Sunday, 5 July 2009

A day out in Pre-Romanesque Asturias

As a Spanish national born in the province of Palencia (Castilla), I grew up with the backdrop of the south face of the Picos Mountains but I lived in the UK for a number of years until recently returning to settle in Asturias. Spain is a beautiful country and as a Castilian I could be biased and invite you to visit the region I come from but instead I will invite, and guide you on a short journey which hopefully will introduce you or add to your awareness of Asturian pre-romanesque art. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this form of art, it is also known as “the art of the Asturian monarchy” which is unique to Asturias and was created when the region first became a kingdom while Spain was under the influence of the Muslim world. It spans the period between the VIIIth to the XIth centuries A.C. The style can be divided into three different periods coinciding with the reign of three different kings. Several examples are found around Oviedo, the capital of the region.

San Miguel de Lillo - Monte Naranco Oviedo

I will provide you with a very short and somehow simplistic history lesson. The Picos Mountains have always provided this region with both a protective and isolating barrier that has enabled Asturias to develop its own character and culture since pre-historic times. When the rest of the country was under the political and military influence of the Muslim world (Cordoba in the south was the capital of the Muslim empire), the Muslim hold on Asturias was less consolidated than in the rest of the country and in time, a group of noblemen started to fight back in a effort to re-conquer the region thus giving rise to the Asturian Monarchy and the beginnings of what today represents Spain. During that period the Asturian Monarchy developed a unique form of art and architecture that incorporated artistic influences from previous cultures such as Byzantium, the Visigoth, the Carolingian and the “Mozárabe” (Spain’s Muslims who converted to Christianity) and thus pre-romanesque art ensued characterised by tall buildings, built using pioneering engineering techniques. This new art style was applied to all forms of art including civil and religious architecture; in time, its influence spread across Europe. Personally, I enjoy this form of architecture and art with its tendency for heights and balance, basically I think it is an exquisite form of architecture and the location of the buildings is often magical.

San Salvador de Valdedios Villaviciosa

There are numerous sites that you can visit, several are within easy access from Hotel Posada del Valle and can easily be done in a day. I personally invite you to do all or part of the itinerary that I describe with what I consider to be the main highlights. If you aim to visit all the sites, I would advice you to check with the tourist office for opening times and have an early start.

El Conventín -Villaviciosa

Starting at Posada del Valle, drive to Oviedo city on the motorway and as you approach the city on the right is our first stop, “San Julian de los Prados” where you will be able to appreciate its architecture and the best examples of pre-romanesque Frecos. Our next Visit will take us up to the Naranco mountain on the outskirts of Oviedo with magnificent views of the city where you can visit some of the most famous pre-romanesque sites: Nuestra Señora del Naranco and few metres away, San Miguel de Lillo, two exquisite buildings with many surprises. By now it should be around lunch time and if you drive back to Oviedo city you can have lunch in the old quarter called “El Fontan” where you can see one of the only civil engineering examples of pre-romanesque arquitecture, a pretty fountain. While in Oviedo, if you make your way to the cathedral, you can visit the “Holy chamber” (Camara Santa) where you will be able to see a pre-romanesque canon barrel vault supported by columns carved in the shape of the 12 apostles, these sculptures are the highest quality stone carvings within this form of art, I never tire of visiting them. Within the Holy Chamber are some exquisite examples of pre-romanesque metal work, the most famous is the “Victory Cross” given to Don Pelayo (the founder king of the Asturian monarchy – the cross now features in the Asturian flag) and the box of agates that incorporates a much earlier and priceless Carolingian broach. You may also decide to have a quick walk through the cathedral museum to enjoy some of its pre-romanesque sculptures, triptics and metal work amongst its many treasures.

San Pedro - Villanueva de Cangas

On the way back to Posada del Valle, you can detour near the beautiful town of Villaviciosa to visit San Salvador de Valdediós and the Conventín, next to each other and nestled within a luscious green and cool valley- sunset is very peaceful here.
A last visit near home is the Church of San Pedro in the village of Villanueva de Cangas, outside Cangas de Onis with delightful stone carvings in the archway and the eaves around the outside. There are many other sites worthwhile visiting around the region but in my opinion, little surpasses a day spent amongst such works of art.

San Pedro - Villanueva de Cangas

Entry by Luis Laso Casas

More information about Luis and his artisan work; mosaic and furniture restoration (in Spanish)

1 comment:

C. Edwards said...

I really enjoyed this overview and the photos. Thank you.


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