The Road to Santiago.

October 21, 2004



Since this was going to be my last day in Gijón, I decided that, if the weather was good, I was going to see some of the historic sites. The trouble was that since my room was an inside room, I couldn’t look out. All I knew was that it wasn’t raining because I didn’t hear it. Besides, here in the Asturias (Galicia, too), it can be sunny one moment and raining the next. And vice versa. So, I grabbed my camera and vowed that, regardless, I was going to enjoy the day.

I stepped out of my room into darkness — as dark as night. It seems that Mrs. Gonzalez has the frugal Spanish habit of keeping the lights out and the shutters drawn. Even if you can find the light switches, the lights are not the brightest bulbs available.

Electricity is expensive here, so people are in the habit of turning out the lights whenever they aren’t truly needed. It’s not uncommon to go into a store that is very dark. If you want to see something, the clerk will turn on the lights for you. But they are then turned off before you’re even out the door. I can’t tell you of the number of times that I have been sitting on the throne in a bathroom only the have the lights go out and find myself in total darkness because the timer on the light has run out. If this happens to you, don’t panic. Just let yours eyes adjust to the darkness and you should see a tiny, faint, red light. That is where the switch is. Calmly turn it back on and proceed with your business. Just remember that, in a short time, it will go out again.

The lobbies of most buildings have timers, so just switch on the lights and continue on. The timer will turn the lights off in a minute. More modern establishments have sound or motion activated lights. Sort of the “clap on, clap off” approach that you see on the late night TV advertisements.

Luckily, it was a nice day, so I headed for the one place that wasn’t damaged in the war, the old section known as the Cimadevilla, the barrio which is on the peninsula of Santa Catalina. As the name implies, it is the summit of the village. Actually, it is the original location of a Roman city built over two thousand years ago. The mediaeval walls, parts of which still survive, are amplifications of the original Roman walls.

Photo of statue of Octavio Augusto.
Octavio Augusto
Some years ago, during an excavation, the ruins of Roman baths were uncovered. The place was declared an historical site and the archeologists had a field day. They uncovered almost the whole foundation of all the sections of the bath and found a good number of partial walls still with the original paintings and frescoes. A roof was built over the excavations and on the roof, which is on the ground level, a beautiful park was planted. Appropriately, in the park is a statue of Caesar Augustus.

Photo of mediaeval wall.
Mediaeval wall
"". Since the weather was good, I thought I’d stroll up the hill along the promontory and come back to the Roman baths later. I passed the remains of the mediaeval walls and came to the 15th century Iglesia de San Pedro (Church of Saint Peter). This church was originally built in a Gothic style, but when it was repaired after the war, it was done in what is called a neo-Romanesque manner. (Romanesque does not refer to buildings built by Romans but refers rather to the style of architecture that was before the Gothic period. It is called Romanesque because there are many features reminiscent of classic Roman buildings.)
Photo of Church of San Pedro.
Iglesia de San Pedro
"". I walked up the hill to the heights where there are the remains of an old fort. The ramparts have been embanked and they make quite a nice walkway. The occasional cannon, left as memorials, give testimony to 400 years of enmity between the Spanish Empire and the French, Dutch, and English fleets.

Next, I went to the ancient watchtower which has been renovated and is now an archeology museum. As you climb the tower, you pass from one period to another — Celti-Iberian, Visigothic, Mediaeval Spanish, and Renaissance Spanish. It felt strange and claustrophobic. I don’t know if the onset of my perspiration was from inadequate air circulation or what, but I only got about two-thirds of the way up before I decided that I had had enough and would get the rest of my archeological fix at the Roman bath excavations. Going underground I don’t mind!

However, near the tower was the Plaza Jovellanos, and facing the Plaza was La Casa de Jovellanos. This 15th century building was the ancestral home of Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos, who is considered to be one of the most influential Spanish intellectuals of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He was a poet, reformer, liberal economist, author, and politician. He was also a contemporary of our founding fathers and shared many of their ideas on freedom and economics. Even though he fought for the defense of Madrid against Napoleon, he spent time in prison because some of the king’s advisors thought his liberal ideas were too dangerous. After his release, he continued his writings and founded a university which today bears his name.
Photo of La Casa de Jovellanos.
La Casa de Jovellanos

This building houses an art museum which features Asturian artists. It was moderately interesting and I wasn’t particularly impressed, except for a couple of exhibits. One hall had a series of sculptures made from laminated strips of wood which were then stained and highly polished. The themes of the pieces were abstract instruments of speed and included an airplane, racing car, parachute, and others. Another room had a carved wooden mural depicting an early 20th century scene of the Gijón fishing village.

I left the museum and finished my day with a tour of the Roman baths. After the Roman baths, I went back to my room and had a bath of my own.