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Spanish Secrets: Gaudisney Land

Craig Briggs pays an unplanned visit to the city of Astorga and "discovers'' a masterpiece of a building designed by the renowned Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi.

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Antonio Gaudi (1852 – 1926) a world renowned Spanish architect; famous for his fantastically intricate and individualistic designs.

Walt Disney (1901 – 1966) an American film producer and entrepreneur; famous for his animated film making and theme park design.

If only these two men could have collaborated, what an adventure playground they could have built. The extraordinary possibilities of this theoretical partnership flashed through my mind during a recent trip. By pure chance Melanie and I stumbled across the city of Astorga in the Province of Castilla and Leon and discovered some of its little known treasures.

We were woken early one morning by a savage storm. Torrents of rainwater fell from the sky like lead shot, bouncing off the roof and crashing into the stone terracing.

The weather forecast predicted rain, rain and more rain. If we were going to find the sun today, we needed to be in the car and away. Without delay we were up, dressed and off.

We began our journey travelling east into the Cantabrian Mountain range. Our trail followed the course of the river Lor, a tributary of the much larger river Sil. The drive along this deep valley is spectacular. Centuries of river erosion has forged a deep valley gorge leaving geological history exposed for all to see. Colourful rock strata ebb and flow like the tracks of a natural rollercoaster.

Once passed the town of A’ Rua, the road begins to climb; higher and higher into the mountains. A series of man-made tunnels, joined by arched bridges, burrow their way through lofty peaks. These bridges are so high it was impossible to see the snaking river below as we sped from one tunnel to the next

Before reaching the old mining town of Ponferrada, we picked up the A6 and headed south towards Madrid. Less than an hour later the sky began to clear. Patches of pale-blue appeared through the shady-grey blanket of cloud.

As if by divine calling, a beam of sunlight illuminated the twin towers of Astorga cathedral as we approached the city. Answering the call we exited the main road and headed towards the city centre

The streets were narrow, affording only brief glimpses of the cathedral as we drove passed adjacent streets. Before long we found a roadside parking space and continued on foot. The earlier rain had left the air damp and fresh.

Dominating the far end of a narrow street and towering over the surrounding buildings was the temple's western façade, straddled on either side by two imposing gothic towers. A shell-shaped arch, covered with intricately sculptured biblical scenes, rested above two heavy wooden doors guarding the main entrance. After marvelling at the craftsmanship of the ancient stonemasons and taking a few tourist snaps, we wandered towards the shopping centre.

As we turned a corner close to the cathedral, we were greeted with a wonderful icing-sugar castle; a timeless fantasy home straight from the set of Snow White. Perfectly formed blocks of pale-grey granite reached for the sky, fairytale towers topped with pencil point roofs and an all-seeing glass eye of colourful stained glass, filled our vision with wonderment.

The architect responsible for this work was unmistakably Antonio Gaudi.

The city is an Episcopal See. Following a devastating fire the Archbishop commissioned Gaudi to build him a new palace.

Astorga has more treasures waiting to be unearthed than we were able to discover in a short visit. Fortunately for us, we will return.

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craigandmel@msn.com

Copyright © 2006 Craig Briggs

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