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Arco de Santa María: The Medieval Gateway to Burgos

Last Updated on 15th March 2022 by Sophie Nadeau

Heralding the entrance to the ancient city of Burgos, a picturesque city on the ancient route of the Camino, the Arco de Santa María truly is a must-see while on any jaunt through the city. And not just because this is one of a former set of twelve entranceways that would have marked the beginning of ancient Burgos…

Instead, this fantastic feat of engineering is a beautifully carved stone masterpiece whose history dates back well over seven centuries. And as one of the first major attractions that any visitor to the city will be likely to experience, the Arch is best-seen at sunrise or sunset, when the golden light is at its most beautiful and all of your photos will turn out picture perfect!

#ad | This post is sponsored by TRANSROMANICA, the Romanesque Routes of European Heritage as certified by the Council of Europe. All opinions, words, and photos, remains those of the editor. 

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A brief history of the Arco de Santa María

Once upon a time, Burgos would have been a walled city, with the entrances to its inner sanctum guarded by twelve magnificent gates. The Saint March Archway would have been the main entryway and formed a significant part of the 12th-century walls which encircled Burgos, keeping the city safe and allowing its prosperous Cathedral to become one of the greatest seats of power and learning in this part of Europe.

Like many medieval fortifications in Europe, the walls and their corresponding gateways were destroyed over time, with the stones repurposed for houses and other building projects. As such, the Arco de Santa María you see today is actually a 16th-century reconstruction at the behest of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.

You see, the design is that of a Triumphal Arch, i.e. the kind that can be found in Montpellier, Paris, and Bucharest and was a reward (of sorts) for the city since Burgos’ leaders supported Charles V during a revolt.

Spend long enough looking at the arch today and you’ll soon spy some of these leaders, as well as other notable figures from Burgos’ long and interesting history. Since the 1940s, the historic arch and gateway has been a listed historic monument.

Arco de Santa María: The Medieval Gateway to Burgos in Northern Spain, Europe

How to visit the Arco de Santa María

Of course, the likelihood is that if you’re looking for the best things to do in Burgos, then the Arco de Santa María will be the very first attraction you visit. Free to enjoy from both the exterior and interior, you should know before you go that the indoor space is now used to house temporary exhibitions.

What this means is that no two visits are ever the same. Though the temporary exhibitions are always changing, the exposed wooden beams of the ceiling are not, and nor is the beautiful masonry to be found throughout the structure. Elsewhere in the building, visitors can always experience an exhibition of antique pharmaceutical equipment.

Otherwise, it’s worth noting that the Triumphal Arch is lit up on a nightly basis, providing beautiful viewing and an even more stunning photo. For the best view of the Arch and the Cathedral in one photo, be sure to stand on the other side of the river, on the pavement alongside Calle Merced.

View of Burgos Cathedral in Spain

Nearby Attractions and things to do in Burgos

Of course, thanks to its central location, there’s no shortage of interesting things to see and do close to the Saint Mary Archway. So, once you’ve parked up and grabbed your things to start exploring for the day (I highly recommend bringing along a camera!), here’s a guide to the best things to do in Burgos. For more inspiration, check out our guide to the best quotes about Spain.

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