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Burgos: feast your eyes on classical Spain
Best-known for its mild white cheese and Ribera del Duero wines, Burgos has plenty more tasty morsels in store for the visitor – the most striking of which is arguably the spectacular Gothic cathedral, a masterpiece of architectural design that draws in crowds from all around the globe. Its majestic spires tower above one of Spain’s cleanest, most attractive and best-preserved cities – a city that is at once progressive and forward-thinking but with one foot firmly rooted in its splendid past.
Wrapped up within gentle green hills, cornfields and a vast expanse of unspoilt countryside littered with hidden hamlets, isolated villages and northern Spain’s ubiquitous dairy farms, Burgos is an island of stunning artwork, sweeping boulevards and elegant plazas.
This beautiful provincial capital lies to the north of Castilla y León, a huge but sparsely-populated region that breaks up the sharp contrasts of the dry, red meseta and the emerald mountains of bordering Cantabria.
Burgos is the epitome of classical Spain, outshining even the nearby and equally-renowned Salamanca, the ‘Oxford’ of Spain, for its intricate architectural detail – making it the ideal destination for culture vultures seeking to get away for the weekend and explore more of the country’s hidden treasures.
Burgos Cathedral: artistic splendour
Visible from almost anywhere in the city centre, an overwhelmingly intricate display of Gothic architecture that puts Notre Dame in the shade, it is easy to see why it took more than 500 years to build Burgos Cathedral, the third-largest in Spain.
No detail has been spared in the painstakingly-sculpted exterior of this powerful, uniquely-beautiful and imposing temple, the first stone of which was laid by King Fernando III of Castilla in 1221.
Most of the basic structure was built in the 13th century but the final touches were not added until the 1790s.
The main door at the front is adorned with a six-point rosette topped with a gallery bearing the sculptures of eight Spanish monarchs, a design typical of cathedrals in France and in fact inspired by the one in Reims.
The much larger Puerta del Sarmental, next to the ticket office, is reached by climbing a long, sweeping staircase at the top of which is a sculpture of Jesus with the apostles writing at their pulpits.
If you were knocked sideways by the stunning exterior, be prepared to be completely bowled over once you walk inside. The artistic splendour reminds the visitor that those who commissioned these works were not short of money and were keen to make sure their wealth and status were on display to all.
Painting and sculpture styles change face throughout the building, a mark of the many centuries that the cathedral’s construction spanned.
The first room that the trip leads you to is the Capilla de la Visitación, where signs of the talent of Renaissance artists is clearly displayed. A marble sculpture of the prostrate figure of the Bishop of Cartagena appears almost lifelike in its detail.
Along their travels, visitors will be overawed by the enormity of the solid-gold main altar, the flamboyant Baroque detail of the domed ceiling in the Santa Tecla chapel, the intricacy of the Gothic and Neo-Gothic nave central, the colourful religious imagery, and the attractive 16th-century gilded stairway (Escalera Dorada), a masterpiece of the purest Italian Renaissance style.
After seeing the 30 or so rooms that the cathedral is divided into, the trip takes you to the cathedral museum, four chapels that house relics such as golden chalices, crosses, tapestries and paintings collected or donated over the last eight hundred years.
A veritable shrine to bishops, archbishops and canons, a rogues’ gallery of the entire Diocese of Burgos throughout the ages is exhibited in the Santa Catalina chapel, part of the museu
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