Leon Stories and Tips

Astorga

I was staying in the pilgrim albergue - Albergue de los Amigos del Camino which is in Plaza San Francisco. So after getting in and having a shower and washing clothes it was time to explore the town. There are two churches in this square but also a lovely small garden which I watched the sunset from later that evening.
Astorga was a Roman occupied fort called Asturica Augusta, a name remembered on one of the roundabout coming into town that we crossed on the camino frances. It was apparently an important Roman fortified town as there were several main roads in the region which is still recalled as Astorga is were two camino routes join namely the Camino Frances which I was walking on but also the Camino Plata. It was also important as there were several gold mines in the region. This means there are still quite a few Roman remains in the town, and you really don't have to look to hard to find them. In the Plaza San Francisco are the remains of a villa which has been excavated. So you look down on to the floor including a mosaic floor. It is protected with a perspex roof. Its kind of cool to see another layer of history of the city without having to go into a museum or anything, they are right on the street.
This city is layer upon layer of history. While there were remains of Roman fort, the city had remained fortified over centuries as it is up a steep hill, and so there are plenty of walls to see. The city itself in its centre is made up of several pleasant plazas and squares, and narrow streets.
Astorga was at the centre of the Spanish chocolate industry in 18th and 19th centuries, and by 1914 there were 14 manufacturers in the town. While there is a chocolate museum about all this industry I didn't visit it as I was limited by time and a lack of energy from walking all day. But there are numerous chocolate shops flogging as many types of bars and chocolate sweets.
But chocolate is not the only food item that is of importance to the city. There is also an EU protected product - Mantecadas de Astorga which are small cakes that are rectangular and so make a cross shape on the paper they are in. So not only are there lots of chocolate shops there are also lots of bakeries in the town as well.
And the reason for so many is that Astorga is a big draw for tourists- there are several interesting historical sights to see, and complemented to this is the chocolate heritage of the city and also bakeries. And there were several tour groups in the city when I was there, lots and lots of tourists wandering about. I did go to one of the bakeries and bought some goodies after my walk and found a bench in the sun to munch on the buns as I enjoyed the square and people watching.
My bench for enjoying my goodies had the view of the Palacio Episcopal. When the previous bishop's palace burnt down in the 19th century, the then Bishop of Astorga decided to commission Gaudi to design a new one. However, there was a row and the palace was never finished to Gaudi's designs, yet it still has a sense of being Gaudi like having seen some of this work in Barcelona. It is designed as a castle with turrets- but it looks more like one that you would find in a fairytale. However, though commissioned as a bishop's palace, no bishop ever actually lived here, and it was used for various uses until it then became a musuem about the camino. Later on I was sorry that I didn't go into the musuem, it is still quite a cool building to look at from the exterior. It looks so different to the surrounding buildings and especially the very elaborate baroque facade to the cathedral which is so elaborate and detailed.
To be honest a few hours was just too short to really enjoy this city. A day would have been nice, as it is small and easily walkable city and everything is so closed together. In pleasant weather there are so many bars and restaurants to sit and enjoy just being there surveying this lovely city.

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