Human beings have long had a keen eye when it comes to a nice place to live and a spot in north-central Spain that is now the city of Burgos has been such an attractive locale that humans have been gathering there as far back as 800,000 years.
In addition to its ideal location, Burgos has been an important contributor to the character and history of Spain. By the time Romans arrived during the era of Pax Romana, this part of what is now Castile and León had been settled by Celts. The ensuing centuries saw wars waged by Visigoths, Suebi (Germanic tribes), and even Berbers. The Moors would control much of, then progressively smaller amounts of what is now modern Spain, for 300 years. Around 884 AD Burgos was founded as part of an expanding Christendom, and by the 11th Century it was part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burgos. In later times French ambitions included control of parts of Spain, and during the regime of General Francisco Franco (1939 – 1975), Burgos was the capital of his rebel Nationalist government.
Aside from wars and land grabs, Burgos was the site of other significant political events, and the home to important Spanish figures. For example, a misguided effort to provide human rights protections to indigenous peoples of the conquered lands in the New World, the Laws of Burgos were promulgated in 1512. The brilliant military tactician and warrior, El Cid was born near Burgos and is buried in the Cathedral.
Burgos is also home to many highly-regarded churches and an important cathedral, Santa Iglesia Catedral Basílica Metropolitana de Santa María de Burgos, or more commonly known as the Cathedral of Saint Mary. During the summer wedding season, the churches, and particularly the cathedral, are in-demand venues where couples affirm their marriage vows. Saturdays are an hourly procession of one wedding after another, giving attendees and tourists plenty to ogle.
Burgos lies along part of the northern route of the Camino de Santiago, which ends at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain. Both the Cathedral of Saint Mary and the Camino de Santiago are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
An important reason Burgos feels different from other popular tourist locales is because of El Camino de Santiago. In 2017, upwards of 300,000 pilgrims trekked along the Camino which snakes through the center of the city; more than 90 percent travel on foot and many pass through the city. Travelers are guided by distinctive yellow arrows and scallop shells that mark the way. Thus, Burgos is an important way station for pilgrims to gather, rest, and resupply for the final 287 miles of their journey. Pilgrims are a mélange – people of all ages, and varying degrees of fitness, but all can be identified by their hiking boots and the bulky backpacks that weigh them down. In 2010 the pilgrimage was popularized in a movie, The Way, starring Martin Sheen and his son Emilio Estevez, and directed by Estevez.
Today, Burgos, and the surrounding area has a population of approximately 200,000 and the city is popular with visitors, Spaniards and international travelers alike. But because Burgos has a diversified economy, the city and surrounding area do not feel like a tourist mecca. Beyond tourism, economic sectors include agriculture (primarily wheat and also wine), industry (including assembly of automotive parts), and other goods and services. There are two universities in Burgos.
From a tourism perspective, the cathedral and churches are certainly anchor attractions, but Burgos is also replete with architecture dating back to the Middle Ages. There are museums devoted to the history of Burgos, a museum devoted to books, and a recently-opened museum focusing on human evolution that is one of the few museums of its type in the world. Just outside the old city of Burgos is Paseo del Espolón which runs along the crystal-clear waters of the Arlanzón River, and it is a popular spot to stroll and relax.
Most visitors to Spain usually seek out the best-known locations – major cities and popular coastal resorts, for example. But a visit to Burgos is sure to engage and fascinate both first-time and repeat visitors because it is a place to soak in some of the Old World culture of Spain.
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