Day Fifty

Well.  What an absolute gem Burgos turned out to be.  From a spot chosen on a map on the thoroughfare east, it’s brimming with things to do and see.

Burgos was established in 884, initially as a military post.  Over time it developed a strong commercial base as the centre of the Castillian wool trade in the 16th century, also becoming a key religious centre.  That latter has given the town its most famous showpiece, the Catedral de Burgos, a sprawling masterpiece, the 3rd largest cathedral in Spain.

The old city is beautifully positioned along the Rio Arlanzon, tree lined boulevards with wide walkways and bike paths on both sides.

  We enter the city through one of its original, stunning archways, the Arco de Santa Maria.  It’s a remnant from the city’s original fortifications, built in 1553. It’s in perfect condition, untouched by the ravages of pollution or time, almost pure white in the bright light. Someone in town is doing an excellent job at maintaining its historical structures.

It’s an outrageously hot day so indoor pursuits are vital – the cathedral is our first stop.  It’s in similarly excellent condition and so large it’s difficult to capture in a single frame. 

 We learn later that since it was founded in 1221, its construction took three centuries, with each Bishop adding a chapel here and there, joining up previously unconnected buildings – in one case having to address significant height differences due to the slope of the land on which it sits.

The cathedral features painted polychrome gilt alterpieces, 

endless chapels, each more richly decorated then the next, exquisitely carved alabaster sarcophagus of important patrons 

and beautiful star shaped, crystal filled domes which I think are its most stunning feature. 

 They’re very reminiscent of Gaudi’s work in Barcelona and quite different to the hundreds of cathedrals we’ve seen. For non religious people, we spend a lot of time in churches! 

We have a very detailed commentary to guide us through each of the key sights, including the Golden Staircase, widely recognised as being the inspiration for the staircase in Paris’s Grand Opera.  We’ve been there: it certainly is, but on a much larger scale, it’s fair to say it’s the buildings’ showpiece.  The cathedral’s beautiful staircase was its clever solution to the height differential between the two conjoined areas. 

The tour takes us through to a long, lazy lunch enjoyed under the ancient shade trees on the boulevard.  We’re very spoilt for choice in Burgos, there are endless dining options and my mojito slips down rather effortlessly as does a tapas of lunch cod, chicken wings and squid croquettes.

Late afternoon is even hotter: 37 degrees according to the local measure.   It’s a good time to take ourselves off to the Museo de la Evolucion Humana, a musuem of human anthropology. 

  It’s a relatively new addition to Burgos, opened in 2010, capitalising on the groundbreaking findings of the Atapuerca, a nearby Spanish fossil dig which conclusively proved that our hominoid ancestors populated Europe some 850,000 years ago, 250,000 years earlier than previously thought.  

In the cool of the musuem, we explore man’s origins, Darwin’s theory of evolution, the from the split from our very furry, short ape forebears to the homo sapiens of today.  On display are many findings from the dig, animal bones and teeth, including rhinoceros, jaguar, lion, elephant, deer, even a water vole.  Yes, teeth of a water vole, hundreds of thousands of years old, no bigger than a toothpick tip.  It seems impossible that such a thing could be found, but there’s the original for view under a magnifying glass.  

The musuem is over four levels, each level progressively tracking man’s progress throughout evolutionary existence: hunting and gathering, tool making, the creation of art and burial rituals to existential thinking and science of modern day. Australia’s Aboriginals are named and featured in a short film as being the oldest civilisation alive in modern times. It’s a humbling thought.  There’s a great deal of shame to be carried as a modern Australian in how poorly our original settlers are faring.  It’s not an issue any amount of money thrown at it will resolve.  Integration/monetary reward associated with a culture traditional aboriginals don’t recognise, are not the answers. 

We also read in some detail, conclusive proof that all human life originated from Africa, rendering senseless prior hypothesis that man sprang up as individual races of being, spread amongst the continents.  The message is clear: our differences as people are culturally based, they’re not and never have been, genetic.

We spend a happy few hours in the musuem.  All the exhibitions are in English as well as Spanish so there’s lots to cover.  

We emerge in the cooler early evening, along with the rest of Burgos.  It’s tradition here, as it is in much of the Mediterranean, to come out when the sun has finished wrecking havoc for the day, to walk,  have a drink, sit and gossip, catch your breathe after the heat of the day.   The boulevards are full of people of all ages enjoying the respite of a cool breeze.  

We find a spot on the boulevard and shamelessly people watch.  I fall in love with four grandpas across from us, three gossiping for all they’re worth, one resisting temptation. 

We sit thus, watching the older locals dressed in their best, the youngest in their skimpiest, young mothers in whatever was closest on the floor, all enjoying their moment of cool after the day’s heat. It’s here we end our day, ordering hamburgesas for (a late, yay, finally!) dinner, very tasty, with a Spanish twist for me, Americano for Chris.  Very fitting, I think, to have hamburgers in Burgos.  

A twilight velvet blue sky, and a just shy of full moon frames our walk home.

 Those walking have settled in for an even later dinner than ours.  I’m not sure that I’ve seen more restaurants per capita in a town, ever.  It’s very inexpensive to eat and drink here, making for a very convivial lifestyle.

 For a blisteringly hot day, it’s been rather blissful. Burgos.  Make it there if you can.