PALENCIA: PLACES TO VISIT
Located in the region of Tierra de Campos on the banks of the River Carrion, Palencia was once an ancient settlement originally occupied by the Vaccean people and today forms part of the autonomous community of Castile and León.
Vestiges of Roman occupation in the region are still visible in the city’s Puentecillas bridge and further afield at the Villas of La Olmeda and La Tejada.
Elements from the Visigothic period remain in the cathedral, specifically in the crypt of San Antolín, the city’s patron saint. In the surrounding area another outstanding example of Visigothic architecture can be found at the church of San Juan de Baños.
The region became something of a no man’s land following the Muslim invasion and was gradually repopulated over time, starting with Saldaña and Tierra de Campos, later extending to El Cerrato.
Alfonso VIII of Castile was a great proponent of Palencia, granting the city its own charter and the cross on its coat of arms for the people of Palencia’s heroic contribution to the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212. The monarch also founded Spain’s first university in the city, at the behest of Bishop Tello Téllez de Meneses.
In modern times, the canal of Castile was built by Fernando VI and Carlos III with the aim of transporting wheat from Castile to the northern ports.
Today the region is an important centre for the agri-food, automotive and construction materials industries, in addition to housing extensive wind farms. Palencia has a high-speed train connection to both Madrid and León.
A stroll around the city takes us to Palencia’s Gothic cathedral, also known as the “unknown beauty”, in which Greco’s “Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian” can be admired. We then continue to the Plaza Mayor with its Neoclassical City Hall and the church of San Miguel.
Nearby is the church of San Francisco with the tombs of prince Tello of Castile and the Sarmiento family. Other sites include the Casa del Córdon with its stunning Renaissance facade bearing the cord of the Franciscan order, and the facade of the Colegio de Villandrando with ceramics by Daniel Zuloaga.
We can also visit the convent of San Pablo, founded by Saint Domingo de Guzmán, complete with the tombs of the marquesses of Poza, and the Gothic monastery of Santa Clara with its recumbent Christ, to who Unamuno dedicated this poem:
This Christ, immortal as death,
does not rise; why should he?
He awaits nothing but death itself…
Because this Christ of my land is earth.
The church of the Jesuits, the food market, the neo-Renaissance Palacio de la Diputación (County Hall), the Neoclassical Teatro Principal theatre and the church of San Lázaro, once a leper hospital, are other points of interest in the city centre.
The Huerta de Guadián Park is home to another of the city’s landmarks, the Romanesque church of San Juan Bautista with its 21-metre-high Cristo del Otero (Christ of the Knoll), symbol of the city.
Further afield in the province towns such as Carrión de los Condes with the royal monastery of San Zoilo, Alguilar de Campo with its collegiate church of San Miguel and the Fontaneda y Gullón biscuit factory or Frómista with the church of San Martín de Tours boast various historical sites. Herrera de Pisuerga also stands out for its shrine of Nuestra Señora de la Piedad, Astudillo for the royal convent of Santa Clara, Mave for its Benedictine convent of Santa María and Villalcázar de Sirga for the church of Santa María la Blanca, built by the Knights Templar.
Palencia offers the perfect opportunity to explore the great outdoors in the region’s mountains, the nature reserves of Covalagua and Las Tuerces, the lagoons of Nava de Fuentes and Boada or the Cueva de los franceses cave. The waterfall of Mazobre and the Tejeda de Tosande, a forest comprising yew and beech trees, can both be found in the Fuentes Carrionas Nature Reserve.
Palencia’s regional cuisine boasts products such as black pudding from Villada, cured horsemeat from Villaramiel, legumes such as Pardina lentils from Tierra de Campos or beans from Saldaña, in addition to local freshwater crayfish and pigeon. Dishes such as Chichurro soup during slaughtering season, patatas a la importancia (potatoes coated in egg), Palencian menestra, a beef and vegetable stew, or roast suckling lamb are also popular favourites. For dessert, make sure to try brazo de San Lorenzo or the region’s delicious socorritos pastries.