Spanish World Heritage Sites – Former Capitals!

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Spain might have been one of the most powerful united empires during it’s Golden Age. But before it was united under one crown it went through several transitions. Almost every province of modern day Spain was once it’s own kingdom, with its own kings and laws. Below, we’ve compiled a very interesting list of some of Spain’s most prominent capitals! Take a look, and hopefully the next time you visit one of these places you can envision their former glory! Also check out our trips agenda and feel free to join us on one of our many trips around Spain!

Toledo (16th Century)

A city of many names, Toledo is known as the “former capital of the Spanish Empire”, the City of Three Cultures and the Imperial City. And it is because of all these names, the city is a very important member on this list. It was crowned a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986 specifically for the cities unbelievable cultural and historical relevance to the history of Spain. It was once the home of the Royal Court, and the largest multicultural metropolis the Empire had ever seen. It’s gets its most famous fame from the three major groups which populated the city – The Jews, The Catholics and the Muslims!

Burgos (11th Century)

Burgos is located in northern Spain and has been an important location in the country since the time of the Romans. In Hispania, Burgos was one of the most visited trading posts in the area, so naturally it grew in size. When the Catholic Empire took over, Burgos was converted into the capital of the kingdom of Castile. During its reign over Castile, Burgos continued to be a strong trading post, creating a unique population of merchants, as well as a strong foundation of the Catholic faith because of the sheer amounts of pilgrims who would pass through. The city was wealthy and powerful. So much so, that the city was actually the provider of Spain’s mounted soldiers. The Cathedral of Burgos was declared a World Heritage Site in 1984.

Sevilla (8th Century)

When the Moorish people invaded the Roman occupied region of Spain (Hispania), they chose Sevilla to be their commanding post of operations. Over the span of 500 years, the city remained the capitals of several empires, from the Umayyad Caliphate, the Almoravid dynasty to the Almohad dynasty. The city grew into one of the most prosperous places in the Empire – advancing in economic developments, education and architecture. To this day, Sevilla is the heart and soul of Southern Spain. Looking more arabic than anything you would see in the norther parts of the country! The AlcázarCathedral and General Archive of the Indies in Sevilla are all declared UNESCO sites!

Zaragoza (11th Century)

There are many cities in Spain that can hold their own when it comes to art, architecture, history and culture. Zaragoza is one of them. This city might not be famous outside of Spain, but within the country it is one of the most interesting “smaller” cities in the north. Zaragoza has been a thriving city since the time of the Romans – but its most famous era is when it was the capital of the kingdom of Aragon. But its fame doesn’t come from politics, but rather its close connection to religion. There are several festivals and tales that take place in Zaragoza which are directly related to close encounters with God, Mary and various martyrs. Several architectural wonders in Zaragoza have been declared as UNESCO World Heritage sites, such as La Seo and the Aljafería.

León (8th Century)

Currently, León is just one part of the north eastern region of Spain called Castilla y León. But in it’s younger days, León was truly one of the coolest kingdoms on the Iberian Peninsula. In the 1st century BC, León was founded by the Roman VII Legion and was established as a military headquarters, where it grew into a fully formed city. Later, the Asturias gained power in the kingdom, and León quickly became arguably the most important city in Iberia. From trade, to strength, the city was extremely powerful. During the Moorish rule of Spain, León became a stronghold for loyal Christians and the Asturias began expanding their own territory. The region even had its own language, called Asturian-Leonesse which can be dated as far back as 974 and is still spoken by small communities today! The historical centre of León, as well as its place along the Camino de Santiago are all considered UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Santiago de Compostela (10th Century)

Located in one of the most unique and gorgeous regions of Spain, lies a city called Santiago de Compostela, more commonly known as Santiago. Today it is the capital of the province of Galicia, just as it was the capital of the kingdom of Galicia in the middle ages. But not only was the city politically important, at one point in time it was the religious centre of Iberia. The city got its name from the Saint whose remains were buried there and was officially recognized as a holy place by the Pope. It was also the final point of the famous pilgrimage known as the Camino de Santiago (The Way of Saint James) which is still done today and is an official UNESCO World Heritage Site! Due to its religious power and immense wealth, Santiago was also a popular target for the Vikings, so popular in fact that it is even mentioned by the name of “Gallizaland” in the Viking Sagas.

Valencia (14th Century)

 has actually been the capital of two kingdoms – the Moorish Taifa of Valencia from the 9th-13th century and the Christian Kingdom of Valencia from the 14th-18th century. Technically, the city existed under the crown of Aragon. But the two kingdoms had a sort of agreement, that allowed Valencia to govern itself. For more than 100 years the Christians and the Muslims fought over the kingdom of Valencia, but in the end the Aragonese had defeated their opponents. Throughout the 15th century the city grew very prosperous – it had quite a successful bank and was a leader in the trade industry due to its ports. Valencia was not independent for long though, and when Queen Isabella married the Habsburg King Ferdinand, the kingdom of Spain was born. In 1996 UNESCO declared Valencia’s Gothic quarter as a World Heritage Site.


Your friendly neighbourhood travel guide,

– Leah

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