Reached the crossroads town of Astorga late in the morning. It has been a crossroads since Roman times and from probably before. It lies at the western edge of the Meseta as our long sojourn across the flat plain ends. Today we climbed gently through rolling hills covered with a variety of oaks and broom. It got very warm. It will be nice to be in the mountains despite the more difficult terrain. Did spot a great use for pallets as pilgrim benches.
Astorga was named by the Romans because of the original Celtic tribe, the Astur tribe. The Romans fortified the strategic located on the east-west Via Trajana from Bordeaux with the north-south Via de la Plata or Silver Road. It controlled access to the valuable gold mines of the mountains to the west that we will pass through. The town has always been an important pilgrim stopping point before hitting the mountains.
Our three hour semi-rest day of 15 Kms was mostly alongside a highway. Never pleasant but you just go with it. The entry into Astorga was dramatic after cresting a hill to the east. We crossed a couple of bridges and climbed up the ridge that Romans and others found so easy to defend. A German tribe, the Suevi took it from the Romans during the 4th Century. It was already a Bishopric in the 3rd Century. Tradition has that both Paul and James preached here. The Visigoths then ran the place before being displaced by the Moors and then reconquered by Christians. It became important on the pilgrimage route and boasted almost as many hospices as Burgos. St. Francis spent a night or two here on his pilgrimage.
We focused on lunch, beer, ice cream and Limon in that order. The streets are hot and we retreated to our hotel for Siesta. We are about ready to explore the town again and find a pilgrim’s meal after having to get by with Bocadillo last night since we could not stay up until the restaurant opening at 9PM.
We managed to watch the town hall bells rung by two local statues that have been doing it since 1748. Many tourists. Spanish groups wearing different colored bandanas for ID. The old French guys are here. Many new faces.
The Baroque facade on the cathedral was impressive. But I mainly enjoyed the Bishop’s Palace designed by Antonio Gaudi of Barcelona fame. The place is a neo-Gothic fantasy with many of his unique touches. The town was and is the Spanish Hershey as the center of their chocolate industry. These were the only stores open during Siesta.