Last autumn, on our way to Asturias, we stopped in Burgos to see the cathedral. Of all Spain’s cathedrals, Burgos’ is the one I just had to see. I’d heard so much about it: from friends, family, and acquaintances. And let me tell you—it did not disappoint. It was breathtakingly beautiful.
As the town’s slogan goes, Zamora cuenta mucho; Zamora has a lot tell.
Castilla y León is underrated, but I believe a few of its provinces are even more so. Zamora is one of those provinces. Why am I so passionate about this city of 67,000 in northwest Spain, mere kilometers from the Portuguese border?
- It’s Mario’s hometown. What can I say? I first went there to meet Mario’s family.
- I have a thing for the underdog. How many articles have been written about Barcelona (ugh)? Or Madrid? Or Santiago de Compostela, as much as I may love it? But there’s something about the not-so-popular spots that resonate with me. There’s an authenticity still there, because tourists are few and far between.
With that in mind, following a fellow blogger’s lead, I’d like to show you all a few things to see, eat, and do in Zamora, starting with the see part.
My Top 10 Sites to See in Zamora
Hey guys, how’s it going? You may be wondering if I’ve dropped off the map and the truth is, yeah, I kind of have. But no worries, I’m back from “teaching English” for a week at an English camp located in the province of León. It was my first time in León, and I loved it—apart from the bitterly cold mornings! León is a beautiful province, and its capital city is home to a strikingly beautiful cathedral.
I love Gothic cathedrals for one reason: L-I-G-H-T.
At this campamento de inglés, the children are expected to speak in English with their native camp counselors (monitores in Spanish). It sounds good, right? Send your kid to a camp, where he/she will learn English from native speakers! Awesome, yeah?
Yeah, about that. The problem starts when the children’s level of English is so low that they cannot convey basic desires in English. If a child does not know the word for milk, how can he/she be expected to speak only in English, to follow commands in English, to understand a native English speaker? You got me.
This camp wasn’t about teaching English really. There were no classrooms or lessons or exams. It was just meant to be a camp in English. That’s it. But I came away having spoken more Spanish than English.
And that’s the irony of English camps in Spain.
Have you ever taught at an English camp in Spain? What was your experience?
Only the thunder of drums and trumpets break the profound silence that invades Castilla y León every spring during Holy Week, the most sacred week in Christendom. This region, along with others, becomes a gathering place where the faithful can experience the passion and resurrection of Christ, as well as enjoy the cultural and gastronomic delights each has to offer. To succinctly describe Holy Week in Zamora is to take on an impossible task, but one could start with three words: passion, ardor, and—yes— …
Parades are not known for being silent. They are cacophonous affairs, rife with clashing cymbals, the blasts of trumpets, and the cheers of the bystanders.
Not here, not these procesiones (processions).
During the day, yes, the silence is indeed broken—by music, and choirs, Gregorian chants, even funeral marches compose an extraordinary soundtrack for the most splendid of processions—but soon night falls, and silence once again reigns. Here, silence is a symbol of religious devotion and austerity.
The Procession of Silence. Even the name inspires awe. Keeping silent is not customary; keeping silent is not easy.
Kneeling in the cathedral atrium, surrounding the image of Cristo de las Injurias, the brothers wait for their oath. The mayor says a short prayer, and the bishop goes on to take the brothers’ oaths, saying:
“Hermanos de la Cofradía del Santísimo Cristo de las Injurias, ¿juráis guardar silencio durante todo el recorrido de esta santa procesión?”
The brothers swear this oath together, vowing to keep silent for the entire route. Some walk barefoot throughout the cobblestoned city streets, but all maintain silence. They march together—slowly, solemnly, dolefully through the streets of Zamora, a town which at times seems to have been transformed into the13th-century, back to a time where Spain did not yet exist. The first documented reference to the celebration of Holy Week goes back to this century, when Zamora’s monasteries and convents organized processions around their cloisters and streets. It was meant to teach the common people, in a powerful way, about the passion, death, and eventual resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Throughout the centuries, Zamora’s Holy Week has maintained its sobriety and solemnity. (In other regions, the festival has been transformed into a rather glamorous affair.) But like Catholicism in Spain, Holy Week is full of contrasts: noise and silence, day and night, joy and sobriety … but this does not take away from the beauty and drama of Holy Week in Zamora.
Still, for many, the most moving experience of the whole week is the singing of Miserere mei Deus. After a two-hour-long procession through the streets of the casco histórico, the street lights are turned off and the only light comes from the red candles the penitents carry. And then the choir begins to sing, the words ringing out into the cold night:
Miserere mei Deus, secundum magnam, misericordiam tuam …