babieca.

Only one other statue is the equal of this one in all of Spain – that of Francisco Pizarro more than five hundred kilometres away in the Plaza Mayor in the city of Trujillo  in Extremadura.

El Cid and Babieca

The weather stubbornly refused to improve so we decided that it was time to visit the Cathedral, the third largest in Spain after Seville and Toledo and we walked to the great Gothic construction with its balustraded turrets, needle-pointed pinnacles, statues of the Saints and steel grey filigree lace towers soaring above us, went inside and grudgingly paid the €7 entrance fee.

Actually this turned out to be very good value for money because I would agree with the travel writer Jan Morris that this is perhaps the finest Cathedral that I have visited in Spain, better than both Seville and Toledo and with an audio guide thrown in.  It took some time to visit all of the chapels on both sides and eventually reach the centre of the building with its huge grey columns reaching up above us supporting a magnificent ribbed central dome where underneath in pride of place was the resting place and tomb of El Cid and his equally famous wife Doña Ximena Díaz  Actually I was expecting something a bit grander but the great National hero of Spain is buried under a rather simple marble gravestone.

Through the magnificent stained glass windows we could see that there were occasional shafts of sunlight so with the weather improving Kim began to get restless so we hurried our pace for the remainder of the visit but I did manage to slow her down long enough to visit the Cathedral museum where amongst the exhibits were the travel chest of El Cid, which I am fairly certain he wouldn’t be able to use as Ryanair cabin baggage and a blood thirsty statue of Saint James the Moor slayer.

These days we are a bit more sensitive about religious wars and killing each other in the name of God or Allah and in 2004 a similar statue in Santiago Cathedral showing St James slicing the heads off Moorish invaders was removed and replaced with a more benign image of him as a pilgrim to avoid causing offence to Muslims.

A Cathedral spokesman in a classic understatement explained that the Baroque image of a sword-wielding St James cutting the heads off Moors was not a very sensitive or evangelical image that can be easily reconciled to the teachings of Christ.  It might also be a case of political correctness.  In 1990 there were one hundred thousand Muslims living in Spain but by 2010 this had risen to over one million.

Saint James is in danger of becoming a bit of a Nigel Farage!  Burgos Cathedral on the other hand, for the time being anyway, appears not to be so sensitive.

With the sun now shining we returned to the streets and walked along a steep path through pleasant woodland towards the castle of Burgos.  There was once a medieval castle on the site but the current fort was built by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1808, was the only castle that the Duke of Wellington failed to capture and which was destroyed again by the French when they retreated and left in 1813.  It has been restored again now but opening hours seem to be very limited and today the iron gates were firmly closed and locked so we walked back to the city and returned to the river and walked in both directions before selecting a pavement bar on the Paseo del Espolón  and sat in the hot sunshine with a San Miguel.

I liked Burgos, probably most out of all the cities that we had visited this week and I was glad that we had chosen to spend a couple of nights here.  Later we found an alternative restaurant for evening meal where the food was excellent and we were in the good company of some Camino walkers and at the end of the day there was a walk back to the hotel through the quiet streets under the waxy glow of the iron street lamps casting their curious shadows into the corners of the Plazas and streets and overhead there was a clear sky which made us optimistic about the next day.

Plaza Major Burgos Spain

 

Cantabria, Collados del Asón Natural Park

In the morning it was disappointingly overcast and clouds were crawling over the mountains that surrounded the village and prospects didn’t look especially good so we had to arrange an appropriate itinerary to take account of the conditions.  It certainly wasn’t coastal weather so we decided to travel inland and see the countryside and after a substantial continental breakfast prepared by Luz, the housekeeper, we left Liendo and drove first west and then south into the hills.

The first part of the route took us past Laredo, Colindres and Ampuero and then to the busy little market town of Ramales de la Victoria where we left the main road that carried on to the to the city of Burgos and the burial place of El Cid and headed towards the Collados del Asón Natural Park.

It was slightly overcast but there was no rain and there was a moody ethereal mist over the emerald green pastures and fields which added to the rural ambiance.  Once off the main road the driving experience required complete and undivided attention as we drove along twisting narrow roads, under mountains and into deep gorges, through forests of fresh broad leaved trees as we alternately dropped and then climbed along a twisting river valley.

The tall mountains all wore lace bonnets made of swirling clouds as we followed the small roads through a succession of rustic villages where local people were working hard on the farms and weren’t expecting tourists.  Twice we had to stop for cattle being driven along the roads as they took priority over cars on their way to and from the milking sheds and everywhere dairy cows with bulging udders were grazing on lush grass on the precarious slopes of the hills and mountains.

The road kept going west, twisting and turning all the way and following the river valley until it finally swung north and we started to climb once more towards the southern entrance of the Natural Park which was along a road with a vertical grey limestone mountain on the left and a sheer drop to the right which meant I had to pay special attention to driving duties.

At the top there was a viewing platform to stop and admire the panorama  from about twelve hundred metres high down a deep gorge with steep mountain slopes on either side, which was where we going next down the road that zigzagged along the eastern side of the valley.

First we had to negotiate our way past a herd of wild horses who were not minded to give priority to traffic which meant driving carefully around them and then we began the rapid descent to the bottom past the source of the Asón river, which begins here in what today, it has to be said, was a slightly disappointing waterfall and then flows for forty kilometres north through the town of Colindres, where it forms the Santoña estuary which happens to be the most important Special Protection Area in the north of Spain.

All the way down the road stuck close to the vertical side of the mountain and as we avoided fallen rocks and stones at regular intervals I began to wonder if I had made a sensible decision when I rejected the insurance option on broken windscreens and glass but we found our way to the bottom without incident and we left the gorge and began to follow the river north towards Arredondo where we followed the road to Riba and then headed north again.  Our intention was to return to Ampuero through the twisting valleys that meandered through the mountains but the combination of confusing road signs and an inadequate map conspired together to prevent this.

Driving in Spain wouldn’t be the same of course if we didn’t get lost a couple of times and we took a couple of unnecessary detours in our quest.  Down narrow roads that simply stopped at small hamlets or single farms and once down a promising new road where the asphalt ran out after a few kilometres and we had to double all the way back.  We had to admit defeat when we found ourselves almost back at the coast and had to repeat the first section of the route again to reach our destination.

So we drove south again and at Ampuero left the main road and headed for the tiny village of La Aparecida climbing again and getting closer to the hungry Buzzards circling above and through spreading puddles of sunshine burning through the swirling mist vapours on one of those getting better all the time sort of days.  We were looking for another of Marta’s recommendations because based on how good they had been so far we were again confident of her suggestion for lunch.

Road Trip – A Motoring Offence in Spain

The Guardia Civil…

“I had already learned to be wary of the Civil Guard, who were the poison dwarfs of Spain.  They would suddenly ride down upon you on their sleek black horses, far out in the open country and crowd around you all leather and guns and put you through a bullying interrogation.”                                                        Laurie Lee – ‘As I walked out one Sunny Morning’

There was still a very long way to go so we planned for another very early start.  When we woke in the morning there was no power anywhere in the hotel and we had to pack in pitch darkness so goodness knows how much stuff we left behind.  We met in the car park and then we had our first problem of the day – the car wouldn’t start!

It was wet and miserable and the electrics were damp and it was probably still trying to get over yesterday’s long drive because this journey was one of the sort of improbable things that these days Jeremy Clarkson does on ‘Top Gear’!  We couldn’t bump start it because it was an automatic so Richard, who understood how cars work,  lifted the bonnet and fiddled with the leads and poked around a bit and the rest of us , who didn’t, stood around and kicked the tyres.  We were all impressed when Richard got the poor thing going and we set off on the road for Burgos on the way to France.

Richard was driving and by the time it got light we were making good progress north along a main highway that, because it was Saturday, was not especially busy this morning.  To this day I still dispute the designation ‘motorway’ because it was single carriageway, had no emergency lane, no lights and as it happens no road markings either.  Richard was driving sensibly and only overtaking when it was safe to do so but then, after about sixty kilometres, we had our next problem.

And this was serious!

All of a sudden the interior of the car was flooded with blue flashing lights from behind and a Spanish highway patrol vehicle was pulling us over.  Richard complied and we all left the vehicle to be confronted by two Guardia Civil policemen in their olive green uniforms, black boots, creaking leather belts and straps and those black tricorn hats that they used to wear, getting out of their green and white patrol car and looking very menacing indeed.

We weren’t absolutely sure why they had asked us to stop and when we asked for explanation one of them drew a diagram that seemed to indicate that we had overtaken on double white lines.  Double white lines!  What lines?  They may have been there twenty years ago but there were certainly none there now!  There were two of them and the older one started to write out a ticket for a fine for twelve thousand pesetas, which was about £60 and seemed like a lot of money to us, especially bearing in mind that we didn’t have any pesetas left anyway.

Anthony was minded to argue but, although we didn’t know it,  this would have been a very foolish thing to do because these guys were not exactly the friendly village bobby or the laughing policeman.

The Guardia Civil were left overs from the previous fascist regime who on the whole found the transition to democracy and civil liberties difficult to come to terms with.  Everyone in Spain was frightened of them, they patrolled in twos, bullying and picking on people and were mockingly called ‘parejas’ – married couples.  The younger one tapped his fingers on the holster of his pistol and readjusted his cosh in his belt in a threatening sort of way and the rest of us took that as a sign that we should just shut up and pay up.

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This didn’t get over the problem of having no cash but the two highwaymen had a solution to that and made us follow them to a garage where they supervised the cashier as he exchanged everything that we had got into pesetas and the policemen gleefully took possession of it.  He took all of our French Francs, UK Sterling and what few Portuguese Escudos we had left, and actually we had more of those between us than we thought because Tony had been holding back on a bit of a stash concealed in the back of his wallet that he hadn’t owned up to and the rest of us were all a bit upset about that.  It turns out that Tony would rather juggle gelignite than spend his cash!

We had been thoroughly mugged and as we waved goodbye to the two policemen Anthony shouted a rather unpleasant accusation of dishonesty and an invitation to thoroughly enjoy our contribution to the Guardia Civil Christmas party fund, which thankfully they didn’t hear.

When we got back home I wrote to the Spanish Embassy in London to complain about this and to request a refund and although they replied and sympathised they explained that they had no authority over the police and therefore couldn’t do anything to help.  It was a nice letter though!

Richard was a bit upset about the incident and sulked for the next hour or so while we drove past Burgos and stopped at a little town at just about breakfast time and found a bank where we could get enough cash to buy some fuel to get us out of Spain.  We carried on out of Castilla y León and into the green mountains of the Basque Country, past Bilbaó and San Sebastián and then headed east towards the Pyrenees and then the last Spanish town of Irun at the border with France, which we finally reached about twenty hours behind schedule.

El Cid and his Wife, Doña Ximena Díaz

Ximena

A hero needed a wife and El Cid was married in either in1074 or 1075 to Doña Ximena of Oviedo, a city in the modern day Principality of Asturias in the north of Spain but in the eleventh century part of Alfonso VI’s Kingdom of Leon and Castile.

The anonymous Latin prose history of the life of El Cid, the’ Historia Roderici’ identifies Ximena as the daughter of a Count Diego of Oviedo, but there is no evidence to confirm this and the later Poema de Mio Cid names her father as an equally unknown Count Gomez de Gormaz and some historians have laterly concluded that this is one and the same person.  Tradition states that when the Cid laid eyes on her for the first time he was overcome by her great beauty and fell in love with her on sight.

El Cid and Ximena had three children. Their two daughters Cristina and María both married high nobility; Cristina to Ramiro, Lord of Monzón, grandson of García Sánchez III of Navarre and María, first to a prince of Aragon and second to Ramón Berenguer III, count of Barcelona. El Cid’s son Diego Rodríguez was tragically killed while fighting against the invading Muslim Almoravids from North Africa at the Battle of Consuegra in 1097.

His own marriage, and that of his daughters, increased his status by connecting El Cid to royalty and even today, it is said that all European monarchies descend in some way from El Cid, through his daughter Cristina’s son, king García Ramírez of Navarre and the royal blood lines of Navarre in northern Spain and Foix, a medieval fiefdom in southern France.

Ximena is an old Spanish form of the name Simone, a female version of Simon which is a Hebrew name that means listener.  It may also be a form of Xenia, a Greek name meaning guest or stranger from the same root as the term xenophobia. In the film ‘El Cid’ Ximena is played by the actress Sophia Loren and the Rank Organisation used the alternative spelling for her name, Jimena.  Whichever way it is spelt, Ximena or Jimena, has become the modern Spanish surname of Jimenez so it might well be possible that the golfer Miguel Angel is a descendent as well.

Aged only 56, El Cid was shot by a stray arrow in a battle on July 10th 1099 and he died shortly afterwards. After his death Ximena ruled in his place for three years until the Almoravids once again besieged the city. Unable to hold it, she abandoned the city and organised the evacuation of the Christians. King Alfonso ordered the city to be destroyed to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Almoravids and what was left of Valencia was captured by Masdali on May 5th 1102 and would not become a Christian city again for over one hundred and twenty five years. Ximena fled north with the Cid’s body to Burgos where he was originally  buried in the monastery of San Pedro de Cardeña but his body now lies at the centre of the Burgos Cathedral.

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More posts about El Cid:

El Cid and the Spanish Reconquista

El Cid and his Horse, Babieca

El Cid and his Wife, Ximena

El Cid and his sword. La Tizona

El Cid and Saint James

El Cid and Alfonso VI

El Cid and the City of Burgos

El Cid and the Castle of Belmonte

El Cid – The Film Fact and Fiction

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