“En Burgos hace mucho frío!” (It is very cold in Burgos).
This is the answer all of my Spanish friends and acquaintances gave me when I asked about Burgos. They would start out by saying something like, “Burgos es muy chulo” (Burgos is very cool) or “la catedral es hermosa” (the cathedral is beautiful). But they always ended up bringing up the frío.
Despite all the talk of this irrepressible cold, I still really wanted to visit Burgos. So on a cold December day, I bundled myself up in my best winter coat, scarf and gloves, ready to face the arctic freeze of Burgos.
Burgos is located in Northern Spain, in the Castilla y León autonomous community. It was the capital of the historic Castile Region from the early 1200´s until the reign of the Catholic Monarchs (mid-1400´s to early 1500´s). The Catholic Monarchs were said to have brought Spain through the transition from the Medieval Period to the Modern Age, so Burgos is a good representation of this shift in ideologies and architecture. The contrast between old and modern is alive throughout the entire city.
The Cathedral and El Cid Campeador
One of the most famous landmarks in Burgos is its cathedral. A UNESCO World Heritage Site (Patrimonio de la Humanidad 1984), the Catedral de Burgos is a beautiful Gothic cathedral that is nearly 800 years old.
With flying buttresses, a huge rose window, vaulted arches, dome ceilings and a mixture of marble sculptures and ornate golden altars, the cathedral is beautiful both inside and out.
The inside of the cathedral is set up like most Gothic cathedrals, with an enormous nave, the transept and chorus in the center. It also contains numerous chapels.
One of the most impressive chapels is known as the Capilla de los Condestables (Constables Chapel). Completed in the late 1400´s, the Capilla de los Condestables could be considered Renaissance. Its actual name, Capilla de la Purificación de la Virgen (Purification of the Virgin Chapel), articulates its function as a funerary chapel for two constables whose graves are in the center of the chapel.
Another notable feature of the Catedral de Burgos is the escalera dorada, or the Golden Staircase. This dazzling marble staircase, whose banisters are accented in gold, echoes Italian Renaissance art and architecture. Apparently, the architect of the Paris Opera House was inspired by this staircase.
Located high above the main nave of the cathedral, you can find the celebrated Papamoscas!
Papamoscas is a fascinating and somewhat frightening automaton whose right arm rings a bell once an hour on the hour. While he does this, he also opens his mouth. It is said that his name comes a bird with the same name that keeps its mouth open while it hunts flying insects, such as moscas, or flies. Symbolically, I guess you could say that Papamoscas tries to threaten pests that enter the cathedral.
El Cid Campeador is a legendary figure from the Spanish Reconquest period who plays an important role in Spanish culture and history. He lived during the 11th century and is famous for his many victories against the Moors, especially the conquest of Valencia.
El Cid was born in a small town near Burgos and died in Valencia. After his death, his remains were moved around quite a lot, but he was eventually buried in the Catedral de Burgos, right next to his lover, Jimena Díaz.
El Museo de la Evolución Humana
Although a trip to Burgos just to see the cathedral would not disappoint, a visit to the Museo de la Evolución Humana (Human Evolution Museum) is a must!
The museum is split into 4 floors. The basement level (-1) is all about the archaeological site Atapuerca, which is very close to Burgos. There were models of the sites and some human remains. Unfortunately, I did not have time to go to the real Atapuerca, but I´d like to go someday.
The ground floor is about human evolution in biological and historical terms extending as far back as 1.5 million years. The exhibit is divided into different periods of evolution and there are corresponding wax models to show what humans looked like during each stage. There is another section dedicated to Charles Darwin and his studies on the Galapagos Islands. This exhibit is located inside a model of the HMS Beagle. Another interesting part of the exhibit was on fossils. Apparently, before the 17th century, people thought fossils were supernatural phenomena!
The 2nd floor is dedicated to evolution and culture. The main focus is the daily life and customs of neanderthals and human beings throughout history. There were models of homes and explanations about hunting and typical diets.
The 3rd floor was about the three main ecosystems that influenced the development of humankind: the tropical rain forest, the Savannah, and the tundra. The entire exhibit was presented in a video. There were no photos or models. I think the idea was to show that human beings have adapted to different ecosystems and that this ability to adapt made it possible for the species survive for millions of years.
Traveling to Burgos
Although Burgos is accessible by plane or train, the best and most economical way to travel is by bus. From Madrid, you can take the ALSA bus for about 40,00€ roundtrip. It takes about 3 hours to get there, so it is a good destination for a day-trip or a weekend get-away.
Now, you are probably wondering if Burgos is really as cold as everyone told me. I will admit that I felt a chill in the air when I first set foot in the city, but I hardly noticed it throughout the day. I was too busy admiring the cathedral, learning about human evolution at the Museo de la Evolución Humana, and strolling through the narrow streets and alleys taking in the sites and sounds of the city.