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In the midst of all of this disaster, the War for Independence served as a testing ground for a new mode of military tactics: guerrilla warfare, inaugurated in the lands of Burgos by the brilliant Cura Merino and El Empecinado, and destined to enjoy unparalleled success throughout the contemporary age.
With the fires of the war against the French barely cooled, Spain began the effective transition from the Old Regime, based on privilege, to Liberalism, under the banner of the declaration of equality of all citizens before the law. Of course this change did not take place without its trauma. The most significant effects were first noted at the start of the reign of Isabel I (1833-1868), with the suppression of the ecclesiastic tithe and all of the privileges that affected the nobility, professional corporations – Concejo de la Mesta, Cabaña Real de Carreteros -, certain boards, and church bodies, and with the disentailment projects that had a significant effect in the years 1936-37 on all religious institutions, especially monastic communities.
Monks were suddenly expelled from the monasteries, their property expropriated and disentailed – put up for sale – and the cloister buildings abandoned to their fate, which in many cases meant definitive abandonment and subsequent ruin, as in the case of San Pedro de Arlanza, Santa María de Obarenes, and Santa María de Rioseco. In addition, communities of nuns, the Episcopal See, with its bishop and council, and the parishes, with their priests, remained standing, but were deprived of the tithe and the immense majority of their assets and income, becoming dependent in some cases on the profits from their work, in others on state allowances, and in general, on voluntary contributions from their followers.
The Disentailment, in addition to other effects, undoubtedly had a clearly negative effect on the Artistic heritage, since the monasteries, the traditional centers for the cultivation and renovation of the arts, disappeared from the cultural map at that time, and the material sources that sustained the artistic sponsorship of the rest of the religious entities were cut off; in the best case, they were forced into a policy of conserving the heritage inherited from the past. The Episcopal Church remained beyond this somber panorama.
It knew how to compensate the loss of economic power by maintaining, and at the end of the 19th century, intensifying its religious, political, and social influence. This allowed it to recompose its institutional figure to its advantage, as demonstrated by the newly constructed buildings that were built in the diocese of Burgos at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century: the Seminario Mayor de San José, the Mayor de San Jerónimo – currently the Faculty of Theology – and the Archbishop’s Palace. Still in the 1960s, in the middle of Franco’s rule, a new and emblematic building was added to the diocesan church to house the Seminario Mayor, the last link in a long expansive cultural and religious stage, which gave way in the last decades of the century, to a clearly defensive policy, shared by public powers, of conserving and restoring its heritage.
In terms of other aspects, the 19th century continued to animate the political and social life of Burgos with successive military episodes – the Carlist Wars, the First (1833-1840) and Second (1846-1849), above all – and repeated political upheavals, which only relented in 1874 with the start of the Restoration, the political system that allowed a smooth transition from the 19th to the 20th centuries. Between crises and times of peace, the population of Burgos hardly increased over the 19th century, growing from 240,000 to 338,000 inhabitants for the province as a whole, and from 13,000 to 30,000 in the capital.
This tepid growth, which in the case of the city of Burgos was due more to immigration than to the dynamics of the city’s own demographics, occurred intermittently and spasmodically, characteristic of a society still living within the economic parameters of the Old Regime, with an agricultural sector that was dominant but stagnant in its technology and management, and a secondary sector that refused to move beyond the framework of traditional artisanry, with the exception, perhaps, in Pradoluengo, Miranda de Ebro, and the capital of Arlanzón.
At the end of the century, the city of Burgos was debating between the nostalgia for the past and the uncertainty of the future. In the first place, the development of communications – first roads and then rail – put it in an excellent strategic position in the northern third of the peninsula, which was due more to the demands of the emerging industrial centers on the periphery than to its own internal dynamism. And in the second place, the consolidation as a city – the center of the institutions of the Liberal State – Territorial Superior Court and Provincial Council – and of the most traditional power centers, now renewed – the Captaincy General with its neighboring barracks, the Archiepiscopal See – gave the capital a generally conservative functionary air, with its streets filled with the clergy, military, high functionaries, and a minority of local tradesmen and artisans, and with social life contained within the casinos and clubs of the upper class.
Thanks to these more affluent institutions and groups of the population, the city improved its appearance by constructing new official buildings and restoring the immense majority of the houses in the lower neighborhoods of the Medieval city, while at the same time, with the removal of the sections of the wall adjacent to the river, opening to the southern light by projecting new streets to give shape to collective recreational areas that adorn the banks of the Arlanzón. Of course, the example was repeated in numerous cities in the province, in which the model of medieval villages, walled and squeezed, gave way to broad streets and open neighborhoods where members of the emerging local bourgeoisie would settle.