Pre-Romanesque Santa Maria del Naranco & the La Balesquida Festival
Back in town we stopped at the recently constructed convention centre that was designed by famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. Liliana then directed me to drive into downtown Oviedo and we parked the vehicle in the underground garage next to the Teatro Campoamor. We started strolling down the Calle del Palacio Valdés and on one of the side streets we stopped and admired a life-size bronze statue of Woody Allen.
Woody Allen with Liliana, my guide
The famous American filmmaker had won the Prince of Asturias Award in 2003 and fell in love with Oviedo. He made a promise to one day come back and shoot a film in Oviedo and did indeed return to film parts of his 2008 romantic comedy Vicky Cristina Barcelona here in Oviedo. The sculpture is indeed life-like; unfortunately some avid souvenir collectors had relieved Woody’s sculpture of his trademark glasses.
The Cathedral of Oviedo
Our stroll then took us back southeast towards Oviedo’s cathedral where celebrations were starting for an important local festival: La Balesquida, also referred to as Martes del Campo (Field Tuesday), celebrates a wealthy 13th century lady of Oviedo, Doña Velasquita Giráldez, who made a large donation to the Tailors Guild to help the poor. She also became the patron saint of the tailors. This festival is always celebrated on the first Tuesday after Pentecost and involves a procession from the Balesquida Chapel to the Church of San Tirso, followed by a meal of bolos preñaos (literally translated “pregnant buns” – Asturian paprika-flavoured sausage rolls) in the Campo de San Francisco Park.
Some of the bands of La Balesquida
Multiple bands were getting ready for the procession on the Cathedral Square: from the typical Asturian bagpipers – part of the region’s Celtic heritage – to traditional bands playing Spanish pasodoble to Brazilian rhythm sections, dozens of musicians were lined up to participate in the festivities. We followed the bands to San Francisco Park where it seemed the whole town was lined up to watch the festivities. We also watched a round of bolos, the Asturian version of bowling, where the balls are aimed at a grouping of nine pins and tossed through the air. The balls are tossed for quite some distance, and the accuracy of these Asturian bowlers was amazing.
Bandstand in the Campo de San Francisco
Then Liliana took me back to the cathedral where she explained that the current 14th century cathedral was built on top of a Romanesque church from the 9th century. The cathedral only has one tower because money ran out during construction. Across the cathedral square is a sculpture called La Regenta, representing the main character of a novel by famous writer Leopoldo Alas “Clarín”, considered a masterpiece of 19th century Spanish writing.
At the end of our tour of Oviedo Liliana took me to a store called Camilo de Blas, the oldest pastry shop in Oviedo. In continuous operation since 1914, this shop sells a variety of Asturian sweets and pastries. One of the most famous is the carbayon, which means “Asturian oak tree”. The recipe is typical of Oviedo and contains a mix of egg, ground almonds, brandy or sweet wine and sugar, covered in cinnamon-flavoured syrup.
One of the scenes of Woody Allen’s movie “Vickie Cristina Barcelona” was filmed in this iconic store. With its historic store fixtures, an old vintage cash register and its assortment of sweets, liqueurs and wines, this traditional store has been enchanting Oviedo’s taste buds for almost 100 years.
Oviedo’s famous store Camilo de Blas