Castile and Leon
The Gothic city of Burgos is evidence of the economic and political splendour achieved between the 13th and 15th centuries. Its paradigmatic place name, plural of the Germanic word burgo (‘collection of houses’), points to its origins as a town of burghers that was comparable to the most progressive towns in the France, Flanders and Italy of the day.
Burgos was founded in 884 by Count Diego Rodríguez Porcelos, who ordered a castle to be built on the strategic mountain overlooking, from the north, the valley where Burgos would grow up. The castle reinforced the defensive line established by King Alfonso III of Leon against Moorish attacks. The town, closely associated with Cid Campeador (11th century), gradually acquired importance due to the church – the council that agreed to replace the Mozarabic liturgy with the Roman liturgy in Spain was held here in 1085 – and Alfonso VIII – who founded the Royal Abbey of Las Huelgas here in 1187.
Burgos grew rapidly in the 13th century thanks to its privileged situation as a crossroads between the Camino de Santiago and the roads linking inland Spain with the northern seaports and France. In Burgos, seat of the Court of Castile and of a large diocese, the first fairs, markets and hospitals arose to supply pilgrims travelling along the Camino de Santiago and importing novel religious and artistic ideas from elsewhere. But the real source of the wealth of Burgos was in foreign trade, especially in the prestigious Spanish Merino wool that was much in demand in the markets of Flanders, France, Germany, England and Italy. Burgos centralized not only the trade in wool, but also trade in iron purchased in the Balmaseda fair in the Basque Country, exporting both these products in ships chartered in Basque and Cantabrian ports. The Revolt of the Comuneros (1521), however, marked the beginning of a decline from which Burgos did not begin to recover until the second half of the 19th century.
The Gothic city
Burgos is considered an emblematic Gothic city given the number and importance of buildings in this style in the city. Burgos reached its greatest splendour between the late 12th and early 16th centuries and the layout of the medieval quarter, which grew up around the cathedral, has been well preserved within the city walls. Of the 13th century fortifications, the walls and five of the eight gateways that connected the city with the outside world remain. The oldest gates are those of St. Martin and St. Stephen in the Mudéjar style; another important gate that survives to this day is the 14th-century St. Mary’s Gate (renovated between 1536 and 1553). The city’s churches, mostly built between the 13th and 15th centuries, constitute a key group of Gothic buildings: St. Clare (13th century), St. Adelelmus (in Spanish, Lesmes) (1380), St. Stephen (1280-1350), St. Giles (late 14th century) and St. Gadea, St. Dorothy, St. Nicholas and Our Lady of Mercy (15th century). The church of St. Cosme corresponds mostly to the 16th century.
The Royal Abbey of Las Huelgas
One of the most important architectural complexes in the city is the Royal Abbey of Las Huelgas. Situated on the banks of the river Arlanzón, it was founded in 1187 by Alfonso VIII and his wife Eleanor of England as a religious community of Cistercian nuns. It was used as a burial place for Castilian monarchs and royalty until the reign of Ferdinand III. The walled enclosure contains abbey buildings, their annexes and the church, built in a transitionary Romanesque style between 1185 and 1230. Of the two cloisters, one is the Gothic St. Ferdinand Cloister, and the other, called Las Claustrillas, is Romanesque (12th century). The chapter house (13th century) has many of the features typical of the Cistercian style. The former storehouse or granary (13th century) houses the Museum of Medieval Fabrics, with a rich collection of fabrics and 13th century embroidered cloths. It also preserves the Codex Las Huelgas, a manuscript containing 186 musical compositions, prime examples of 13th- and 14th-century Spanish polyphony.
Civil buildings include several hospitals: the Hospitals of Barrantes (1627) and Concepción (1561), the Hospital of St. John (14th century, reformed in the 16th century and part of the Benedictine monastery of the same name) and the Hospital of the King, founded by Alfonso VIII in the 13th century (and substantially refurbished in the 16th century). The Palace of the Constables of Castile, popularly called the Casa del Cordón, with transitionary Renaissance elements, was built in the latter years of the 15th century. Other noteworthy 16th-century buildings are the Palace of Castrofuerte and the Houses of Ourense-Manrique, Butrón, Angulo and Cubo, not to mention the House of Miranda (1545), home to the Museum of Burgos (with prehistory, archaeology and medieval metalwork items and 15th- and 16th- century paintings and sculptures).
Another remarkable building, located just outside the city, is the Royal Charterhouse of Miraflores (1454-1488), of which the church is undoubtedly the most important element. The Museum of the Royal Charterhouse of Miraflores contains many artistic works of interest.