Travel – Burgos

From Cadiz our route was directly by way of Cordova to Madrid, where, after a few days of rest and enjoyment, we made our way to Burgos and the Pyrenees.

The railway from Madrid to Irun winds in and out between the mountain ranges, keeping an average level of fifteen hundred feet above the sea, and passing through no less than fifty-seven tunnels. Segovia, Valladolid, and Leon, three towns which contain more antiquities and richer architecture than almost any others in Spain, are upon the way north, and will repay the tourist who spends a day or two in each. The Cathedral of Leon, the sculpture and history of Valladolid, and the architecture and natural beauty of Segovia are the distinctive features of each.

Burgos is two hours distant from the last named, a town built on the side of a hill in the form of a semicircle, sloping gently down to the river Arlanzon, which is crossed by three fine bridges. There are also remains of the citadel and ramparts, and some old Moorish ramparts. The houses are quaint, and the streets narrow and dark.

Coming from the south of Spain me felt the change of climate, for Burgos is high and cold and exposed to bleak winds from the north. The cold lasts for three-fourths of the year, and the summer months have none of that warmth and softness of temperature which is naturally expected in such a latitude. The principal streets facing the river are occupied with modern buildings, but in the dilapidated market-place, with its massive arcades and balconies, there are reminders of old Castilian days when festivals and bull-fights were held here, the nobles filling these balconies, and the people crowding beneath in the arcades. The shops around the market-place were filled with sham jewelry, and Toledo swords, and armor, and old clothes, and other trash of the saxne sort; but even for these articles there seemed to be no demand, and most of the shopkeepers were lounging and smoking on the pavement.

The Cathedral, which is “one of the finest in Europe,” maintained its reputation in our eyes, though they had looked upon most of the wonders of European architecture. Approached from any direction, its lofty spires, models of symmetry and beauty, are seen towering above the town. The harmony of its parts, the purity of its style, and its superb ornamentation impress themselves upon the intelligent visitor. Though it stands upon uneven ground and is surrounded with poor buildings, it is grand and picturesque. One characteristic has been frequently observed and mentioned, that the exterior repeats and expresses, as in embossing, the forms of the internal parts. The eye apprehends the interior at a glance from the shape of the outside. To accomplish this in a work of such magnitude and variety is a great architectural achievement. Street, who has given an exhaustive and illustrated description of Burgos in his work upon Gothic architecture in Spain, says of the Cathedral that popular report has never overrated its merits, and that there cannot be two opinions as to the charm of the whole building from every point of view. Its foundation was laid in the thirteenth century, and the name of the architect is unknown. Its towers and filigree turrets are openworked, and statuettes of saints, kings, and prophets, in great numbers, ornament the angles and corridors of the transepts. On the four large pilasters at the angles are large, open worked capitals. The main entrance has three portals corresponding with the nave and aisles, and on each side of the facade are two light and airy towers. The sculptures which once adorned the lower facade have been destroyed, with exception of the statues of Alonzo VI., Ferdinand III, and of two bishops. The second tier has an openworked corridor with turrets and a rose-window. Above this the third stage consists of two large and richly ornamented windows and a balustrade joining the openworked towers. Around these towers there are more than seventy statues of the size of life, representing evangelists, doctors, and saints of the Roman Catholic Church. These towers are three hundred feet high and are examples of the purest and richest forms of Gothic architecture. The interior is in the form of a Latin cross three hundred feet long, two hundred and thirteen feet in the widest part, and one hundred and ninety-three in greatest height. The effect upon entering is most impressive. The nave is lofty and bold, and is separated from the aisles by twenty massive octagonal pillars, which are made to seem slender by semiattached shafts. There is a noble simplicity in the construction, which produces a feeling of solemnity and peace well suited to a great sanctuary. The “crucero “. at the intersection of the two bays is the gem of the whole edifice, of which Charles V. said it ought to be seen in an enclosure of glass, and Philip II. said it was the work of angels rather than of men. The decorations of the transept are varied and rich, composed of allegorical figures, bunches of fruit, angels and inscriptions. The whole interior is splendid in its breadth, of classic and pure style, and worthy to be compared with any other work. Anything like a full description is impossible, but, thanks to photographic art, many of the best parts of this wonderful and beautiful building have been reproduced and are now familiar to lovers of art and architecture.

Burgos was the birthplace of the Cid and the scene of many of his knightly deeds, and it retains his bones ; but the local color which fills the descriptions of the wedding of the Cid has faded away, and the town is dull and cheerless.

The Cid’s tomb is in the desolate convent of Miraflores, a few miles from Burgos, but his body is said to have been carried off to Burgos and placed in a wooden box in the town hall.

His name was Rodrigo Ruy Diaz, but he is always remembered and spoken of as the “Cid ” or chief. His deeds of bravery in war and of kindness and generosity to his friends and to the poor have been rehearsed in many ballads and romances. His faithful steed Bavieca is always mentioned with him, and the chroniclers tell us that the horse was present at his master’s death and shed tears over his dead body. Near to his valiant rider Bavieca was buried, according to the will of the Cid, who ordered, “When ye bury Bavieca, dig deep, for shameful thing it were, that he should be eaten by curs, who bath trampled down so much currish flesh of Moors.” Upon his own tomb is the inscription in Latin, -The famous warrior, invincible in battle, the great Rodrigo Diaz is shut within this tomb.”

From Burgos we went by way of St. Sebastian to Bordeaux. The journey through the Pyrenees was delightful. The greenness and beauty of the valleys and the fine cultivation of Southern France were indeed restful and comforting after the sombre and desolate landscapes of Northern Spain. The annoyances and discomforts of Spanish travel are becoming less each year, and, looked at through the glass of memory, they seem insignificant compared with the knowledge and pleasure which are to be gained in such a journey.