Camino de Santiago Ruta Norte Art and Architecture

Las Chicas take their first steps on the Ruta Norte in Santillana del Mar, a well-preserved medieval town in the province of Cantabria. The town is allegedly only accessible on foot, but we get out of the way of several cars splashing along the cobbled streets. At the Romanesque cloisters and church, we see intricately carved columns dating from the 12th century.


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Carved columns inside the church symbolize the four evangelists (writers of the Gospels).


John and his eagles.


Church retablo.

Las Chicas endure a difficult first day in the rain, but our moods lighten when we seen the church and monastery next to the albergue where we will stay tonight:


Church of St. Peter ad Vinicula, neo-gothic style.

The abbey, one of Spain’s first concrete buildings, is a clashing sky blue and it’s raining, so no picture. The albergue is a rectangular white box by the highway.

In the town of Iglesia, Las Chicas walk down a stone-paved medieval  street with tall walls enclosing adjacent properties.


Later that day, we turn to walk down another medieval street, called “Calle Mayor” or the Major Street of Concha:


We quench our thirst at public fountains, some with whimsical handles:


Another day, Las Chicas come upon a small chapel where we can self-stamp our pilgrim credentials. Note the scallop shell font on the wall:

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On another day, we come upon a small church, Iglesia Santa María, where we can climb up to the bell tower.



Like pilgrims of the middle ages, we cross stone bridges:


And seek shelter in the shade of churches, like this one from 1212:


Just one kilometer down the road, we see the outside of the “oldest church in Europe” a pre-Romanesque church built in 921. Alas, the person with the key is not available, so we can’t see the wall paintings inside San Salvador de Priesca:

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Those monks knew where to build their churches and monaateries. Monasterio de San Antolin de Bedon, next to a river and steps away from a beautiful beach. The abandoned monastery provides a shady respite on a warm day.  Odiferous evidence shows cows have spent considerable time inside the open rooms of the monastery, but neither they nor Las Chicas can get inside the locked church.


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Spanish conquistadors paved the way for Spanish profiteering in the new world. The misfortunes of native people in the new world gave rise to massive Spanish fortunes for Asturian towns, and the houses and churches reflect the wealth coming from Mexico. In Comillas, one house designed by a famous modernist architect is larger than the church next to it:


And Antonio Gaudi even designed a second house for one deep-pocketed merchant:



Horshoe stylings in the patio, note constructed grotto entrance.


Music room windows featuring a bee playing a violin and a piano-playing bird.


Different coffered ceilings adorn every room.


Marble floor of the bathroom.


Birds carved into stone column capitals at the entrance.


Sculpted sunflower tiles are reminiscent of the chrysanthemum tiles of Gaudi’s Casa Vincens in Barcelona.

Although it is a converted municipal jail, Las Chicas enjoy the Comillas albuergue with only six people to a room. That is, until Joaquin of Barcelona begins to snore.


Sleep-deprived, but happy.


Lisa stands in front of a vaguely Islamic tiled arch on the way out of Comillas

Colombres (get it–Colombus?) has the greatest concentration of Arquitectura Indiana buildings in northern Spain. Style samples:

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La Quinta Guadalupe, also home to the Museum of Emigrants.


Roof line of church in stacked terracotta style.

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The bright blue building is home to the owners of a private albergue where we stayed in considerably less stylish, but functional rooms.

Some buildings in Colombres are more typical 300-year-old small houses, and many are for sale:


On our way out of Colombres, the Camino de Santiago shell shows us the way:


In Piñeres de Pria, a private loft-style albergue welcomes us with bougainvillea and a kitchenette.

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Las Chicas try desperately to enjoy the cider (sidre) of Asturias as we had enjoyed the cider of the Basque country. The first time we taste it, Lisa thinks we are accidentally given a bad bottle. Mary takes another taste and concurs. She cannot remember the word for barn in Spanish and describes the taste as “como una cama de vaca,”  like a cow’s bed, which makes the Spanish pilgrims laugh. They assure us that this is the way it’s supposed to taste, and agree that it is not always good.

Villaviciosa, cider capital of Spain, celebrates its apples with this sculpture of a happy apple picker. IMG_4732

Because of yet another festival, and throngs coming to town to celebrate, there are no albergue beds or hotel rooms in Villaviciosa. Las Chicas walk another two kilometers south to Puente de Amandi and a Casa Rural, rural guest house. A lovely old home with picnic table in the back, and free tastings of cider. Our friends Luis and Emilio are also staying here! This time, the cider is chilled,  Luis and Emilio drink and think it’s better, but Mary thinks it tastes like a cold cow’s bed.

Gijón suffered during the Spanish Civil Wa , with many old churches and buildings destroyed by Franco’s artillery and bombs. A few modernist style buildings survive:


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Our first day in Gijón, we take shelter from the rain inside the Iglesia de San José, rebuilt in the 1950s, where we see end of a wedding, then marvel at the Virgin Mary surrounded by gold grapes and vines.


Basque artist  Eduardo Chillida designed Elogio del Horizonte for Gijón’s Cerro de Santa Catalina park. The sculpture’s title means “Praise the Horizon.”

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We soak in the ocean and sky and beach and port from this place. Even in the city, we experience the open space and wonderful light and spirit of the Camino de Santiago.

© 2015 by Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds. All rights reserved.

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