Atapuerca is a small town at the foot of the limestone Atapuerca Massif, known worldwide thanks to its archaeological site. An archaeological survey of this area started a hundred years ago but the most sensational finds were discovered in the last 20 years. A team of researchers found the earliest remains of a human ancestor in Europe. The fossils were different from anything else we knew before, so hominid was given a new name – Homo antecessor. He lived in the caves of the Atapuerca Massif some million years ago. He was about 5 to 5.6 feet tall and made his own tools. His brain was smaller than Homo sapiens’, but unlike apes he was right-handed. Every year of excavations brings new finds and widens our knowledge of the oldest European. In 2000 Atapuerca was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Quiet road will lead you to a dual carriageway, the N-I that used to be the main Spanish road from Madrid to Irun. Aim for Burgos. Even though most of the traffic left to the nearby highway, the road still seems to be a favourite for some of the lorry drivers. Which for cyclists is always good news. This will be your ‘cycling with the lorries’ experience today. Fortunately, the hard shoulder is quite wide and you can complete the first part of the experience in 10 minutes because it is a well-known fact that a scared person pedals faster. Just keep your distance from Homo antecessors in cars and you will be fine.
Burgos is a city that vaunts one of the finest Gothic cathedrals in Europe. Artists and artisans worked for hundreds of years to build a temple that reached the height of artistry. It is purely splendid from the exterior to the interior. The Cathedral owes its existence to King Ferdinand the Saint and Mauricio, bishop of Burgos who loved French Gothic. The foundation stone was laid in 1221. Bishop Mauricio had the building of the Cathedral in his care, having a clear vision of what it should look like.
And it does – like a magnificent Cathedral in Reims. Mauricio devoted his time not only to the temple but also to a collection of money. He was raising funds for the temple, as well as contributing part of his own fortune. Even though the Cathedral was consecrated in 1260, twenty-two years after the bishop’s death, all credit went to him for its structure and beauty.
Thanks to an English bishop (Mauricio was the son of an English merchant) Spain today has a splendid French cathedral.
Cartuja de Miraflores, Burgos. In front of the altar, there are the beautiful Flamboyant tombs of King Juan II and his wife Isabel de Portugal.
You see the mastery of Gil de Siloe in the way he draped fabrics around Royal couple. The sepulchre is regarded as one of his best works. As you noticed some of the statues surrounding the tomb are damaged. Vandals in Napoleon uniforms are responsible for this act of mindlessness; probably close friends of those who shot off the Sphinx’s nose. An absolute must-see.
Rabe de la Calzadas. For the next 53 kilometres or more you will cycle on field tracks. The road might be muddy, but absolutely ok to ride. This part of the Camino is absolutely brilliant. You cycle on the top of a plateau that gives you a feeling of riding on the roof of Europe. The landscape is austere and cool; I have to admit that I find it beautiful in a different way. You are now cycling in the Meseta Central, a plateau in the heart of the Iberian Peninsula. On the way to Santiago, it stretches out from Burgos to Leon. The scenery around you will change as every part of the Meseta has its own character. Only one thing will be constant – a feeling of insignificance in relation to its open spaces. Personally, I find it very liberating.
Hornillos de Camino. A small town where a few years ago I observed with great satisfaction how bed bugs were eating alive a fellow pilgrim I had just met and immediately started to hate for talking aloud at night and shining a torch in my face; that was actually the beginning of our friendship. Although bed bugs are a problem in many other places, in albergue municipal in Hornillos de Camino they seemed to have a permanent visa for years. But of course you are more than welcome to stay here I even hazard a guess that you are expected.
Hontanas (54,70 km from Ages). The town is hidden in a small basin, so it emerges in front of you quite unexpectedly. I think the view of the town’s roofs will appeal to you.
The old hospital for pilgrims was converted into an albergue municipal – you will see inside its medieval arch.