León Cathedral was built on the site of previous Roman baths of the 2nd century. During the Christian reconquest the ancient Roman baths were converted into a royal palace. King Ordoño II, who had occupied the throne of Leon in 916, defeated the Arabs in the Battle of San Esteban de Gormaz in 917. As a sign of gratitude to God for victory, he gave up his palace to build the first cathedral. Under the episcopate of Fruminio II, the building was transformed into a sacred place. The tomb of Ordoño II of Leon, who died in 924, is found in the cathedral.
After the political turmoil and Moorish raids that lasted till 1067 the state of the cathedral was in extreme poverty. This would move to King Ferdinand I of León, who, after transferring the remains of San Isidoro to León, sought to restore the temple. This king achieved success in the expansion of the kingdom.
With the help of Princess Teresa Urraca of Navarre, sister of the king, the construction of a second cathedral was started. It fell within the Pelayo II episcopal see. Its style was essentially Romanesque, built in brick and masonry, with three naves finished in semicircular apses, the central one dedicated to Saint Mary, as in the previous church. While the cathedral was built according to the international style, examination of what has survived of its original facade, its originally indigenous nature can be noted. There is still the use of the horseshoe arch, at least decoratively. The cathedral was consecrated on November 10, 1073 during the reign of Alfonso VI. Presumably the same masons who were building the Basilica of San Isidoro of Leon worked on it.
This cathedral remained standing until the end of the next century. When the last proprietary king of Leon, Alfonso IX, rose to the throne, the city and the kingdom witnessed major social, artistic, and cultural changes.
Construction of the third cathedral, now Gothic in style, began circa 1205, but problems with the foundation delayed continued work until 1255. The design is attributed to the master Enrique, perhaps a native of France, who had previously worked on the Cathedral of Burgos. In 1302 Bishop Gonzalo Osorio opened the whole church to the people. However, during the fourteenth century the cloister, the north end tower were at last to be finished, and the south tower was not completed until the second half of the fifteenth century.
The Cathedral of Leon follows the layout of the Rheims Cathedral in France. Like most French cathedrals, the one of Leon is built with a geometric module based on the triangle (ad triangulum), the primary lines of which relate to the square root of 3, and to which respond all of the parts and the whole. This aspect, as with the layout, the elevations, and the decorative and symbolic repertoires, makes this cathedral an authentic trans-Pyrenee building, removed from Hispanic fashion and belonging to the purest school of French Champagne.
The main façade has two towers. The southern tower is known as the 'clock tower'. The Renaissance retrochoir contains alabaster sculptures by Jusquin, Copin of Holland and Juan de Malinas. Particularly noteworthy is the Plateresque iron grillwork screen in the wall behind the sepulchre of King Ordoño.
It has three portals decorated with sculptures situated in the pointed arches between the two towers. The central section has a large rose window. Particularly outstanding is the image of the Virgen Blanca and the Locus Appellatione, where justice was imparted.
The church has nearly 1,800 square meters of stained glass windows. The great majority of them date from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century: a rarity among medieval gothic churches.
In the Main Chapel, there is an altarpiece by Nicolás Francés (15th century) and a silver urn containing the relics of San Froilán, the town's patron saint, made by Enrique de Arfe. The 13th- to 15th-century cloister contains sculpted details in the capitals, friezes and ledges.
The Cathedral Museum houses a large collection of sacred art. There are almost 1,500 pieces, including 50 Romanesque sculptures of the Virgin, dating from pre-historic times to the 18th century (Neoclassicism) with works by Juan de Juni, Gregorio Fernández, Mateo Cerezo, a triptych of the School of Antwerp, a Mozarabic bible and numerous codices. The first manuscript in Leonese language, the Nodicia de Kesos, can be found in its archives.References:
Built around AD 90 to entertain the legionaries stationed at the fort of Caerleon (Isca), the impressive amphitheatre was the Roman equivalent of today’s multiplex cinema. Wooden benches provided seating for up to 6,000 spectators, who would gather to watch bloodthirsty displays featuring gladiatorial combat and exotic wild animals.
Long after the Romans left, the amphitheatre took on a new life in Arthurian legend. Geoffrey of Monmouth, the somewhat imaginative 12th-century scholar, wrote in his History of the Kings of Britain that Arthur was crowned in Caerleon and that the ruined amphitheatre was actually the remains of King Arthur’s Round Table.
Today it is the most complete Roman amphitheatre in Britain.