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Soria is a city, open between two hills and the sky. Two poets, Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer and, especially, Antonio Machado, sang to Soria in very inspired verses: "l have seen again the golden poplars, poplars along the way on the bank of the Duero River between San Polo and San Saturio, behind the old walls of barbican Soria..."It was Machado's favorite walkway, the one the river follows between beautiful poplars, and which permits one to begin to understand the true meaning of Soria. Transparent light spans the range of all the colours in the landscape. The city, as though hidden, starts in San Juan de Duero. It crosses the river and opens in "streets narrow, dark and winding, "where one can get lost in admiration. The houses show an old and compacted history. And, finally, to the west, the Alameda de Cervantes, providing a green finishing touch to the city, captivates and charms.
Soria, at 1,056 metres (3.485 feet) of altitude, and located on the right bank of the Duero River, is a city of great aestethic value, so similar to the surrounding landscape that it looks as if it burst spontaneously out of the soil. Of uncertain origin, but without doubt very old, it was reconquered by Alfonso el Batallador, king of Aragón. A short time later it was given to the kingdom of Castile and turned into the capital of an area of great strategic and political value. In 1350, Juan I convened the Courts there. Soria had its own statute-laws. Since then, the city has lived in a sleeping state in its medieval calm, engrossed in its devoutness. Soria is full of memories both old and more recent. Writers and poets -such as Bécquer, Unamuno, Azorín, Gerardo Diego- have made Soria the main theme for some of their best literary works. The shadow of Antonio Machado is present in its streets, by the riverbank, close to the poplars.
The reddish colour of the roof tile, made from the local clay, is characteristic of Soria. The castle, around which the city was formed, is today only a memory, of which only two enclosed concentric areas are left. The arms square, a great cistern and the ruins of the wall also remain. The whole city is a monument. Its streets are calm, yet charged with that contemplative seriousness which is the main tone of Castilian villages. Its churches have a look of sobriety, the deep and simple mysticism of the medieval temples. The passage of time has been moulding, wearing out, and enriching the carved stone of the porticos, and enhancing the mystic beauty of the altarpieces.
San Juan de Rabanera, from the XII Century is an example of the peculiar evolution of the Romanesque castilian. It has Byzantine influences typical of the first Byzantine period, classic memories and ogival sketches in the inside arcades in some windows, preluding the Gothic. There is a very interesting tympan coming from San Nicolás, and an altarpiece made by the sculptor Francisco de Agreda and the painter Juan de Baltanás. Santo Domingo, built in the second half of the XII Century, has perhaps, the most complete and rich Romanesque facade in Soria, which, observed in the sunset, offers a breathtaking view. It has clear influences of Poitiers. Its sculptural richness is notable. Close to the Duero River is the Concathedral of San Pedro with a beautiful Plateresque front, a very pure XII Century Romanesque cloister is the most important example of the old construction on which the existing XV Century one was built. In the chapel of St. Saturio the best pictorial art work of Soria is preserved: a Flemish triptych representing the Crucifixion, dated 1559. In the cloister chapter hall, now converted into a museum, pictures, ornaments and objects of worship of great artistic value are preserved.
On the left bank of the river, on the outskirts of the city, stands one of the most original monuments of Romanesque art, San Juan de Duero. Former Monastery of Knights Templars, it still preserves the colonnade of its most original cloister, of Romanesque-oriental design, a unique and extremely complex specimen of Spanish art, that symbolizes in its architectural synthesis the peculiar amalgam of cultures that shaped Medieval Spain. The inside of the church also presents curious innovations, on a typically Romanesque base. Following the river left bank, in a beautiful poplar promenade, one finds the hermitage of St. Saturio, Patron Saint of the city, elevated on a rock beside the water. It has an octogonal shape, is totally decorated in the interior by pictures of Antonio Zapata, the XVIII Century painter from Soria, disciple of Palomino. The altar has a rich Baroque style. There are more churches in Soria. Inside of the small urban area, it is difficult to find a street or square without the façade of a church. The Church of Santa María La Mayor, or Nuestra Señora (Our Lady) de la Merced, belonging to the convent where Tirso de Molina lived, one of the main dramatist of our Golden Century, the Church of the Carmelites, with a splendid facade made in 1568 by Marcos de la Piedra, and that of the Hospital, the Salvador or Nuestra Señora del Espino are the more notable. It should be mentioned the hermitage of La Soledad, which holds one of the most impressive works of Spanish Baroque imagery: the "Cristo del Humilladero", a pathetic work carved in wood around the end of the XVI Century.
Alongside the richness of the religious architecture of Soria is the severe and noble secular architecture. The palaces and lordly houses open their heraldic doors to the streets of Iong history: The Real, Aduana Vieja, Caballeros..... The grandiose palace of the Counts de Gómara deserves a separate mention, a real architectonical jewel of Renaissance style.
The graceful square tower dominates the city and imposes its full silhouette over the reddish colored roofs of Soria. In the Plaza Mayor (Main Square), is located the High Court Building, both lordly and humble, constructed in a peculiar Renaissance style, and the House of the Linajes of Soria, the actual City Hall. Churches and palaces are spread all over the urban geography of this city which is gathered up between two hills "Pure Soria between two mountains of violets ..". On top of one, the castle, the Baroque hermitage of Mirón on the other, combining in this way the essential synthesis of the mystic and warrior spirit of this land.
The lands of Soria contain innumerable archaeological remains of the Celtiberic and Roman civilisations. The Provincial Museum is of great historical interest. It holds the findings proceeding from the city of Numancia, with a model of the city, ceramics of different decorative styles, metal instruments, and others made of bone and shaft, mud statues and different objects from Roman Age. Also, it houses a collection of prehistoric remains of Torralba, and neolithic and Roman sites, such as the Roman villa of Cuevas de Soria, and other items from Clunia, as well as bronzes, coins and several Visigoth items.
Eight kilometres to the north of Soria on the Garray road, at the top top of a hill which dominates the confluence of the Rivers Tera and Duero, the remains of the city of Numancia can be found, a former Celtiberian hilltop castle, famous for the heroic resistance their inhabitants maintained against the thrust of the Roman troops. After twenty long years of siege, the legions of Escipion found a deserted city, in which the inhabitants had killed themselves before falling to the hands of the enemy. The current ruins belong in part to the Numancia reconstructed by Rome after the conquest. It shows a very regular urban construction, with very straight streets and houses of a very solid construction. Other ruins of special interest are those of the old Tiermes, a Roman Celtiberian city, among which ruins can be admired its doors and the side streets carved in the rock, the rupestrian dwellings and a well-preserved system of galleries, water pipes and Roman pavements with several mosaics. Halfway up the hillside, is the interesting Romanesque church dedicated to St. Maria de Tiermes.
Impressively, to the north are outlined the snowy, high mountain peaks of The peaks of Urbión, cradle of rivers and legends. To the east, the Moncayo, stands out famous for its natural beauty, landscape, history and literature. In the centre, surrounding Soria and sculptured by the Duero, extends the horizontal plain on which the poplars stand out like belfries. Only to the south the landscape smooths away on the banks of the River Jalón, along the lands of Medinaceli. The villages of Soria have powerfully sounding and evocative names which have been written in the most glorious pages of history: Almazán, Burgo de Osma, Agreda, Gormaz, Berlanga, Calatañazor .... The Numancia ruins, close to the capital, are a testimony of one of the greatest feats in ancient history. Innumerable churches, castles, monasteries, ancestral homes uprise along the province, which preserve unique examples of Romanesque, Gothic, Mudéjar and Rennaissane styles.
The Duero has its origins in the Urbión heights, descending and increasing in size to the Cuerda del Pozo reservoir. The Urbión crests, alternating bold hillsides and dense pinewoods, enclose two lagoons of glacier origin: the Helada and the Negra, providing impressive settings of old legends and a zone of abundant fishing and rich hunting. From the dam up to Soria, the river becomes more tranquil, it crosses the grazing heath-land, and initiates that cross bow curve which will end when the river reaches the town of Almazán. This village is located in a natural elevation, which dominates the surrounding landscape. As a citadel it was one of the best-fortified places in antiquity.
It preserves ruins of the Roman wall, and inside the architectural duality of the Spanish villages is repeated: Romanesque churches and Renaissance palaces. The XVI Century Palace of the Hurtado de Mendoza, is a beautiful sample of secular architecture, with a very pretty façade on the typical Main Square, onto which also opens the Romanesque Church of St. Michael (National Monument), with a typical mohamedan west vault and a frontal carved in stone with reliefs of Saint Thomas of Canterbury's martyrdom. Most interesting churches are Nuestra Señora del Campanario, San Sebastián, San Vicente and Santa Maria de Calatañazor. The river continues its route, leaving to the south of its left bank the village of Berlanga, overlooked by a magnificent XV Century castle with two walls and a Homage tower. The town has a beautiful Collegiate Church, built in 1526 in Gothic Renaissance style: in the Bravo de Laguna chapel are located the tombs of the founders and a magnificent altarpiece of paint and sculpture carved at the beginning of the XV Century. Also should be mentioned the round Gothic style pillar, the hospital of the XVI Century, the Plateresque palace of the Marquis of Berlanga and the Dukes of Frias palace, of Renaissance style.
Nine Kilometres to the south is located the famous hermitage of St. Baudilio, with a very original Mozarabic plan enriched by magnificent X Century mural paintings, (now at the Prado Museum) and of the XII Century, (in North American collections), but important fragments still remain at the hermitage.
Burgo de Osma is one of the oldest Episcopal Sees in Spain, already founded in the Visigothic era. The village is small, tucked away, of a real medieval flavour, with arcade streets and a beautiful Gothic Cathedral, of archaic style. It is, without a doubt, the most important religious monument of the province of Soria. It is a building with three aisles in a latin cross layout and a very decorated Baroque tower which overlooks the village. On the inside, the presbytery grating of filigree ironwork stands out, and the major altarpiece, a monumental work of imagery attributed to Juan de Juni. The Cathedral has a Gothic cloister, which is one of the more beautiful in Spain. In the Library Museum, there is a magnificent collection of illuminated manuscripts of the most pure Gothic and Renaissance styles. Other interesting buildings of Burgo de Osma are the University of Santa Catalina, with Plateresque facade founded by the bishop Acosta; the hospital of San Agustín, with a beautiful Baroque facade, the Door of San Miguel, located on the wall and the Plaza Mayor dated 1768, with several interesting buildings such as the Episcopal Palace. Joined to Burgo is the old Osma -the Roman Uxama Argalae-where several mosaics are still preserved.
To the west, following the Duero course, not far from its right bank, is located San Esteban de Gormaz, an old fortified village with the first Romanesque churches - San Miguel and El Rivero-and an Arabian castle on the hill which watches over the village. Finally, going back to Soria, Ucero can be visited, with the Romanesque church of San Bartolomé from the beginning of the XIII Century, the ruins of an old monastery and a beautiful castle. Nearby, on the plateau of Ardal 1.213 metres (4.003 feet) in height, arriving at the Cuesta de Galiana, we observe, at our feet, an abyss of more than two hundred metres in depth, the most impressive landscape in the province. There are the Alta caves and the Manantial. This steep slope or gorge has been serrated into a narrow-pass, forming the canyon of the Lobos River, a beautiful gorge of meadows and woods between cliffs with rocks and grottos of fantastic forms.
From the lonely and stony mountains, the Jalón river descends, on its way to the Ebro, forming a narrow, yellow and reddish valley. There are highlands of great beauty, and in their surroundings one can visit villages of great historical significance, as well as antique monuments. The path, after crossing Almazán, goes to Medinaceli, the Roman Ocilis, the Medina Selim of the Arabs. The city perspective, viewed from afar, is full of monuments presided over by the three doors Roman Arch, unique in its class in Spain, which opens on the impressive landscape of a wide valley. To the north of the city are the ruins of an old Arab castle.
Medinaceli is a city of beautiful monuments. It possesses several lordly houses, churches and convents: the Colegiata de Santa María, of Gothic style, built in the first half of the XVI Century, is the most interesting building.
The convent of Santa Isabel is also of great worth. It is the original house of pious women of San Román, today a convent for the Jerónimas order. The lordly ducal palace, of the XVIII Century, was built by the Dukes of Medinaceli.
Following the course of the Jalón, on the way to the Aragonese lands, one reaches Santa María de Huerta, which extends across a tapestry of land, where stands the hill of the Cruz. The Jalón and Viliembre waters flow in these surroundings, well disposed for the trout and barbel fishing. In the nearby hills, rosemary, savin and holly oak plants grow.
In Santa María de Huerta is found one of the principal jewels of Cistercian architecture: the Royal Monastery surrounded by walls which give a fortress aspect, it owes its foundation to Alfonso VII. The most important part is the refectory, but also impressive are the church, the cloister and the so called "stable of Alfonso Vll". The exterior preserves its original design and displays an austere construction in its walls, protected by large arch buttresses of half point. In the church is preserved the lying statue of the illustrious pious man Rodrigo Ximénez de Rada, and adjacent to the church, the sacristy, preceding Chapter Hall, and the Death Chapel, possibly a library in other times. The area of the monastery is very large, with orchards, wine cellars, store rooms and cultivated fields.
One can also visit the garden and palace of Cerralbo, and in the proximity of the town, on a mound, the Ciclopean ruins, and remains of a castle from the Iron Age. By way of return to the capital one goes through Monteagudo de las Vicarías, in a beautiful landscape of soft texture, in whose horizons is outlined the silhouette of a handsome castle from the XV Century, and Morón de Almazán, with the Gothic church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, which has been declared a National Monument.
The high snowy peaks, which rise on fertile valleys before reaching the nearby Rioja, characterise this region of Soria, a land of transition between Aragón and Castille. The route, after going through the historical ruins of Numancia, takes one to Oncala, fine hill village on the mountain pass of the same name, where one can see the church which keeps a rich collection of Flemish tapestries from the XVIII Century. On the left bank of the Cidacos River, in the foothills of the Cameros mountain range, is located Yanguas. The village rises on a hill and is shielded by an Arabian castle. It has a beautiful Plaza Mayor with porticos and lavish lordly houses. After passing San Pedro Manrique and Magaña, close to the Alama River, with a handsome castle, one arrives at Agreda, settled on a rock, roughly slashed by the Quiles River. It is one of the most attractive villages in Castile, for its landscape, the artistic and monumental richness, and for the beautiful poplar walks and fountains on the plain, from the era of Carlos III. It is overlooked by the castle of La Muela and surrounded by Arabian walls. The Romanesque era is represented by the church of Nuestra Señora de la Peña, with two equal aisles and some Gothic plates.
The Gothic and Plateresque are harmonised in the Church of San Miguel, in which excellent Renaissance pictures can be seen. Other important buildings are the Church of Nuestra Señora de los Milagros, with several Aragonese altar pieces of the XV Century; the convent of the Concepción, where the remains of Sor María de Agreda, counselor of Felipe IV are kept; the church of San Juan, with a Romanesque front and a Gothic aisle; and that of Nuestra Señora de Magaña, of Gothic style. In the Castejones quarter stands a medieval watch tower and the XII Century Palace of Castejones.
From Agreda, following the road to Tarazona, can be visited, on a large detour, the Mountain range of Moncayo, splendid view that overlooks a wide landscape of 2,316 metres of altitude at the highest point. The way returns to Soria through the picturesque mountains of Madero, of rural beauty, visiting Villar del Campo and Fuensaúco, among other villages of interest.
The course of the river Duero can be traced from Soria toward its origin, arriving at Vinuesa. A small break is recommended to admire the beautiful landscape of the Cuerda del Pozo dam, among foliaged pinewoods, very crowded during the summer by sunbathers as well as people fond of water sports, for which purpose the area has adequate facilities. Also of interest is the village which include interesting monuments, such as the Town Hall and Arca de Misericordia, from the XVI Century; the church, the palace built by Don Pedro de Neyla, archbishop of Palermo; and other noble houses.
Up the Duero River is found Molinos, a pretty village with nice ordinary houses, and, further on Covaleda and Duruelo de la Sierra, the ideal place to climb the Pico de Urbión, at 2,226 metres of altitude, in a really exceptional landscape with high rock cliffs, with pinewoods and beech trees. Here is the origin of the Duero, a landscape of fantastic coloration. But even more attractive, perhaps more impressive, is the trip to the lagoons Larga and Helada, and later descending to the Laguna Negra, amphitheatre of mountains, a great circus where the stone has the most varied shades, reflected in the lagoon waters. This part of the mountains in the province of Soria, along with Logroño, is an area of breathtaking beauty.
The whole province is especially suited for the practice of hunting. The larger species of animals are abundant objects of interesting hunting include the deer or venison, the roe-deer and the wild boar. The boar is found especially, in the Urbión pinewoods, where a Reserva Nacional de Caza (National Hunting Reserve) has been created, and in the mountains on the North side of the province, Cebollera, Madero, Moncayo, Toranzo, Hayedo de Santiago, etc. The small game is also abundant, especially the red partridge, for which several social game reserves exist. Also hunted are rabbits and hares, and, in the magnificent mountain passes - Santa Inés, Oncala, Cebollera and Moncayo- the woodpigeon. Fishing also brings days of great interest for those fond of the sport, with excellent catches, the magnificent specimen of trout can be caught in the reservoirs of Cuerda del Pozo and Rábanos, and in the rivers Tera, Revinuesa, Razón, Ucero and Jalón. There are also National Trout Reserves in the Albión River, in Ucero and in the Laguna Negra close to Urbión.
The province of Soria participates on the whole in the specialities of the Castilian kitchen, which to say, the roasts. There are other special dishes, which undoubtedly bring pleasure at meal times, the smoked baked trout. The Sorian style crabs are exquisite, as well as the partridge or quail, and the grilled veal. One could sample the big beans of Burgo de Osma, made with pigs ear; mushrooms in casserole, baked sausage from Soria; and crumbs shepherdess style. The very famous butter from Soria is especially delightful. Among desserts, stand out the buttery cakes of Soria and the egg yolk sweets of Almazán.
The folklore of Soria has very precise characteristics, totally identified with the personality of its people, austere, tenacious and intelligent. The song and dance generally is the jota, which as in other provinces, has taken different forms, but there are other colorful singular dances, such as the 'rueda", the "danzas de danzantes", to the singing of old romances; the "Agachadas", and above all, a very old dance and almost extinct but with the strange and pretty name of 'palomas chiclaneras". All the province cities and villages celebrate typical festivities in honour of the Patron Saint of the location, in which traditional customs of popular flavour can be discovered. Some of these main festivities, are declared of Tourist Interest.
In the capital, the festivals of San Juan or the Madre de Dios are celebrated, both declared of Tourist Interest, very old and colorful, starting on the 24th of June, if this day is Thursday, otherwise from the next coming Thursday. The celebration rotates in time around the whole town, divided in twelve teams, the brotherhood of the five days, with its typical denominations; Thursday, "la saca", Friday "of bulls"; Saturday "ages"; Sunday, grand day of the fair, "de calderas", and, Monday, "de bailás". There are pilgrimages, bullfights, processions with the typical customs, festivals, etcetera.
In San Pedro de Manrique, on the 23rd and 24th of June, and also declared of Tourist Interest, the singular festivals of "Paso del Fuego", and the 'Móndidas" are celebrated. The "Paso del Fuego" is an impressive ceremony in which the men from San Pedro Manrique cross, totally barefoot, a carpet of fire, two metres Iong, 0,70 wide and 0,50 high. The "Móndidas", seem to represent the old priestess of the Celtiberian tribes, a feast arising from the old legend of the "tribute of the hundred maids".
Other spectacular festivals are the "Pinochadas", in Vinuesa from the 14th to the 16th of August, providing a picturesque image of a remote historical fact, with the colorful typical attire, and those festivals celebrated in Agreda, Almázan, Burgo de Osma, Covaleda, Duruelo, Medinaceli, Navaleno, Santa María de Huerta, etc.