The capital of the Principality of Asturias, Oviedo is the
geographic, political, administrative and cultural center of
the province and the hub of its communication network. It is
28 kilometers from the coast by road and motorway and 440 from
Madrid. Its 192,291 inhabitants live in this community of irregular
and surprising design, located amidst the gentler foothills
of the Naranco and neighboring mountains.
In the year 761, a Benedictine monk founded a monastery in
honor of St. Vincent and Fruela I, the fourth king of Asturias,
built a palace and church beside it. Alfonso II came to the
throne in 792 and he transferred his Court to Oviedo, which
converted the newly founded city into the capital of his kingdom.
Early in the 10th century, the borders of the Reconquest made
it necessary to transfer the capital of the region to León.
Thus, in today's Oviedo, we can recapture the atmosphere and
spirit of the city from its palatial origins and at the same
time enjoy the comfort of a clean, modern and well-kept city.
Despite its limited are, Oviedo maintains a cosmopolitan air,
enveloped in the noble, cultured and spiritual climate which
king Alfonso II endowed upon the city when he chose it as his
Oviedo has twelve National Monuments, which include the most
important examples of Asturian pre- Romanesque architecture.
Within their common bases, the different construction stages
corresponding to the three most important monarchs of the Asturian
kingdom are represented here: Alfonso II (792-842), Ramiro
I (842-850) and Alfonso III (866-910). That poverty-stricken
monarchy not only carried out the extraordinary endeavor of
facing the Moslem Army, but it also created and art which remains
unexplainable even today.
The Holy Chamber is one of the first structures to be built
by Alfonso II. This Palace Chapel conserved the Holy Relics
which were bequeathed to Asturias when the Christian forces
were obliged to withdraw from the territory. Its treasures
were enhanced in the 12th century by one of the most beautiful
specimens of Romanesque sculpture: The Calvary and the Apostolate.
The Calvary was a mixed composition of painting and sculpture,
though today only the beautiful stone heads have been preserved.
The Apostolate crowns the shafts of six pairs of columns. In
the Presbitery, two important crosses are found: The Cross
of the Angels and the Cross of Victory, the Cross of Alfonso
II and that of Alfonso III. One opened the Court at Oviedo
and the other closed it, with exactly one hundred years in
between 808 to 908. Critical analysis has refuted the legend
which surrounds the origin of the first cross. The Angels were
attributed its making and they appear with the cross in the
city's coat of arms. The Cross of Victory, with a gold case
to cover the oak case of King Pelayo, made up Alfonso III's
coat of arms. Today, it is the sole motif of the provincial
coat of arms.
The Holy Chamber also contains the Chest of the Relics, made
of cedar but covered with silver bas-reliefs by Alfonso XI
in 1075; the agate box, donated by Fruela II in 901, which
displays a Frank plaque of the 7th century; the diptychs of
Byzantine, Romanesque and Gothic styles; and finally the collection
of jewels and relics of great value. This church was incorporated
into the Cathedral, whose construction was begun in the 14th
century and completed in the 15th. The polygonal sanctuary
was covered by a magnificent reredos at the beginning o the
16th century, which was the work of sculptors Giráltez
and Balmaseda, and painters Alonso the Berruguete, Ricardo
and Bingeles. There was a 12th century Cloister but the 14th
century architects wished to leave the mark as well and the
replaced the Cloister with another. Between the 16th and 18th
centuries, chapels were opened in the side naves and in the
apse aisle. The Cathedral was supposed to have two towers but
only one was built. Most of the construction was carried out
in the 15th century though work did continue into the 17th.
Despite the fact that it belongs to a florid Gothic style,
it is not without its sobriety; it is quiet and elegant and
takes from the florid Gothic that graceful upward sweep which
makes it as light as the work of a goldsmith.
The Archives were at one point considered to be national because
of their extraordinary importance. It is still of special interest
today because it conserves such works as the so-called Gothic
Book or the Book of Testaments, which Bishop Pelayo had written
between 1126 and 1129. Aside from copying the most outstanding
diplomatics of the Asturian Kingdom in a rather curious manner,
the book covers an entire anthological course of Romanesque
painting in an Absolute way.
In the lower part of town is the church of Santullano, Alfonso
II's most ambitious construction. He had it built between 812
and 842 in a balanced, majestic and classically horizontal
style. The church has a very unusual design, formed from the
union of Roman and Visigothic construction traditions, with
a touch of something like the late echo of the Lower Antiquity.
The walls are covered with the remains of frescoes which, oddly
enough, represent the most complete range of Roman palace painting.
There is another church which was a contemporary of Santullano,
namely Santa María de Bendones, which stands on the
hill of San Esteban. We can find the remains of Fontcalada
in Oviedo. It was built by Alfonso III and it is a fine example
of the public works of that period.
Here is the legacy of monuments which its kings bequeathed
to Oviedo. A whole millennium of art is represented in the
city center, from the 8th to the 18th centuries: Church of
San Tirso, 9th century; Church and Convent of San Pelayo, 12th,
16th and 17th centuries; Romanesque tower of the Cathedral,
the Former Hospice, 18th century; the Churches of Santo Domingo
and San Isidro, 16th century; the former Convent of San Vicente
- the Archaelogical Museum - 15th and 18th centuries; the Palaces
of Santa Cruz, 15th century; Los Llanes, 18th century; the
Palace of Camposagrado, of Velarde; the University, 16th century
and the city Hall, 17th century, etc.
Oviedo is not resting amidst the comfortable privileges afforded
it by its condition as the capital of the province. A whole
circle of thriving industry has grown up around its centuries-old
center. It elastically expands into new urban developments
to from a fully incorporated, complex world of artificial satellites.
Oviedo displays the property of its commerce, its places of
entertainment and soothes away the exhausting bustle in its
cultural institutions, the University, Institute of Asturian
Studies, Museums, Athenaeum, the "Caja de Ahorros Cultural
Endeavors", lectures and exhibitions, philharmonic concerts,
etc. A park: the Campo de San Francisco, with 60.000 square
meters of green space, flowers and oxygen in the heart of the
city. In the background, Monte Narranco, a mountain amphitheater
which can be reached by a ten- minute bus ride. In September,
there are a great deal of special festivities: opera, sports,
bullfights and the impressive "Day of America", which
turns fantasies into reality.
Asturias falls entirely within the humid region of Spain,
that is, "Green Spain". The location of the mountains
has a major influence of the distribution of rainfall and mild
climate is truly delightful during the months of June, July,
August and September. The coast enjoys an oceanic climate,
with an average summer temperature of no more than 20º C
(68ºF). The maximum temperatures rarely exceed 30º C
(86º F). These weather conditions vary as one goes farther
inland and the oceanic climate becomes continental, until one
reaches the abundant, long-lasting snows of the high mountains.
Festivities and gastronomy
Asturias is a province of ancestral legends and customs. Here
symbolism, dances, songs, music and village festivities take
on a special charm and unique personality. The Feast of St.
John is especially popular. It begins on Midsummer's eve and
is known as the Festival of Fire, with prehistoric origins.
on this magic night, when the crops are seeded and the ground
fertilized, the young people spend the whole night dancing
around bonfires. At dawn, they run into the fields to look
for clover. The dances of Cabrales and Llanes are famous; the "corri-corri" is
particularly lovely; the "pericote", which is danced
to the tune of the bagpipe and singing, was probably the dance
performed by the Celts ten centuries before Christ, before
their stone idol "Peña Tú"; the "danza
prima", of time-honored tradition among the Asturians,
can never be absent from any of the local festivities. The "danza
prima" is, in fact, the oldest of the dances and its origins
should be sought in the Early Bronze Age. In the western corner
of Asturias, special mention should be made of the "vaqueiras",
which are danced by the "vaqueiros de alzada" (cowboys),
who raise their cattle in the mountain peaks.
Particularly coloful is the Festival of the "Painted
Eggs", which has been officially declared of Tourist Interest.
It is held at Pola de Siero on Easter Tuesday.
A strange relationship exists between the cuisines of Brittany,
Normandy and Ireland, and those of Asturias and Galicia, a
relationship which later spread to the rest of Spanish and
even Spanish American cooking. On of the main characteristics
of the cuisine is that is intimately bound to the local customs
and the Asturian festivities would be incomplete without their
typical dishes. So, the "cantelo" is a large bread
ring which the bride and groom distribute among their guests
after the wedding banquet, together with local wines. The "vaqueiros
de alzada" call it "pan del choru" (crying),
because the bride usually feels a little sad when she abandons
her parents' home. When the chestnut season arrives, young
men and women get together in a gay fiesta known as the "fornau",
in which they eat freshly roasted chestnuts. Bread has always
played an important part in popular and religious Asturian
festivals as an offering.
The typical sausages are the "botillu". The Asturian "morcilla)
(blood sausage) is irreplaceable in the "fabada",
the Best known Asturian dish, and it is eaten in all of the
typical "bodegones"(taverns) of Spain and South America.
The "caldereta" is the Asturian dish "par excellence" and
is a sort of bouillabaisse made with the fish that live amongst
the rocks along the coast. Salmon and trout are prepared with
the fat of smoked pork and this gives them a special flavor.
Cheese is produced in the mountains, such as Cabrales and Gamonedo;
they are lardy and have a strong flavor. The typical drink
of Asturias is its cider, which is served and drunk in a very
special way in the "chigres" of taverns.
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