The 26-kilometre path to Burgos crosses a vast swath of human history.
It starts with a midday traverse of Atapuerca. Here, in limestone caves below the Atapuerca Massif, archaeologists uncovered (in 1994) a cache of human remains stretching across a pre-Christian era of 127,000 to 1,000,000 years ago. These are the oldest human remains in all of Europe and, by far, the largest repository of those remains. The caves are off-limits to mere living descendants but we can ponder our pagan past as we mount the massif.
At the top, the view opens to our first glimpse of the Meseta, a broad plain that will take several days to cross as our pilgrimage continues westward. But before that, there is the sprawl of Burgos. There are two approaches to this old-yet-modern city of 170,000. One follows a (reportedly) idyllic path along rio Arlanzón. We chose the ‘industrial-duty’ path instead, plunging us headlong into a world of truck routes and fields of parking lots, dotted with vast one-story warehouses for furniture, cars and what-have-you. It is our path of choice, a chance to experience modern Spain. Which has a striking resemblance to the outskirts (and occasionally the ‘inskirts’) of North American cities. Or to the initial pilgrimage we traipsed two weeks earlier, from the front door of our Winnipeg house to the airport, through a comparably ‘modern’ part of our city’s urbanscape. A global, post-Christian world.
This Spanish version suddenly gives way to a medieval city centre, full of the busy, narrow streets and charming squares that we have become acquainted with on our journey. At its core, dominating with its scale, architectural finesse and sheer audacity, is the Cathedral. Here is a city worth spending an extra day to explore – as we did – if for no more a reason than to spend that day with this magnificent church building. But there are paseos to be strolled in the early evening glow, squares to be discovered after dark and regional food to be savoured, such as the rich Morcilla, or blood sausage.
Finally, to complete our journey along the human timeline, we visit the Museum of Human Evolution. Fittingly located across the river from the Christian core of Burgos, this new museum “tries to offer a holistic vision of human presence on the Earth” – or so the museum’s website asserts – using a variety of contemporary, interactive displays to interpret the nearby Atapuerca finds. Like the Cathedral, this is a place worth spending a day to explore.