Tag Archives: Burgos

Passing the centuries in Burgos

My friend Sue and I are now in the second week of our linguistic tour of northern Spain. Yesterday we hiked up to the fortress overlooking the city of Burgos and its Arlanzón River, and thus back in time to the early centuries of the Reconquista (details here). Today’s two excursions, to the Catedral de Burgos and the Monasterio de las Huelgas, carried us forward several centuries, through the era of El Cid, the political consolidation of most of Spain, and the successful pursuit of the Reconquista.

The Cathedral is built on a site of great linguistic interest: in 1080, the Council of Burgos took place in an earlier church at the same site. As described in this previous post, the purpose of the Council was to enforce the use of the Latin Mass in place of the vernacular that had sprung up in Spain. While touring the Cathedral today, I learned that just one year later, in 1081, the city of Burgos became the official seat (sede) for the province’s bishopric, or diocese. Clearly the Council had increased the city’s prestige: language matters! The first Cathedral of Burgos was built over the next fifteen years.

Informative sign from Catedral de Burgos, showing establishment of Burgos as religious seat one year after the Council of Burgos.

Another informative sign, dating the original Cathedral to within fifteen years of the Council of Burgos.

Today’s Cathedral is of further linguistic interest because it houses the tomb of El Cid, the Reconquista hero of the epic poem that is the first known work of Spanish literature. The tomb’s inscription includes the Latin version of El Cid’s name (Rodrigo > Rodericus) and that of his wife, buried with him (Jimena > Eximena). Above the cross you can also see a key line from the poem: a todos alcanza honra por el que en buen hora nació: very roughly, ‘everyone gained in honor because this good man lived’.

Tomb of El Cid and his wife Jimena in the Catedral de Burgos

Our second touristic destination of the day, Burgos’s Monasterio de las Huelgas, fast-forwarded us less than a century to the year 1187. The Monastery was founded by Queen Leonor, the British-born wife of Alfonso VIII of Castilla, and serves as a pantheon, or royal burial place, for this couple and their descendants. By Alfonso’s reign the Reconquista was going full blast, carrying the Castilian language with it. The Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, a turning point in the Reconquista,  took place in 1212; a spectacular door hanging from the tent of Alfonso’s Moorish opponent, Muhámmad al-Násir, hangs in the Monastery’s Museo de Ricas Telas Medievales. It is a harbinger of the eventual fall of Granada at the hands of Alfonso and Leonor’s descendants, Ferdinand and Isabella, and thus the final victory of Castilian Spanish.

Pendón de Las Navas de Tolosa


In the cradle of castellano

Today my friend Sue and I got to know Burgos better. Our day involved two walks: the first to the Cartuja de Miraflores, a monastery whose location is marked with a red arrow in the picture below, and the second to the hilltop fortress Castillo de Burgos, from which this picture was taken. Near the center of the photograph is Burgos’s Plaza Mayor, marked by the colorful row of pink, yellow, blue, and white buildings. We found this a welcome change from the more uniform (though more ornate) plazas of Madrid, Valladolid, and especially Salamanca. You can see the spires of the cathedral to the right, almost hidden by the trees.

We reached the Cartuja de Miraflores by walking along the Arlanzón River, marked by the ribbon of green running diagonally through the middle of the photograph. (We followed these walking directions, posted on TripAdvisor.) This monastery belongs to the contemplative Carthusian order. We spent over two hours studying the famous altar and other works of art and architecture in the building.

The pathway along the Arlanzón is part of the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. We spotted several pilgrims, easily identified by their heavy backpacks and scallop shell insignia. Scallop shell markers embedded in the pavement also mark the portion of the trail that runs through Burgos itself. As I described in an earlier post, Burgos’s position along the Camino de Santiago helped bring the city into prominence.

Our afternoon excursion to the Castillo de Burgos was a deep dive into the history of Burgos — and Spain. Castillo in this case means ‘fortress’ rather than ‘castle’, and this particular fortress was constructed in the late 9th century, during the Reconquista, or the Catholic reconquest of Spain from the Moors. Its construction was part of a deliberate effort to rebuild a Catholic population in the area as the Moors were being driven south. The city of Burgos thus began on the slopes of the hill, protected by the castle above, and slowly spread downhill toward the Arlanzón. This meant that its growth followed the opposite pattern of London, New York, and Paris, which began with riverside settlements, then spread outwards.

Ironically, as the Reconquista progressed Burgos spread so widely that the Castillo became irrelevant. A series of unfortunate events, culminating in the French occupation of the fortress during the Napoleonic War, then severely damaged it. It has only recently been excavated and partially rebuilt.

Sue and I heartily recommend both these excursions to anyone who comes to Burgos.


Another day, another Cervantes museum

I titled this post last week, before leaving for my linguistic tour of northern Spain with my friend Sue. As it turned out, our visit to the Museo Casa de Cervantes in Valladolid was not the high point of the day, though we did appreciate its peaceful garden, and the reliefs depicting scenes from Don Quixote, such as this one. The museum is located in the building where Cervantes lived from 1604 to 1606; the first volume of Don Quijote was published in 1605.
IMG_20160619_115108Valladolid was our stopover en route from Salamanca to Burgos, and well worth a visit. Its star attraction is the Museo National de Escultura, an extraordinary collection of medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque religious sculpture housed in a magnificent convent. My favorite sculpture depicted Saint Anne and her three husbands (!!!) with the Madonna and Child. The husbands were carved with great individuality and detail.

Close-up of the three husbands of Saint Anne. On my screen, WordPress is showing them vertically elongated. You can click through to see the museum's own reproduction, and can select the same detail.

Sculptural detail: the three husbands of Saint Anne.

While in Valladolid i noticed this nice example of the arroba neutra: the contemporary and controversial use of the @ sign in Spanish to create suffixes that are neither masculine nor feminine suffixes. (The sign translates as “Welcome refugees”.) Anybody know how something like this is pronounced out loud?


After leaving Valladolid it was exciting to arrive in Burgos, since this was the city that inspired my trip: Burgos is the cradle of the Castilian language (though in Salamanca we were told it was Salamanca!). Our hotel directly overlooks the city’s cathedral. Five minutes’ walk away is the famous statue of El Cid, Burgos’s hometown hero, which turns out to be in the middle of a busy traffic circle! I found this rather undignified. All the photographs I’ve seen of it show the Cid silhouetted against the sky, perhaps with a bit of building. Now I know they were carefully composed.

view from our window

View from Spanishlinguist.us’s hotel window in Burgos


El Cid and his horse in Burgos, juxtaposed with more modern transportation.

While out walking we unexpectedly came across a status of San Millán de la Cogolla, the saint whose linguistically significant monastery we will be visiting in a few days. Although San Millán was a cave-dwelling hermit, the statue depicts him as a conqueror, standing boldly atop a collection of severed heads. Wikipedia helpfully explains that “Because of the monastery’s role on the traditional pilgrimage route, representations of Emilianus can be mixed with that of Saint James the Moor-slayer.”


Statue of San Millán de la Cogolla, in park along Río Arlanzón between Puente de San Pablo and Puente de Santa María


A scholarly look at Burgos

I’m counting down the days to my upcoming linguistic tour of northern Spain with my friend Sue. To help prepare for our stay in the Castilian city of Burgos, I consulted Teofilo Ruiz’s The City and the Realm: Burgos and Castile 1080-1492. Dr. Ruiz is a historican whose unusual life trajectory has taken him from a Cuban jail, to driving a NYC taxi, to Princeton, UCLA, and a National Humanities Medal. I was impressed that the essays collected in the The City and the Realm were written in four languages: not just English and Spanish, but also French and Italian.

The two dates in the book’s title are easily recognizable. 1492 was, of course, a year of triple significance in Spanish history: the Catholic kings (Ferdinand and Isabella) completed the Reconquista by conquering Granada, Spanish Jews were forced to chose between conversion to Catholicism or expulsion, and Columbus sailed to the New World. 1080, in contrast, was a year of linguistic significance. The Church convened a high-level meeting, or Council, in Burgos, to deal with a language problem: the vernacular Romance, called mozárabe, used in the local Mass had diverged noticeably from the Latin of the traditional Roman Mass. The outcome of the Council was to enforce the Roman Mass. This event stands as a cultural milestone in the evolution of Latin into Spanish, and Hispanic Romance more generally.

The essay I read in depth was the first, “Burgos and the council of 1080.” The main points I took away were:

  • The 1080 Council was the culmination of a series of Church actions taken against the mozárabe Mass during the preceding decade or so. This indicates that there was widespread awareness of the linguistic divergence.
  • Although Burgos is a relatively small city today — it ranks 37th in population within Spain — and is likewise not on the radar for most foreigners, it played an active role in medieval Spanish commerce and religion. it served as a trade center, funneling imports from the Bay of Biscay (see map) into southern Spain. By 1080 Burgos had also become a standard stop on the Camino de Santiago. (In fact, when I searched for tourist advice on “walk along rio alarzon burgos”, the top Google match was a modern-day Camino website!) Burgos was also surrounded by monasteries (including San Millán de la Cogolla and Santo Domingo de Silos, which happen to be  sources of early examples of written Spanish). The monasteries and the Camino made Burgos a natural location for the Council.
  • The mozárabe Mass, or Rito Hispano-Mozárabe, is still celebrated on a daily basis in the Capilla mozárabe in the Cathedral of Toledo — probably my favorite cathedral. The cathedral’s website has a lengthy description of the history and current practice of the Rito. I won’t make it to Toledo on this trip, but the next time I do go, I will definitely try to sit in on this Mass.

I also had a friendly back-and-forth email correspondence with Prof. Ruiz, who informed me that the Cathedral of Burgos is built on the site of the 1080 Council. This will be very much on my mind during our visit.