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All about the Province

New: See the video about León and Northern Spain on the Independent newspaper's website here.

The province of León is part of Castile and León (Castilla y León) , which is not only the largest province of Spain but also the largest single region in the whole European Union (at the time of writing). Madrid, the very Castilian capital of Spain, is to the south of Castile, although it has its own province. León is the eponymous capital city of the province of León (the capital of Castile and León is Valladolid). The whole area is located on the mesita or tableland which is high above coastal area, and delimited by the mountain ranges Sistema Iberico to the east, Cordillera Central to the south, Cordillera Cantabrica to the north and by the Duero river heading towards Portugal. León is the highest capital city in Europe, being located some 880m (2700 ft) above sea level. The name León is derived from the Roman 'Legio': the 7th Legion was stationed there and was thought to be the origin of the present city (but see below!). León also of course means 'lion' in Spanish.

the Languages

Post 1978, Spain is now organized as a Federal Democratic Monarchy. The language spoken in León is Castilian (the language which is known, rather inaccurately, as "Spanish"). León is known amongst the Spanish as being the place with the most Castilian Castilian - the language is spoken beautifully. Tourism is a major industry in Leon, but foreign tourism is not an important part of the local economy, so it will be useful to have a smattering of Spanish or a phrase book. People who deal with the public often (but not invariably) will speak sufficient English to do their job. The accent (like "ó") indicates the stress, by the way, so León sounds like "Lay-on". There was a local language, Lleones, which is not spoken except by a very few people in the mountains now. It is similar to Asturian (or 'Bable') but may have different roots.

some History

Castilla y León came into being in 1983, when the regions of Castilla la Vieja and León were united. Both have been central to medieval Spanish history, and their huge importance during that epoch is still evident in the many cathedrals, monasteries, castles and fortified towns scattered about the province. Many of these are preserved in excellent condition. Apart from this fascinating historical aspect, Castilla y León also has wonderful natural parks and huge expanses of almost virgin nature, covered with oak woods and cork-oaks. Unlike many southerly regions of Spain, León was little affected by the Moorish occupation of Spain. León was occupied but only for a very brief time. Thus, in León and its environs, one can see a very different aspect to Spain, contrasting with that shown by the south or Mediterranean coasts.

As noted above, the city was known to have been occupied by the 7th Legion Legio VII Gemina Felix in about the year 68 of the present epoch. Recent excavations have shown that the city was probably  founded earlier, by the 6th Legion Legio VI Victrix who were sent to Spain in about 29 BC (by 119 AD they were sent to Britain).  The city was abandoned during the time of the Moorish occupation, at about 712, and was not re-founded until 856 (an abortive attempt was made in 846). In 856 the repopulated city was joined with the Kingdom of Asturias. King Ordoño I made the city the capital of León and became the King of León. The first democratic courts in history were convocated in León in 1188. Later, in 1230, the city was joined with the Kingdom of Castile.

Things to see around León

The Romans were there for a good reason - gold! The Romans exploited the gold deposits of north-west Spain using a technique based on hydraulic power. As the World Heritage site notes, "...after two centuries the Romans moved on, leaving a devastated landscape. Since there was no subsequent industrial activity, the dramatic traces of this remarkable ancient technology are visible everywhere as sheer faces in the mountainsides and the vast areas of tailings, now used for agriculture."

This UNESCO World Heritage area is known as the Medulas, and is a recommended site to visit.

A completely different type of place to visit is the Picos de Europa National Park. This is a place of extraordinary natural beauty with an Alpine feel - but with a Spanish climate.

León city itself is full of monumental architecture - but also excellent shops and restaurants. The whole province is charming and well worth spending time visiting. And if you fancy the seaside, the coast is two hours or so drive to the North.

the Weather

The climate is typical "Northern Spanish", which means it is warmer, drier and sunnier than Britain (of course!) but cooler and wetter (but also less humid!) than southern or Mediterranean coastal Spain. There are four seasons in this part of Spain, but in practice the sun shines most days. Spring is a bit earlier than in the UK, and the summer is long and hot. However, León is high up above the sea and so at night the temperatures fall. We don't need any air conditioning to sleep at night in León! Here is the mean temperature chart:

 

Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Max Mean °C

7

9,5

12,8

14,3

18,0

23,2

27,2

26,8

22,9

16,4

11,2

8

16,4

Min Mean °C

-0,8

0,3

1,5

2,9

6,2

9,5

12,0

12,0

9,9

6,4

2,7

0,6

5,3

Rain mm 58 46 29 50 58 39 28 24 39 56 58 70 556


Source: http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/León_(España)#Turismo


There are very hot months: July and August typically are very warm, but rarely too hot for outside  work. However there are also cold months: usually late January or early February is the coldest, with signs of Spring appearing in later March. However, all this is relative: the adjacent photo taken in January shows a fairly typical Winter day.

Why León? The Light, the Sky, the Horizon...

A Spanish author once wrote (paraphrasing), "...the light in Spain is so clear that one sees too much." He was referring to the great central plateau, but the whole of Spain shares this special Spanish quality of illumination, this always being contrasted with "el horizonte" - the horizon.

Here near León, we are sufficiently far from the industrialised areas of the mainland to render the air wonderfully clear of industrial pollution. The resulting transparency and freshness is notable.

The dawn and the sunset regularly offer a spectacular show, and the brilliance and clarity of the light all year round are quite characteristic and completely different to the misty mysticism of the British Isles.

León is part of the 'undiscovered' (by tourism) North of Spain. It is still Spanish through and through. If you have had enough of the wall-to-wall tourism of other parts of Spain you will probably very much like León. We do. Come and see for yourself!

some Links

This quick (also approximate and simplified!) description may perhaps have interested you. If so, here's a few other links concerning León for you to look at for further information:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/León,_León (in English...)
http://www.idealspain.com/Pages/Places/Leon.htm (in English...)
http://www.catedraldeleon.org/  (The Cathedral website is Spanish)
http://www.turismocastillayleon.com/cm/turcyl/tkContent?idContent=79&locale=es_ES&textOnly=false (In Spanish - but if you only speak English, it's still possible to get the gist of some of it)

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