It is one of the most beautiful architectural sets of Spanish Gothic art and the only cathedral in the country declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its unique layout and very particular elevation make of it an outstandingly harmonious building. A look at its twin spires stretching up to the sky in a ripple of lace is enough. Inside the building, a bronze plaque warns us that here lies the legendary El Cid Campeador, Rodrígo Díaz de Vivar, and his wife Doña Jimena.
Very close to this is the escalera dorada (golden staircase), very beautiful set from the 16th century inspired in Italian Renaissance, by the genius Diego de Siloé: half way between history and legend, the story tells that Napoleon Bonaparte was the last person to walk down these stairs. Hanging out from a corner high up, we are received with a humorous note: the Papamoscas, curious character that opens his mouth every time the clock strikes on the hour.
It was built between 1221 and 1765 and, although Gothic style prevails, there are several artistic influences scattered all over the building. Its construction began during the mandate of King Fernando III and the Bishop Don Mauricio, on the same location where the original Romanesque cathedral stood, and was consecrated in 1260. It was declared part of the World's Cultural Heritage in 1885.
The main façade is the temple's best-known
sight. The Puerta Real or del Perdón gives entry to the
cathedral; it was reformed
in the 18th century, and shows a rose window (six-point star shaped)and a gallery with eight enigmatic statues of Castilian kings under the image of the virgin Santa María and the inscription "Pulcra es et Decora" ("You are beautiful and fine"). It is flanked at both sides by towers 84 metres high topped by fine tracery steeples from the 16th century, by Juan de Colonia.
Three gates invite the visitor to enter the building:
the Puerta del Sarmental, from the 18th century, showing in the
tympanum the figures of Christ Doctor with the four Evangelists,
on a continuous canopy with the 12 apostles, and king musicians
on the archivolts. The figure of Bishop Don Mauricio appears on
mullion, with the prophets and apostles at both sides. Over this, there is a rose window.
The Coronería entrance, also Gothic, represents Christ as a Judge, between the Virgin and San Juan and, at both sides, a group of apostles. There is also the entrance through the Puerta de la Pellejería, built in 1516 by Francisco de Colonia.
The dome is a must(16th century), at the point where the nave crosses the transept, by Felipe Vigarny and Juan de Vallejo.
The Capilla del Condestable,from the 15th century,
was built by Simón de Colonia and is ornamented with Coats-of-arms
and thin steeples, which, together with those of the towers, form
a stone wood with sculptures resembling lace filigree; it was totally reformed (including the organ) in September 1998.
Inside, the plan of the church has the shape of a Latin cross, with three naves, ambulatory and transept, surrounded by 19 chapels, the vestry and a 13th century cloister. The lantern in the transept, star-shaped, dates from the 13th century and is a work by Juan de Vallejo. Underneath are the tombs of El Cid and Doña Jimena.
In the main chapel, enclosed by 17th and 18th century railings, the Renaissance altarpiece by Rodrigo and Martín de la Haya (16th century) stands out, with an image of Santa María la Mayor. The choir includes sedilia by Felipe Vigarny from the 16th century, and in the centre is the sepulchral statue of the Bishop Don Mauricio, made in copper and enamelled, dating from the 13th century. Paintings by Juan Ricci (17th century) decorate the space behind the choir.
Address: Plaza de Santa María