Travel

Strategies of Burgos Cathedral, A concealed gem of Northern Spain

Boasting no less than 38 altarpieces, countless chapels, ornate religious imagery, and of course, to be the final resting place of the legendary El Cid, there are few reasons why you wouldn’t wish to visit Burgos Cathedral on your next trip to Spain. Here’s an insider’s guide to know what's even better UNESCO listed ecclesiastical building, as well as hidden gems, forgotten corners, along with a history worth studying!

If you’d asked me what the town of Burgos was famous for just before our visit, I’d have probably replied with ‘where?’ However, after going to the city in the Castilla y León area captured, I soon grew to like the charm and sweetness of the Northern Spanish city, and I’m sure that you will too, if you only give it a chance…

After all, you’ll soon know you’re in the right place– i.e. the interior heart of the historic city centre- because of a medieval gateway heralding the entrance in to the inner fold. During your travels towards the city, you’ll soon encounter lots of pilgrims, all making their way along El Camino de Santiago (which is popularly shortened to merely ‘El Camino’ or the Way of Saint James)- and Burgos city is a particular highlight from the 500+ miles route.

#ad | This informative article is sponsored by TRANSROMANICA, the Romanesque Routes of European Heritage as certified through the Council of Europe. All opinions, words, and photos, remains those of the editor. 

The fascinating good reputation for Burgos Cathedral

Burgos itself was founded in 884 by Diego Rodríguez Porcelos, the Count of Castile, though the surrounding region has been inhabited since time immemorial. An ecclesiastical building has stood on-site since a minimum of 1075, once the city was granted a Bishropic by King of the time, Alfonso VI “the Brave”.

Unfortunately, there is little change surviving information about the initial church, although it was most likely after the popular-at-the-time Romanesque style, similar to the stunning example within the nearby village of Santo Domingo de Silos. Soon enough, the initial Cathedral was too small for the ever-growing needs of the city.

In 1221, a new Cathedral was constructed on the website of the original, before being consecrated in the year 1260. Throughout the Middle Ages, Cathedrals would have taken many lifetimes to build and also the very first architects and buildings would have had no hope of seeing their completion. As such, what they are called and details regarding exactly who the original master builder was have since been lost towards the passage of your time.

In the following centuries, the aisle chapels were finally completed (after about 2 centuries where building work was paused), and many decades after the Cathedral itself had been consecrated. Today, just a few aspects of the original Romanesque church remain, using the most of the Cathedral having been built in the distinctly French Gothic style.

Of particular note to any or all the Francophiles available: the hyperlink between Burgos Cathedral and France doesn’t stop after the adoption of the French Gothic. Instead, through the centuries later, many French writers visited Burgos and incorporated the inspiration they based on the Cathedral to their works. Alexander Dumas and Victor Hugo were two such writers, and some even go as far to assert that the automated clock of The Papamoscas actually inspired The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Due that the Cathedral took such a long time to build, almost every take into account a brief history of the Gothic style are available here; from Early Gothic to Flamboyant Gothic (and all things in between), nearly every feature is represented within Burgos Cathedral. Since 1984, the Church has already established UNESCO world heritage status.

A brief tour (and secrets) of Burgos Cathedral

Facade of Burgos Cathedral

Of course, as with any ecclesiastical building, the most crucial starting point reaches the facade from the cathedral. Constructed within the Gothic style that was oh-so-popular during the 12th-century, the leading of Burgos Cathedral certainly doesn’t disappoint!

After all, take away the spires atop the (almost) symmetrical towers and you’ll soon discover that the development is extremely similar to those of Notre Dame in Paris.  And, if you don’t believe me, then observe that the decadent spires were not area of the intended design and were only added between 1442 and 1458 by the Colonia family!

13th-century Tympanum of the Door of the Sarmental (Sacramental)

Even if you’ve never heard of the word ‘Tympanum’ before, no doubt you’ll have seen one out of the flesh. This technical word essentially describes the (usually) carved stone slab that sits above one of the main entryways towards the church. That of Burgos cathedral is especially spectacular thanks to the fact that it dates all the way to the 13th-century and features several biblical figures.

Constable Chapel

One of the most beautiful chapels within the Cathedral at Burgos is that of the Constable Chapel. As soon as you step inside this calm and serene chapel, you’ll soon observe that the light levels change drastically. The particular interest of this part of the building is that it’s constructed in the late Castilian Gothic style, also is also known as the Isabelline Gothic style.

In comparison with the otherwise sombre cathedral, the chapel is filled with intense sunlight, largely as a result of huge skylight. This dome was added by the Colonia family (from what is now Cologne, Germany) as part of their expansive renovations from the Cathedral throughout the mid-fifteenth-century.

The final resting host to El Cid

Situated within the very heart of the cathedral, the final resting place of El Cid (complete name Rodrigo Díaz de Viva- i.e. the famous Castilian folk-hero) can be found steps away from the beautifully carved wooden choir stalls that are by Bigarny and therefore are in the Renaissance Plateresque style.

El Cid is buried alongside his wife, Do~na Jimena underneath the Dome from the main nave featuring a Mudejar vault. The Cathedral also holds among its collections a few his possessions. After marvelling at the tomb and features surrounding it, stay in the area to be equally astonished by the encompassing Escalera.

Escalera Dorada

Constructed in the 16th-century and simply one of the greatest treasures of the Cathedral of Burgos, the name Escalera Dorada is literally translated as ‘the Golden Staircase’. Modelled on the Italian Renaissance, the Diego de Siloé.

The steps actually lead out to the Fernán González Street, though this entryway to the cathedral is inaccessible towards the general public. As a whole, the staircase features nineteen steps, many allegorical figures, and a wrought iron French railing bearing angels heads and foliate design.

Saint Thecla chapel

Gilt gold and ornate carvings glitter under the low lighting of this area of the ecclesiastical building. The Saint Tecla Chapel was created in the 18th-century and is one of the newest additions to Burgos Cathedral. It's also here, on a daily basis, where Mass is held. During these times, the area is closed to tourists and the chapel is reserved solely for those wishing to worship.

The Papamoscas of Burgos Cathedral

If you will be within the walls from the Cathedral once the clock strikes on the hour, then you’re in for a treat. Every hour, when the big hand reaches the twelve, The Papamoscas is really a 16th-century automated figure which opens its mouth since it's arm simultaneously rings the bell to signal the time.

Things to complete near to Burgos Cathedral

As one of the most important stops on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage routes, it ought to come as no real surprise that there are lots of other cultural and historical attractions close to the cathedral. Set from the backdrop from the medieval city walls, you’ll want to bring your camera as there’s lots of beautiful architecture you’ll wish to remember for years to come!

Puente de Santa Marí

If you get to Burgos by car, then most likely you will be parking up outside of the historic city centre (after all, the historic district of the Northern Spanish city is mostly car-free!) As such, your first historic monument in Burgos is going to be that of the Saint Mary bridge. Even though there is a bridge on-site for many centuries, everything you can stroll across today goes back towards the 18th-century.

Arco de Santa María

Truth be told, the crowning jewel of Burgos, after its cathedral (whose complete name may be the rather long-winded Santa Iglesia Catedral Basílica Metropolitana de Santa María de Burgos), may be the Arco de Santa María, a fantastic feat of architecture you’ll soon find yourself marvelling at during any visit to the town.

Paseo del Espolón:

Picture perfect plane trees line the predominantly pedestrian pathway that follows the course of the historic city walls. Dotted with benches and many cafés, this stunning walkway is the perfect avoid the hubbub from the rest of the city, and offers the best views of the river found anywhere in town.

Plaza Santa María

Head directly outside of Burgos Cathedral and you’ll soon discover the city’s main town square. Full of an abundance of eateries, cafés, and bars, this is the perfect spot to sit down and relax after a busy morning (or afternoon) exploring Burgos Cathedral and its surrounds. I particularly recommend sampling the neighborhood ‘tinto de Verano’ (literally translated as ‘summer red wine’). One part soda and one part table dark wine, this drink is oh-so-refreshing!

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