Vitoria Gasteis is empty

Jennifer will tell you I am in Vitoria because it was the site of the pivotal battle of the Peninsular War. This is not true: I am here because she has meetings all night so I needed to be somewhere, anywhere else.

That said, it turns out that Vitoria was indeed the moment of Spanish independence from the French, who were routed here and driven back over the border. Interestingly, the retreating army abandoned a huge wagon train stuffed with loot. Did the English return the loot to the Spanish? They did not. They auctioned off the lot on the spot. This makes me think there must be a fair few Spanish altarpieces in British cupboards.

Anyway, Vitoria Gasteis is a pretty little town. It is the formal capital of the Basque region and there are graffiti and posters everywhere asserting Basqueness.

There’s not a huge amount to see. When I arrived the streets were utterly deserted and outside the main square that’s been the case all afternoon. I visited the ancient walls that Google told me were busier than usual – I was literally the only person there. To add to the sense of nothing going on, as it is Monday all the museums are closed.

So I broke my new rule, made only yesterday, and paid to go to a Cathedral. To be fair to my rule this was an unusual visit. The cathedral is not functioning as a church because it is in the midst of being made safe after beginning to fall apart. Bits started falling on people so they closed it down, have undertaken huge archeological works, and are making heroic efforts to make it safe while maintaining its history.

The cause of all this was partly that it’s an old building and its foundations are not strong. But largely it’s the fault of renovations in the 1960s designed to return it to its gothic splendor – or at least the 1960s ideal of gothic splendor. Gothis is all about vaulting vertical spaces, so those renovations removed the Renaissance horizontal arches which, it turned out, were all that were holding the walls up. The fashion of the time was that Gothic meant stark and monochrome so the renovators also removed all of the colour from the statues – colour that had been there since the statues were originally made. It’s all regrettable.

The tour was brilliant though; we got to see all of the Cathedral behind the scenes from the crypt to the roof spaces. And bonus points I understood the two hours of the tour in Spanish and even chatted with the guide about history. So that was a victory.

After a break back at the hotel to warm up – it’s cold now – I set out in search of pintxos for dinner. It quickly became apparent that this is a different part of the world to Zaragoza or Valencia with their tapas. Every single thing comes on a slice of bread. Tasty, but lots of bread. Euskal Herria (Basque country) is no place for the gluten intolerant. Luckily I am not, so another victory.

3 thoughts on “Vitoria Gasteis is empty

  1. Hi Evan, I’ve been enjoying your and Jennifer’s posts. Fascinating about places in Spain I’ve not visited (and some, such as Valencia, which I visited aeons ago).
    Do you remember Rosie McGechie? Last Monday we were at her husband Peter’s funeral in London. As is often the case, it was also an occasion to connect with old faces, including John Pritchard – we chatted about former colleagues, and I mentioned you – John sends his regards.
    Let’s hope we can catch up in person at some point, Evan. Margaret and I will be in France for a week in June. All the best

    1. I remember Rosie well. Would love an opportunity to catch up with you, we will be in Italy in June. In the north of Italy but not quite in France. The UK is not, sadly for this conversation, on our horizon.

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