Day 2 Astorga to Ponferrada

Gaudi’s Episcopal Palace The construction of this building began in 1889 and was completed in 1913. It was designed by the famed Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi who is most famous for La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

Cathedral of Santa Maria de Astorga: The current building was begun in 1471. The west facade (exterior) and main retablo (altarpiece) are among the Camino’s monuments that are not to be missed. The west facade was finished in 1704 and narrates the passion. The retablo is from the 16th century and was made by a disciple of Michelangelo and Raphael. The theme of the retablo is the life of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

Between Iglesias de Santa Marta and San Esteban Between these two small churches (that are near the Cathedral and the Episcopal Palace) is a small 14th century prison cell where local prostitutes were imprisoned. There is a cautionary inscription over the window “Consider how I have been judged, for your judgment will be the same: me yesterday, you today”

Cathedral facade

Cathedral facade

Ruins of Foncebadon: This 2,000 year old village (mostly in ruins, but now being revived by the Camino) was an important village on the Camino in the 10th and 12th centuries. During Roman times a Roman road passed through this village and connected distant Italy with the gold mines of the Bierzo region. Up until the mid-18th century this was the preferred entrance from Leon into the Bierzo and Galicia.

Cruz de Ferro This famous Camino monument is made up of a tall cross surrounded by a pile of stones. The pile of stones result from the ancient customs of the Pre-Roman Celts, the Romans, and Christians who all had the habit of marking high mountain passes with piles of rock. The Romans did it in honor of the god Mercury (the patron of travellers). The hermit Gaucelmo Christianized this pagan monument with a cross (in the 11th century). The cross you see today is a replica of the original which can now be found in the Astorga Pilgrimage Museum. Tradition is for pilgrims to drop off a stone here as a symbol of sins they hope to expunge by pilgrimage. At the top of the rock pile you will have your first glimpse of the wild mountains of Galicia to the west (the small chapel nearby looks ancient but was actually built in 1982).

The entrance gate to the castle is a double gate. It forced attackers to first bridge the moat, then fight through the iron grille that was lowered to block the door, then dodge the arrows from the bowmen from the double flanking towers, at that point they then had to turn to the right (which was a disadvantage to the majority right handed swordsmen), breech a second defensive gate before confronting the mass of troops awaiting them on the open ground. When visiting this castle look for the coat of arms as it tells a mini history of the castle: the cross of the templars; the yoke, arrows, and the coat of arms of Isabel and Fernando (kings of Spain); the Tau from the coat of arms of the Castro family; and Castilla’s lion, castle, and zigzag staves. On the central tower you can still make out the Templar Latin motto which translates “If the Lord does not protect the city, those who guard it guard in vain.”

Templar Castle This castle was built by the Order of the Templar Knights between 1218 and 1282 atop the ruins of a Roman and Visigoth fort. The Templar Knights were originally formed to protect the pilgrim road to Jerusalem in the 12th century (they are named after the Temple Mount in Jerusalem). By the mid-13th century there were 20,000 of them across Western Europe. In Spain they played a role in various campaigns against the Moors. Because the Order was wealthy and international it took on banking functions: you could deposit money in one place and withdraw it from another (with a letter of credit). Their immense wealth and power aroused fear and envy which led to their downfall. In 1307, the French issued an edict of arrest, in 1308 Spain followed,and the Vatican ordered the Order dissolved in 1312 (20 years after this castle had been completed). After the Templars the Castle was involved in multiple uprisings and wars, under the rule of multiple nobles.

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