Burgos is not a very well-known city to most travelers today. But it has immense historical importance. It was the political and cultural heart of the medieval Kingdom of Castile, the entity which conquered the majority of al-Andalus and which was instrumental in laying the legal, cultural, religious, and institutional foundations of the modern Spanish state. The city also lies on the Camino de Santiago, a major pilgrimage route, which adds to its importance.
When I arrived in the city, I could tell it was immensely different than Andalusia. The architecture was obviously the clearest indicator but the cool weather and unique dialect of its inhabitants also made this obvious. As I walked through the city’s gates, the first thing I saw was the massive cathedral. It is within this cathedral that the 11th-century hero Rodrigo de Vivar (“El Cid”) is buried. One cannot help but admire this incredible piece of architecture and the massive effort that went into its construction. Truly one of the wonders of Spain.
Another place of interest in Burgos for me was the Monastery of Las Huelgas, which is famous for a variety of reasons (namely all the royalty buried there.)…but personally I was mainly interested in seeing the Penon/Banner of the Almohads, captured by the Kingdom of Leon-Castile at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212), which is kept in the monastery. This battle was the death knell of most of al-Andalus, since the defeat shattered the Almohad empire and led to the conquest of the vast majority of Islamic Spain: Cordoba (1236), Valencia (1238), Jaen (1246), Sevilla (1248) all fell to Christian rule soon after. As such, the victory (and the captured banner which is the emblem of that victory) is immensely significant in the modern consciousness of the Christian Spain, since it marks THE fateful moment in their history when the tide turned eternally in the favor of the Christian states in the peninsula, at the expense of al-Andalus. Hence, it lies at the heart of the myth of the Reconquista. Each year, in a solemn ceremony, the banner is removed from the monastery by the state’s highest military officials and paraded through the streets in commemoration of that victory against Islam (I’ve found a picture online of the ceremony, which I posted below).
During the rest of my time in the city, I strolled around town and took in a few of the sights, which include the remains of the tenth-century fortress, the statue of El Cid, and the lovely mix of medieval and modern architecture.