While León is not the largest city, with a population around 125,000 people, the history of the city and the many Kings that came from the region and its importance to Spanish history is truly astounding, and upon leaving all I did was read more and more about it. Our final day in León was full of visits to places we had planned, and others we did not, and while our feet were very tired when we boarded the train back to Gijón after the long day, I would not change a thing.
Our first trip was to the Cathedral Santa María de León, which is highly recommended, and although we usually have a rule about not paying for churches, we were told this one was worth paying for, and it most definitely is. One of the most impressive Gothic churches I have ever seen, with stained glass in such abundance it is hard to know where to look, but it is usually best to look at the glass that is capturing the sunlight, as the illumination of these is truly stunning, and pictures really do pale in comparison to standing in the cathedral, letting the multitude of colors and patterns take over one’s eyes.
Around the corner from the church is the Diocese Museum (connected to the Cathedral), which housed many works from medieval and earlier Christendom, from ornate gold, crosses to paintings to three dimensional wood carvings and coffins. There was also a peaceful interior courtyard with statues that lined the outer walls and an ornate weather vane, no longer in use as intended, instead it now points the way toward more art and artifacts.
After a lunch of tapas we meandered our way down quiet streets, through regular neighborhoods and parks, where locals were dog walking, sharing tapas with friends, towards the Convento de San Marcos. The grand Convent was built in the 16th century, and along with the cathedral (below left) there is a small, two room museum where the ceiling and walls are more impressive than the biblical paintings that hung on the stone walls. We particularly took note of the multiple skulls and the woman’s head with its mouth shrouded as being extra weird and a little creepy.
The convent had been converted into a five-star luxury hotel named the Hostal de San Marcos, which is a part of the Paradores. The Paradores are Castles, Palaces, Convents, Monasteries, Fortresses and other historic buildings that have been converted into luxury lodgings throughout Spain. We decided to head to the bar area and ordered coffees, cafe Americanos, in which they served us espressos in large cups and a small pitcher of very hot water in order to fill to our liking. The bar was in the center of the hotel, with the hotel rooms surrounding it on three floors. A massive art piece hung three stories above our heads as we sipped our coffees. After we finished we wandered through the convent, where there was a separate, private courtyard for sitting and contemplating, and also nearby reading rooms and some even provided a view to observe the cathedral from a higher up vantage point. Art of all kinds, from furniture to paintings to sculptures to ornate rugs and antique furniture were placed throughout the former convent, now hotel.
Our last stop on our León trip was to the MUSAC, or Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Castilla y León. The building itself is a colorful delight, one that should be visited for this reason alone.
There was an excellent exhibition by the Polish artist Goshka Macuga, including one room that was dedicated to Picasso’s famous Guernica, including how it was made, the controversy returning it to Spain, and how it still plays a pivotal role in today’s society. Another favorite art piece from a different exhibition is below, “Revolution” by the artist Ángel Mateo Charris:
While no one likes all contemporary art, there were many impressive works that, I am sure, one would find some that they enjoyed and were intrigued by. After getting what we have begun to call, “museum feet” (alluding to the taking of small, deliberate steps on hard floors while exhausting the senses when museum visiting) we made the trek back to the hotel to pick up our bags. Though on the way we walked by the original León train station and also down Avenida Ordoño II, named for a King of Galicia and Leon from the 10th century, the main fancy shopping street in León.
One of my favorite parts of León was the usage of the crown everywhere. While the tombs of the former Kings of León was under construction and thus we could not view it, the variety of street lights and lamps often possessed crowns, and the creative use of these was something I won’t soon forget.