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The golden Age of Burgos Trade

In the mid-15th century, the prospects of the inhabitants of Burgos changed once again, this time for the better. New fields were tilled, livestock herds were expanded, fields and grazing areas were better organized, wine-growing was selectively intensified, communications improved, the market, a sector in which Burgos would lead for more than a century, was buoyant, and efforts were made to enrich the area of culture with highly notable works of art. In terms of art, masterpieces abounded, in architecture as well as in the fields of sculpture and painting.

The styles followed one another relatively quickly, moving from Flemish Gothic in the 15th and start of the 16th centuries – seen in the spires and Condestable Chapel in the Catedral de Burgos, the cloister of the monastery of San Salvador de Oña, Santa María de Aranda de Duero – to the Renaissance – in the gilded staircase and dome of the Catedral de Burgos, palaces on the Burgos streets of Fernán González and Calera, Puerta de los Romeros of the Hospital del Rey. In this creative frenzy, ecclesiastical institutions competed with the nobility in their initiatives and desire for renewal, as was becoming the norm. These groups were also joined by the urban oligarchies, especially in the city of Burgos, which had earned great riches in the wool trade and were generously disposed to participating in the sponsorship of the arts in Burgos.

The ups and downs of the Modern Age

The cycle of expansion that began in the mid-15th century broke in the 1680s, giving way to a period of generalized recession and sluggishness characterized by dropping production, shrinking demographics, and slowing trade, and showing the effects of the crash of the Spanish wool market with Flanders. The population of the city of Burgos dropped by half, and there was a notable decrease in Miranda de Ebro and Aranda de Duero, more significant in this case given the relatively good health of the economy of La Ribera, thanks to the good performance of the wine business throughout the entire 17th century. The district of La Sierra, with its buoyant livestock production and wheelwrights, offset the drop in agricultural production and managed to avoid this general atrophy that extended through the 17th century and into the 18th.

Another notable exception was the town of Lerma, which at the start of the 17th century, thanks to the building and urban development spurred by the Duke of Lerma, contrasted with this lethargic atmosphere by presenting the most shining and svelte image of the city of its entire history.

Following along these same lines, artistic production was also affected by the crisis, most clearly seen in the drop in building construction, as art selectively took refuge in sculpture and painting. With the exception of isolated cases, more frequent in the aforementioned areas where the effects of the crisis were less, the Baroque style, which was dominant during this time, moved indoors, mainly into religious buildings, giving birth to a rich artistic heritage embodied in the altar-pieces, sculptures, and paintings with great expressive force and visual impact.

As the 18th century progressed, trends shifted once again, giving way to a new period of growth, which brought with it new developments that would have transcendent historical significance. In terms of ideology, the Illustration encouraged a secular lay culture and called for a break from the past. In terms of the economy, the manufacturing companies were established – in Burgos, Pradoluengo, Frías, Espinosa de los Monteros, Valdenoceda, and Melgar de Fernamental – with only the draper’s shops of Frías and the capital, and especially in Pradoluengo, managing to establish themselves as part of the province’s economic panorama.

With the ideas of the Illustration, state involvement began in the teaching of art and the implementation of a series of insipid academic aesthetic guidelines that took shape in Neoclassicism. It even inspired some religious construction, including the monastery church of Santo Domingo de Silos, although its projection was more clearly noted in many of the public buildings constructed in the latter half of the century, which include a good number of Town Halls – Burgos, Sotillo de la Ribera, Miranda de Ebro...- jails, corn exchanges, inns, hospitals, hospices, schools, and theaters.

The Contemporary Age - The 19th century

The 19th century awoke with thunderous start in the lands of Burgos: in 1807 military contingents from France camped in the capital and in Espinosa de los Monteros under the pretext of assuring their passage to Portugal, though they were clearly intent on integrating the entire peninsula into the Napoleonic Empire. Burgos, as an advantageous center of communications with Portugal and Madrid, and Espinosa as the base of operations for the domination of the northern region of Cantabria, became improvised campsites for the French troops, which had to apply all of their efforts to stifle the attempted uprisings in the local towns overwhelmed by the weight of the aggressive presence of the invading army.

As we know, the fight against this foreign occupancy, known as the War for Independence, lasted for six years (1808-1814), bringing with it a long string of misfortunes to all areas of Spanish life. For the region of Burgos, the effects of the presence of Napoleon’s armies were deeply etched in the many monasteries and convents that were raided and sacked, in the artistic jewels and historic documents stolen and taken to France, and in the systematic subjection of the population of Burgos to arbitrary and abusive seizures, and the consequent general impoverishment of the population. Several examples demonstrate these phenomena: in terms of raiding, we know that the monks of San Pedro de Cardeña were forced from the cloister by the French troops and the monastery itself was brutally sacked, with the remains of El Cid and his wife Jimena savagely desecrated by the soldiers.

And in terms of destruction, this conflict, with the final battles with the French and the English as protagonists on the Castillo and San Miguel hills of the capital, brought an end to the heritage of Romanesque architecture that still survived in the churches of Santa María la Blanca, San Martín, and San Román, located on the peak and hillsides of El Castillo. The Cathedral and the church of San Esteban were also indirectly damaged by the warring artillery on the neighboring hills in their walls and windows.