On the main trunk route of the Camino de Santiago, the Camino Frances, Astorga is a small city that sits on a hill. When Celtic culture dominated the area, there was an Astorga. The Greeks came here. An important Roman city, Christianity was adopted a bit earlier than in most of the empire. There’s a somewhat dubious myth that the knights of Astorga wanted to voyage to the holy lands with the purpose of bringing back the Virgin Mary to spend her retirement years in Astorga. Well fortified naturally, the junction of long-haul trail routes helped make Astorga important in Roman times, and more so with the advent of the Catholic church.
I’m staying in a hotel on the main tradional square of Astorga. The square is surrounded by arcades. When it begins to get cool in the evening, the cafes open up, everyone comes out and the square bustles. A mechanical figure high above city hall strikes a clock, tolling the hours. Dinner starts about 8:30. It’s a different way of living.
I feel a bit like an alien dropped here, with the city (the hotel desk clerk told me this is really a town, not a city) doing things the way they’ve been done since before the dawn of recorded history. I’ve enjoyed a day off to explore Astorga; this will hopefully allow some blisters to heal up a bit before I resume walking tomorrow.
A standout attraction in Astorga is Gaudí’s Palace. Antoni Gaudí was commissioned by the local bishop (who was a friend) to design the Episcopal Palace of Astorga. This is the only Gaudí building outside Catalonia. The style is neo-Gothic, with Gaudí experimenting with the Gothic idiom to make it his own in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
I enjoyed this building quite a bit, although they wouldn’t let me take my tripod inside. Gaudí’s Palace houses a museum with artifacts related to the Camino de Santiago, and was included in the original application to give the Camino its Unesco world heritage designation.