Burgos – A Cathedral, a Prince and a Toy Train

The toy train

This morning turned out to be Spain’s National Day and everything was closed for the public holiday. It rained for much of the day, so we took the toy train ride to take in the tourist experience. It was a delightfully absurd way to see the city. And the English language commentary was very informative as we wove in and out of the narrow medieval streets.

Tourist train, Burgos

The City Wall

A good part of the medieval city wall remains intact and adds to the sense of history. It also brings home the reality of just how contested this part of Spain has been over the past thousand years.

Burgos city walls

Arco de Santa Maria

The Santa Maria arch was the most important gate to the city throughout the Middle Ages. It also functioned as the Town Hall until the end of the C18th. The Arch of Santa María was originally built in the 14th century as a triumphal arch in honour of Emperor Carlos V. It was given a face-lift in the Renaissance style by Francisco de Colonia and Juan de Vallejo starting in 1536. It was finally completed in 1553 with the addition of a series of statues carved by Ochea de Arteaga.

Arch of Santa Maria, Burgos

The Cathedral – Catedral de Santa Maria

We headed off for lunch and then it was time to visit the Cathedral. The Cathedral of St Mary/ Catedral de Santa Maria – was consecrated in 1221. And it is magnificent! The Cathedral is built in the French Gothic style, with major changes incorporated in the C15th and C16th.

Burgos Cathedral

The Cathedral houses the tomb of El Cid and his wife Doña Jimena.

Inside the entrance to the Cathedral, there is a clock chimed by a grotesque automaton known as Papamosca – the Fly Catcher – and he opens and closes his mouth with each chime as though catching flies.


There are many side-chapels in the cathedral, each rendered in a different style and each breathtakingly beautiful in their own right.

Outside was a fountain – an ancient and most unusual fountain designed and constructed in 1663 by the Cantabrian artist Clemente de Quintana with water flowing from phallic nozzles, figures astride giant fish and surmounted by

Santa maria fountain

Between the lower figures riding fish or dragons, we see other figures splayed wide. I wondered if perhaps this was symbolic of fertility drawing on pre-Christian iconography.

Santa Maria fountain, Burgos

On the square outside the cathedral, we found a bronze statue of a tired pilgrim – so we sat down to join him…

Tired pilgrim statue, Burgos

We found another pilgrim statue at the Municipal albergue – depicted tending his blistered feet.

pilgrim statue

The Prince – El Cid

El Cid – also known as Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar – was Prince of Valencia and reigned from 1094-99. The Moors called him El Cid, meaning ‘the Lord’. But the Christians called him El Campeador, or Great Warrior. It seems he was born in Vivar near Burgos. And there is a dramatic statue of him on a charging horse near the city portal.

El Cid

He was King Sancho’s standard bearer and led the military campaigns against Sancho’s brothers – the rulers of Leon and Galicia, as well as the Moslem Andalusian kingdoms.

After King Sanchos was murdered, El Cid was exiled and actually fought for the Moslem rulers of Zaragosa. Later, returning to fight for Sancho’s brother, he ultimately won rule over Valencia. Settling there he ruled fairly, loved by both Christian and Moslem subjects.

He remains a popular folk-hero today in Spain.

This city of 180,000 has a long history. The area has been occupied for around 800,000 years. By the time the Romans came along, they found a substantial celtiberian city – a celtic-speaking people who occupied the Iberian peninsula likely dating back at least as far as the C6th BC.

Today the city is modern and thriving, with a strong respect for its past and for its role as a major stop on the Camino.


I was struck the by the colours and textures of our surroundings


And they were very aware of global issues – and in many places we saw stencil graffiti. This one was welcoming refugees


A Medieval meal

Then it was time for dinner – a delicious Lentejas Medievales (Medieval lentil stew) followed by steak and dessert accompanied with a nice drop of vino tinto. And so to bed.

Medieval lentil stew


A Difficult Decision

We had a serious decision to take. Having been travelling for almost 6 weeks before starting the Camino and with a 90 day Schengen Zone visa we were getting concerned that at our current pace we would not make it to Santiago before our visas ran out. With the last 100kms counting toward the Compostela, we did not want to risk failing at the last few kilometres. So it was hard decision time.

If we took the bus across the Meseta to Leon we would make up about a week’s walk which would put us back on target to complete on All Saints Day (1 Nov). And so we resolved to take the bus tomorrow.



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Burgos – And a Museum of Human Evolution

We visited the Museo de la Evolución Humanes – the Museum of Human Evolution. They told us that, being a Tuesday, Atapuerca was closed today, and tomorrow’s tour was already booked out. ‘Besides’, they said, ‘the tour is all in Spanish and the artefacts are all here at the museum’. So we bought our tickets – there was even a pilgrim’s discount!

Museo del Evolucion Humanes

We caught up with Kathy – our Camino friend and she came with us to the museum. It was amazing – really well laid out and told the continuing complex story of human evolution through the artefacts and hominid remains found at Atapuerca.

Stone tools

Cave paintings from Atapuerca

Cave paintings from Atapuerca

The museum had some really thoughtful commentary on the exhibits which brought home the humanity of these early human ancestors. From the remains of flowers and beads found in Neanderthal burial caves, to the stone tools fashioned from the very flint we had walked on, we began to see past the chipped rocks to the human imagination that called them into being.

Of all human traits, symbolic language is the most unique to mankind. From figurative art to funerary rituals, it is one of our most important cultural acquisitions. Symbolism demonstrates the complexity of the human mind and its capacity for abstraction – a product of our brain structure.

Works of art were probably created for various reasons: aesthetic delight, mysticism, social cohesion etc. In addition to communicating a group’s symbolism, the constitute an experience shared by all its members. Art reflects all of our mental assets.

The practice of burying the dead marked the beginning of a symbolic behaviour which points to an awareness of the concepts of death and the afterlife. These common concerns united groups, just as religions do today.
– Museo de la Evolución Humanes

Seeing the material culture of pre-Homo Sapien hominids reminds us that those early humans were capable of complex symbolic thought and interaction. That we possess probably around 3% Neanderthal DNA attests to a time when modern humans and Neanderthals coexisted with an overlap of some tens of thousands of years. And it happened here in Spain where the last of the Neanderthals eventually died out.

From these exhibits, Sharon and I resolved to have our DNA tested on our return to Australia in order to better understand our diverse and complex genetic heritage.

One particular highlight was seeing the skull and reconstructed face of Homo Antecessor, and the complete skull and hip of Homo Heidelbergensis. These were displayed along with the stone tools they used, and adornments crafted by Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens.

Homo Antecessor

Homo Antecessor

One quote really stood out for me:

“Creating a tool is no minor feat. In order to make a tool, one must first recognise the need for it. Secondly, and drawing on past experience, a mental design must be envisioned. Finally the tool is made. Our ability to imagine and plan may well have been spawned by technology” – Museo de la Evolución Humana

This place gave us much to think about and we spent most of the afternoon discussing what we had seen.


Atapuerca and on to Burgos

Up at sunrise, we set off in fog – and our first frost! Our lack of gloves meant that we were quickly walking with both sticks clipped together and alternating one hand in the coat pocket to keep the hands thawed. We were heading to Atapuerca and then on to Burgos.


Just a few hundred metres out from town we saw a green lizard about 30cm (1 foot) long, trying to find some warmth on the road.


The sunrise through the fog was quite spectacular


The path became a steep climb on rough flint as we headed up to the Cruz de Cardeñuela Rio Pico.

It was a tall wooden cross, and nearby a large labyrinth was laid out in flint rocks.

Cruz de Cardeñuela

The labyrinth provides an opportunity to stop and contemplate the path and cycles of life, and above all it is an embodiment of the hermeneutic spiral – that is, where life seems to run in circles, yet we are not the person we were the last time we were in that situation, so we can bring new wisdom to bear on a previous situation. So too, as we walk the labyrinth, we encounter where we were, but subtly repositioned from the previous rotation. It is an ancient tool for meditation on the path of life – just as the Camino itself becomes a metaphor for the life we live.


I tried to get a photo from normal height, but needed the ‘selfie’ stick to get some altitude. It was times like this I wish I had carried a small lightweight fold-up drone copter 😉

The flint proved to be a clue to the special nature of this region. By now we were in the Atapuerca Mountains where some of the most important archaeological finds of the 20th century were discovered.

As we came towards the town we noticed some standing stones off to the side – they turned out to be markers commemorating the discovery of various hominid species, the discoverers and the organisations behind the discoveries.


It is an ancient land, inhabited by hominids – precursors to modern humans – who painted caves and produced finished knapped flint tools. All this was discovered during construction of a railway tunnel in the early 1960s.


Remains of Homo Antecessor (antecessors to Homo Erectus) and homo Heidelbergensis dating back to 1.2 million years ago were found in nearby caves – the oldest hominid remains found in Europe. We were walking through land continuously occupied by humans and human ancestors dating back over a million years. Today, the caves where these finds were discovered is a working archaeological site and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.


We went up the road to investigate the possibility of a site visit – but it was early, and the site was closed. As it turns out, the only way to visit is by a tour commencing from Burgos museum(!).


Other well-meaning pilgrims called out we headed up the road, pointing out that we were heading off the Way. We waved and called out to say we knew where we were going. And before long we turned and headed back into the small village of Atapuerca. for breakfast.


Our heads filled with visions of our distant forebears occupying this land, first as hunter-gatherers then as neolithic farmers and so on through to today, we headed off towards Burgos.


We passed through Cardeñuela and climbed again to get our first view of Burgos laid out beneath us.


It is not a great walk into Burgos – flyovers and industrial parks make up the landscape until we get to the old part of town.


We headed to a pension behind the Cathedral and considered all that we had encountered in this day. And we decided on a rest day.

Burgos Cathedral


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