The Cathedral of Oviedo: Amazing Architecture


Have you heard of the Cathedral of Oviedo?

Many people outside of Spain may not be familiar with the relatively small city of Oviedo which lays within the lush, northern region of Asturias. The climate in this region is frequently rainy with mild temperatures throughout the year thanks to its close proximity to the Cantabrian Sea. It also contains a variety of breathtaking natural views such as the snow-capped mountains Peaks of Europe and the historical location of Covadonga which I have discussed in a previous post. The capital of Asturias is Oviedo, a considerably old city dating back to the 8th century. Undoubtedly, despite the lovely cobblestone streets left glossy from the rain and the flowers blossoming on every windowsill, the most iconic part of Oviedo is its cathedral.

cathedral of oviedo
The tower of the cathedral.

The Oviedo Cathedral is unique because of its interesting mix of architectural styles, including Gothic, Pre-Romanesque, Romanesque, Baroque, and others. The presence of these many different styles can be explained through the cathedral’s long history of renovation. The cathedral was originally built in the year 781 A.D. by King Fruela I of Asturias. However, the cathedral then did not look much like it does now, and our familiar view of it would not actually appear until the 16th century. The building was further expanded in 802 A.D. by King Alfonso II, the son of King Fruela I. The structure so far was constructed in a Pre-Romanesque style and did not consist of much more than a religious sanctuary. In fact, it was not even considered a cathedral at the time but rather a basilica. It only attained the status of a cathedral in the 10th century after it underwent further expansion.

The Cathedral of Oviedo

One of the oldest portions of the building is the Camera Santa, also known as the Holy Chamber, which contains various priceless historical relics and tombs. One of its most prominent relics is the Cross of Victory, a stunning golden cross in the Greek style covered in jewels. According to legend, this cross was carried by King Pelayo and his men as they fought back the invading Moors in the 8th century and sparked the beginning of the Reconquest of Spain. The Holy Chamber was gentrified in the 12th century and important change was made: the ceiling of wooden beams was given a new ceiling in the style of a Romanesque barrel vault.

Rib vault ceiling characteristic of Gothic architecture and a rose window.

The structure went under several important changes during the Late Middle Ages. Many of its Pre-Romanesque and Romanesque structures were destroyed and replaced with Gothic architecture such as a cloister, a chapter room, and a main chapel with aisles, among others. The construction of these new portions took several decades to complete and progress was generally slow until the 1500s when it was nearly finished. If one were to walk around the cathedral today, one would find that there are wide, spacious alleys surrounding the structure, but this was not always the case. Old houses originally cluttered the borders of the cathedral, full of narrow, unpleasant alleys. This was changed in the 1500s when the houses were removed to create space for wider walkways.

The most notable feature of the Oviedo Cathedral is its elaborately decorated bell tower. Originally, two towers were going to be built but instead only one came to realization. This was not because funds ran out. Rather, it was popular at the time to have a single, massive bell towers rather than two smaller ones. The cathedral’s tower was completed in 1551 but was destroyed by a lightning strike in 1575. When it was rebuilt, the architect of the time decided to blend aspects of Renaissance and Gothic architecture.

cathedral of oviedo
The portico of the cathedral.

After the 16th century, less extensive renovations affected the cathedral, but still some changes were made with the times. For example, in the 17th and 18th centuries, some Baroque architecture was added. In fact, a Pre-Romanesque burial pantheon for Asturian monarchs that had been built by Alfonso II was destroyed and replaced with an elaborate Baroque chapel. Since that time, however, the only main changes to the cathedral have been to keep the old structure from falling into disrepair. Today, the Oviedo Cathedral remains an impressive open book of the history of different architectural styles.

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