On of my favorite cities on the Camino is the beautiful city of Astorga. Surrounded by medieval walls, Astorga was a powerful Asturian community, and it became an equally important Roman city. This is where the Camino Frances, part of the Via Trajana linking this area with Bordeaux, and the Roman Road Calzada Romana (Via Aquitana) joined the Roman Silver route Via de La Plata from Sevilla and the south. This convergence of routes gave rise to over 20 pilgrim hospitals in medieval times.
One of my favorite buildings in Astorga is the Episcopal Palace (Bishop´s Residence). It is a building by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. It was built between 1889 and 1913 and designed in the Catalan Modernisme style; it is one of only three buildings by Gaudi outside Catalonia.
When the original Episcopal Palace was destroyed by a fire in the 19th century, Bishop Grau decided to assign the design of the new building to his friend Antoni Gaudí. The two had become friends when Grau was general vicar in the Archdiocese of Tarragona and had inaugurated a church for which the architect had designed the high altar.
The first stone was placed in June 1890.
The edifice, built in gray granite from El Bierzo is in a neo-medieval style complementary with its location next to the cathedral. It also features some of the elements typical of the later Gaudí, such as the arches of the entrance with buttresses and the chimneys integrated in the side façades.
The façade has four cylindrical towers and is surrounded by a ditch.
During the Spanish Civil War the building served as the local headquarters of the Falange. In 1956 Julià Castelltort, a Catalan, began restoration works to adapt the building as a bishop’s residence. Later bishop Marcelo González Martín promoted the conversion of the palace to a museum of religious art called Museo de los Caminos, dedicated to the Way of Santiago.
Interior of the Museo with exhibit pieces:
A favorite of mine – St. Michael the Archangel:
Statues in the Museo garden:
Astorga also acted as a crossroads for the royal drive roads Canadas Reales that herded livestock up and down the Iberian peninsula. This European wide system of nomadic grazing is known as transhumance, and it can still be witnessed on various caminos. It is celebrated in Astorga in the festival Fiesta de Transhumancia when sheep are driven through the town.