I fell in love with Spain for zillions of reasons, not the least of which was I was on vacation so the rules of daily life were suspended. And with vacation comes discovery and adventure and plans that go awry and our day in Burgos had a wonderful little bit of all that.
Burgos was our last city in Castilla y Leon before we headed to Cantabria and we were booked into a Parador, outside of the city in a hotel that had once been the palace of the Duke of Lerma. He was a favorite of King Phillip III. I am not sure whether that means he was a good warrior or a good lover, but in 1599 Phillip created the hereditary title the Duke of Lerma for him, and in 1603 Rubens painted him. His portrait of the Duke, fearless and brave riding his majestic steed, hangs in the Prado.
The Paradors of Spain date back to 1928 and were initiated to increase tourism and to rehabilitate and maintain castles and palaces and monasteries of historic interest.The grandeur of old Spain has been carefully preserved in these hospitality suites with their original staircases and tapestries and paintings still in place from years ago. Walking in to the interior courtyard with its six foot wide staircase and an original tapestry woven in 1675 made me feel as if I was domiciling with royalty for two days.
On a Sunday, we headed to Burgos to do our laundry, visit the Cathedral,and go to the Museum of the Evolution of Man, which we had read was spectacular and a do not miss sight while in Burgos. Fodor’s and Lonely Planet said it closed at 8pm so we had plenty of time. Across the street from the lavanderia we happened upon an interesting looking building which turned out to be the Burgos Museum. Before the city took it over it had been two grand mansions, each built by Juan de Vallejo, an architect and sculptor renowned in Burgos during the 16th century. The combined palaces now house a trove of wonders from prehistoric cave findings to medieval treaures.
This stone carving was so modern in its design and simplicity, but it dates back to the 10th century and was purely functional- a window from a Moorish home.
There was a bronze chest called The Urn of Santo Domingo dated 1165 on which the 12 apostles were painted and sculpted. Their halos spread like a peacock’s feathers in flat hues of blue with a contrasting outline color and simple directional lines to define shape and structure of the their monk’s garb, except that their faces were sculpted and they were set in a cloister, each arch demarcated by an ornately carved colonnade. It had an eastern Byzantinish feel with its twisting filigreed vines of flower and flatness of the actual picture plane.
The museum held a Retablo of The Annunciation, a 7-foot altar (really not sure of the size- it looked to be at least 7 feet if not more-of Mary surrounded by swirling vines, angels, and cherubs. A love fest to faith. The sculptor/artist was identified as Pedro Lopez de Gamiz and it was made in 1581.
With the museum tour checked off, the laundry washed and folded, we crossed the river Arlanzon to enter the old city through the Arch of Santa Maria. In the distance you can see it is composed of two parts. The lower gate which served as the entrance to the city and is Romanesque in design, a round arch. But then you look up and sitting on top of the arch is a stoned carved altarpiece with the saints of Burgos, such as Carlos V and El Cid, presided over by the Virgin Mary.
We entered the Cathedral and were awed again. The Cathedral in Burgos was anointed with UNESCO World Heritage status in 1984 because The entire history of Gothic art is summed up in its superb architecture and its unique collection of works of art, including paintings, choir stalls, reredos, tombs and stained-glass windows.
It was begun in 1221 and finished in the 16th century and you can see transitional architectural elements from the Romanesque to the Gothic.
Every time I am confronted with these monuments to God, Jesus, Mary, the Apostles, the decimation of the infidels from the the Jews to Moors and all who were deemed to be non- Christian or not Christian enough, the marriage of the Spanish royalty and the Catholic Church was a merciless design in power and money, I am left with the question and the paradox: how do I process the beauty and spirituality still imbued in those boulders of granite limestone marble brass that soar higher that the neck can stretch with the the long history of torture that justified their being built. Did the people that design these buildings and lay those stones believe truly or were they scared not to believe. I believe they believed wholly and fully. I also believe the Catholic Church was a for profit corporation that got immensely wealthy from its prayer-going minions but I could never deny the shocking sensations of awe and tranquility that swept through me at times as I silently toured the chapels and basilicas and stared up at the retablos of Christ’s sacrifice. The Cathedral was a spectacle and a spectacular tourist sight.
After being dazzled, we puttered about Burgos looking for a place to have tapas and a beer before we went off to Evolution of Man Museum. We arrived at the museum only to learn it was closing 15 minutes later at 3:00, not the guidebook misinformation of 8:00. With no plans and it being early Sunday afternoon in Spain, we consulted the not so trusty guidebook for suggested side trips from Burgos and decided on the village of Santo Domingo de Sitio, another perfectly preserved Medieval Village. It was charming, but it was the souvenir shop with the silhouette of Clint Eastwood that caught my eye. Inside there lots and lots of souvenir cups and shot glasses displaying the words Sad Hill.
So I asked the proprietor what’s up with all this Sad Hill stuff and he said they shot the last scene from The Good The Bad and The Ugly here in Santo Domingo and we could go visit Sad Hill Cemetery just out of town. Sergio Leone picked Santo Domingo because it looked liked the American West and he built a fake cemetery and so it stands today.
After all those cathedrals, this was Steve’s deliverance. He loves that movie and knows every scene, especially the cemetery scene. He made me film him running through the cemetery just like Tuco looking for Arch Stanton.