Astorga appears at the junction of two important Spanish routes which used to be pilgrimage roads. The origin of the older of the two, the Vía de la Plata, goes back to Roman times. Following this route, (Gijón-Sevilla) the metal extracted from the mines in the north of the peninsula was transported to the trading ports in the south. An excellent communication route, it became a pilgrimage road to Santiago de Compostela. And the main Pilgrim's Road to Santiago, now declared a World Heritage Route by UNESCO, also led here.
Astorga, the former Asturica Augustea, was born under the Roman empire. The majority of archaeological remains belonging to this historical period have been brought together in a theme park, where you can see interesting Roman relics: sections of a basilica, baths, mansions and part of the sewerage system, among others.
The Puerta del Sol leads into the fortified area, where the Cathedral is the outstanding feature. The construction work began in the 15th century, although work continued until the 17th C. So, its layout preserves Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque elements and works by masters from all the periods. Its initial plans were by Gil de Hontañón. The Baroque carving of La Inmaculada is the work of the sculptural genius Gregorio Fernández. You can also admire the exemplary craftsmanship of a silver chest that belonged to Alfonso III el Magno (the Great). Other important churches with Baroque plasterwork are those of San Andrés, Santa Clara and San Bartolomé.
In the past there were pilgrim hospitals. Today, travellers can approach this tradition through the Pilgrimage Museum, housed in the Bishop's Palace. This is a Neogothic work by the Modernist master Antoni Gaudí. Another interesting monument is the City Hall by Manuel de la Lastra, which is Baroque, from the 17th century. This bulding has its beautiful façade in the Plaza Mayor. Two towers flank a beautiful balcony with railings running round it and a steeple supported by flying buttresses. Colasa and Perico, the most popular Maragatos (as the local people are known) in Astorga sound the hours on a great bronze bell.
The tour of Astorga can continue in the Gardens
of La Sinagoga, in the Aljibe Park or in the Chocolate Museum.
Another excellent option is to stop at one of the restaurants
in the city centre to try some of the traditional recipes from
the county. The high quality of vegetables from León is
shown in dishes like "cocido maragato", (a kind of stew)
which here is eaten in reverse order to the traditional cocidos.
The meal begins with the meat, chorizo and stuffing and ends with
the chickpeas, cabbage and soup. "Cecina" (cured, dried
and smoked beef), "botillo" (sausage made of cooked
pork products), berciana pies, cod and trout are the most mouth-watering
options. Reineta apples, cherries, pears, peppers and chestnuts
form part of the region's cookbook. Among desserts, Astorga lardy
cakes are the most popular. Wines must be from the Bierzo Denomination