Palencia lies like a bridge between Castile and León, the very Autonomous Community through which the Pilgrims' Way to Santiago de Compostela runs, and also the scene of many historic events. The stone churches and castles of Palencia stand unshakeably firm after the passing of so many centuries.
There is a great variety of scenery and landscapes to be found here, including mountains, valleys, plains, coalfields, fertile lands and rocky ground, all of which help to provide for continual contrasts. To the south-west lies the region of 'Tierra de Campos', a natural area also shared by the provinces of León, Valladolid and Zamora, while to the north the plain gives way to mountains, now in the foothills of the Cantabrian Mountains, where we find the high perpetually snow-capped peaks and green meadowlands. To the south-east is the Cerrato Valley, with its silver-grey hillsides, extensive moorlands and woodlands consisting of oak and holm oak trees. Between the plains and the mountains is the area known as La Valdavia, with its scrublands and ochre shades.
The town stands on the banks of the gentle-flowing river Carrión, and appears as an oasis amidst the extensive wheat fields of 'Tierra de Campos', at the edge of the moorland that can be viewed from the Hermitage of El Cristo del Otero. In true keeping with its historical character Palencia was once surrounded by fortified walls. It was founded under the name of 'Pallantia' in Celtiberian times when it was the capital of the 'vaccaei' people.
Palencia has extended little by little along the banks of the river and now has a population of some 77,000 inhabitants. Each successive stage in its history has left its mark within the town, which today appears peaceful and tranquil, preserving its former glory for all to see inside its museums and monuments.
One of the most outstanding monuments in Palencia is the Cathedral, Known as ‘La Bella Desconocida’ (Lit.: 'The Unknown Beauty'). It is built over the Crypt of San Antolín, formed by the remains of a 7th-c Visigothic construction, and the Romanesque remains of the church that Sancho Ill had built in the 11thc. The present building is in a Gothic style, representing an evolution from classic Gothic to the Flamboyant style. It was begun at the beginning of the 14th c and completed in the 16th c. Inside there are many fine works of art and a profusion of styles including Flamboyant-Gothic, Isabelline, Plateresque and Renaissance. It consists of a nave, two aisles, a transept, an ambulatory with five side chapels, and there are rib vaults. Other important aspects of the Cathedral include the reredos in the chancel, which is a Renaissance work with sculptures by Felipe de Vigarny, paintings by Juan de Flandes and an image of the 'Stations of the Cross' by Juan de Valmaseda; the Chapel of El Sagrario, with its Plateresque reredos and which contains the sarcophagus of the queen, Doña Urraca; the 16thc Plateresque retrochoir, with paintings in the reredos by Jan Joes and the pulpit by Juan de Ortiz, with Renaissance reliefs depicting the evangelists and the coat of arms of Bishop Cabeza de Vaca; and finally the tombs of Deans Husillos and Enriquez, and of Doña Inés de Osorio.
The Cathedral Museum contains four 15th c Flemish tapestries, a painting of San Sebastián attributed to El Greco, a diptych by Berruguete, and other Romanesque and Gothic paintings, images and sculptures as well as a 16th c monstrance and several works crafted in precious metals.
Close at hand is the Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art, located within the old Episcopal Palace. It has a collection of paintings by Berruguete, Juan de Flandes and Borgoña, along with Romanesque and Gothic 'images of the 'Stations of the Cross', gold and silver work, clocks and choir books.
The Archeological Museum contains a Gothic sarcophagus, a reredos from the Hospital de los Palmeros de Amusco, some fine collections of coins, medals, etc. and many prehistoric exhibits.
Other interesting monuments in Palencia include the Church of San Miguel, with its 13th c Romanesque portal and Gothic tower, and image of 'Christ' inside; the Church of San Pablo, founded at the beginning of the 13thc and with later alterations, which has a Gothic reredos inside the Chapel of Dean Zapata and the magnificent tombs of the Marquises of Pozas in the Chancel; the Church of San Lorenzo, with its Romanesque portal and tower; the Church of San Francisco, a former 13thc convent of which there are still some remains, where we find a magnificent Mudéjar coffered ceiling in the sacristy; the Gothic Church of Santa Clara, with a beautiful apse and portal, where a magnificent recumbent 'Christ' is venerated: the magnificent Plateresque façade of the Church of San Bernardo; the Church of Nuestra Señora de la Calle, the patron saint of the town, which contains Baroque reredoses; and the 12thc Romanesque Church of San Juan Bautista. The latter was transferred from Villanueva del Río to 'Huerta de Guadián' Park when the Aguilar reservoir was constructed. The Hermitage of El Cristo del Otero is located outside the town. There, the statue of 'Christ the King', the work of the local sculptor Victorio Macho, dominates the landscape at a height of some 20m.
This itinerary begins with the unforgettable visit to the Basílica of San Juan Bautista at Baños de Cerrato. It was founded by King Recesvinto in the year 661 (according to the inscription on the wall), and is the oldest church in Spain as well as being one of the few remaining examples of Visigothic architecture. Built entirely of stone, its structure underwent later alterations. The town of Dueñas is considered to be of both historic and artistic interest, and is the site of the 13th c Gothic Church of Santa María where, following an age-old tradition, the Catholic Monarchs were married before the official ceremony took place at Valladolid. It is here that we also find the Trappist Monastery of San Isidro de Dueñas with its 11th-c Romanesque church that has undergone a great deal of alterations. At Villamuriel de Cerrato, the Church of Santa María la Mayor is an outstanding example of 13thc proto-Gothic architecture.
This itinerary begins at Ampudia, close to Dueñas, and passes through Torremormojón, Meneses, Autillo de Campos, Fuentes de Nava, Cisneros, Paredes de Nava and Becerril, all of which have some very fine monuments.Ampudia is also considered to be a site of historic and artistic interest. Its 15th-c Gothic Collegiate Church is one of the most important churches in Palencia. In the 17th c, the Collegiate Church of Husillos was transferred here, along with several works of art. The Castle has been restored and houses the Fontaneda Collection, consisting of exhibits from prehistoric and ancient times as well as examples of medieval art.Paredes de Nava is a town of great historic and literary interest, especially as it was the birthplace of the poet Jorge Manrique, the painter Pedro Berruguete and the sculptor Alonso Berruguete. The 16th c Church of Santa Eulalia is truly magnificent with its Romanesque remains, including the tower which is covered with glazed tiles and dates from the 12th c. The main reredos contains twelve panels by Pedro Berruguete. The Museum of Santa Eulalia houses innumerable works of sacred art including paintings and sculptures by Pedro and Alonso Berruguete, Esteban Jordán and El Maestro de Paredes.
Just a few kilometres from Palencia stands the northern section of walls of the castle of Fuentes de Valdeperro, and close by the battlemented walls of the castle of Monzón de Campos, which today has been converted into a two-star hotel. San Cebrián, Amusco, Tamara with its 15th c Church of San Hipólito and Astudillo, all with their magnificent parish churches, bore witness to many historical changes. Meanwhile, at Piña de Campos, the Provincial and Parish Museum, located within the Church of San Miguel, contains an interesting collection of sacred art.
This itinerary takes in an impressive amount of Romanesque monuments and follows the 62km of the Pilgrims' Way to Santiago de Compostela as it passes through the province. At Frómista, the traveller can visit the11th c Church of San Martín, the purest example of Spanish-Romanesque architecture. Of the ancient Benedictine Monastery of which it once formed a part, now only the church remains and this served as a model for many that were to follow. It takes the form of a nave, two aisles, a transept, three semicircular apses and a barrel vault. Inside, the capitals are richly decorated whilst outside the chequer-board friezes in no way detract from the austerity and purity of its lines. Other interesting monuments include Churches of Santa María del Castillo and San Pedro, and the Hermitage of Santiago. The former Hospital of Palmer Pilgrins has been converted into a restaurant.
At Villalcázar de Sirga we find the 13th c Church of Santa María la Blanca, an excellent example of the transition to the Gothic style, which has some outstanding sculptures on the tombs of Don Felipe and his wife Leonor, as well as a Renaissance reredos.Carrión de los Condes was yet another important stage along the Pilgrims' Way. Its oldest church is the 12th c Romanesque Church of Santa María del Camino, especially interesting because of the sculptures to be found at the main entrance and the Plateresque main reredos, a Gothic 'Christ' and the 17th c tombs that can he seen inside. The Church of Santiago is one of the most important examples of Romanesque architecture in Spain, and its portal, which dates from the end of the 12th c, is an exceptional work, in particular because of the naturalistic expressions seen on the faces of the sculptures and the artistic effect created by the folds of their robes and tunics. The Monastery of San Zoilo was founded in the 10th c. 0ne of its several transformations was the conversion of the cloisters into a fine example of the Plateresque style in the 16th c. Now, it has been converted in a hotel.
Carrión de los Condes was the birthplace of the Marquis of Santillana and Rabbi Dom Sem Tob.Moving away from the Pilgrims' Way, the search for Romanesque architecture continues further north by following an interesting itinerary from Herrera de Pisuerga to Cervera de Pisuerga. Almost every town and village along this route contains either a beautiful Romanesque church or hermitage. The traveller is recommended to pay a visit to Zorita de Páramo, Moarves de Ojeda (where the Church of San Pedro has a Romanesque façade dating from the 12th c with a frieze that is equally as beautiful as the one at the Church of Santiago in Carrión de los Condes), and the Monastery of San Andrés del Arroyo which is close to Alar del Rey and has an outstanding Romanesque cloister. Aguilar de Campóo, located at the centre of this itinerary, is of great historic and artistic importance. The old town has been on record since the 9th c, although many Roman and Visigothic remains have been found. It preserves a medieval atmosphere thanks to the many mansion houses it contains, the most outstanding being the 15thc Gothic Rectory or Priest's House. Other important monuments include the Gothic Collegiate Church of San Miguel, the product of several alterations, which was founded in Visigothic times and has a Romanesque portal: the Romanesque Church of Santa Cecilia; the Church of San Andrés; Reinosa Gate; and the Castle.
The Romanesque Monastery of Santa María La Real is situated just outside Aguilar de Campóo. It had lain in ruins for many years until it was recently restored. This timely restoration has led to it being awarded the 'Europa Nostra' prize. The Monastery itself was founded in the 9thc, and its Gothic church dates from the 13th c. The latter has fine painted capitals and a beautiful cloister. Actually part of the monastery is a hotel.
To the north of Palencia there is an area ideal for enjoying the natural beauty of mountains and greenery. Here we find a host of mountain villages, including Brañosera with its magnificent forests, San Salvador de Cantamuga, Lores, Casavegas and Camasobres, before reaching the marvellous Piedrasluengas viewpoint. From Guardo, a visit may be paid to the reservoirs of Compuesto, Camporredondo, Ruesga, Requejada and Aguilar, as well as to the source of the river Carrión. Alternatively, the traveller may wish to visit the National Game Reserve of Fuentes Carrionas, from where one can view the peaks of Espigüete (2,453m.) and Curavacas (2,520m). The itinerary may then be rounded off at the parador located at Cervera de Pisuerga.
The Roman town of La Olmeda is situated at Pedrosa de la Vega, and there is a museum at Saldaña which exhibits Roman finds and remains. A visit can also be paid to the Roman town of Quintanilla de la Cuerza.
Prehistoric caves include the 'Cueva de los Franceses', located at Revilla de Pomar, some 15km from Aguilar de Campóo, which is open to visitors.
Palencia is an ideal place for the practice of hunting. The northern section of the province offers large game, including roe deer, chamois, wild boar, stag and fallow deer. The brown bear is a protected species and consequently hunting is forbidden. There is an abundance of small game in this area. The capercaillie is also a protected species, but the hunter will be more than able to satisfy his appetite with other species such as partridge, quail and wood-pigeon. In the area of 'Tierra de Campos', hare is hunted with and without hounds, the latter form being very spectacular.As far as fishing is concerned, this is a most privileged area. The angler will find eels, barbels and river crabs, and in the rivers to the north of the province can be found an abundance of trout, as well as in the rivers Cardaño, Carrión, Ventanilla, Pisuerga and Arlanza.
The main dishes associated with this province are roast lamb, roast chicken with apples and plums, and veal 'a la saldañesa'. Other specialities are soups from 'Tierra de Campos' and 'chanfaina' (a strong and aromatic dish consisting of blood and lamb's offal). The latter is ideally accompanied by red wine from Paramillo or perhaps claret from Villamuriel. Mention should also be made of the typical vegetable stews, 'jijas' and snails with ham and 'chorizo' sausage. Typical desserts are cheeses made from Carrión, 'rosquillas' (ring-shaped cakes), buns known as 'tontos' and 'listos' from Frechilla, amarguillos' (made from bitter almonds) from Villodo, almond tart (the most typical sweet pastry from this province) and biscuits from Aguilar de Campóo and Venta de Baños.
The Holy Week festivities are probably the most important from a religious point of view, but there are many more. These include the 'Bautizo del Niño' (Baptism of the Christ-Child) (January 1st), the 'Virgen La Calle' (January 5th), the Festivities of San Antolín (September 2nd), the Pentecost Fair and the 'romerías' (pilgrimage to a local shrine and subsequent festivities) of Santo Toribio (April 16th) and San Marcos (April 15th). At Baños de Cerrato they celebrate the Feast of San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist) (June 24th), which has been declared of interest to tourists, and includes a mass with Spanish, Visigothic and Mozarabic rites.Also of interest to tourists there is the 'Descent of the Pisuerga' by canoe, an international event, which takes place on August 15th at Alar del Rey; the 'Day of Fuentes Carrionas' at Cardaño on the third Sunday in July: the 'National Festival in honour of the River Crab', held at Herrera de Pisuerga on the first Sunday in August (despite the fact that this species is threatened with extinction and a strict close-season is observed). Cultural events include the Palencia Festival of Music, held in March, as well as 'Romanesque Week' which entails conferences, visits to Romanesque monuments and organ recitals throughout the province. Popular folklore manifests itself throughout the province in the form of dances, typical games, dress and customs.