City in northwestern Spain, capital of Asturias
Monuments of Oviedo and the Kingdom of the Asturias
Eminent testimony to the civilization of the small Christian Kingdom of the Asturias
Location and site
The town of Oviedo is in the autonomous Asturias region of northern Spain, between the mountains (the Cantabria Range) and the sea (the Mar Cantabrico, or the Bay of Biscay).
The cultural heritage and layout of Oviedo still faithfully reflect its original urban plan. The medieval part of town, whose thirteenth century walls are still largely intact, consists of three streets running north-south and a principal route running from east to west. In the north-east section of the historic zone is the vast episcopal district with the cathedral and adjacent buildings, and the civil district reaches towards the south. Most of the structures in the old town were built after the fire, largely in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
There are, however, a few religious buildings that date back to the early Middle Ages, such as the church known as Camara Santa de San Salvador de Oviedo and the San Julian de los Prados Basilica, which both bear witness to Oviedo’s heyday in the eleventh century. In addition, archaeological digs have revealed a well called La Foncalada dating back to the same era. The latter is a fascinating example of an effective hydraulic system based on even older technology. Two other buildings in Oviedo are already among the World Heritage listings: the Church of Santa Maria del Naranco and the Church of San Miguel de Lillo. Built between 842 and 850, these two architectural masterpieces are unique examples of the pre-Roman Asturian building style of the early Middle Ages.
The later religious buildings, such as the Gothic San Salvador Cathedral from the fifteenth century, and the Roman San Vicente Monastery, suggest the persistence of the Christian church throughout the Middle Ages. First and foremost, Ovideo’s monuments are priceless relics of the Kingdom of Asturias, which existed so long ago that few of its buildings remain. But in addition, the town in its entirety serves as a illustration of how Christianity has persisted in northern Spain ever since the late Middle Ages.
Criterion (i): Pre-Romanesque Asturian architecture represents a unique artistic achievement which is neither a metamorphosis of Paleo-Christian art nor a feature of Carolingian art. These churches which are of basilical layout, entirely vaulted, and which make use of columns instead of piers, have very rich decors inspired from Arab elements as well as shapes which associate them with the great sanctuaries of Asia Minor.
Criterion (ii): Asturian monuments have exerted decisive influence on the development of medieval architecture in the Iberian Peninsula.
Criterion (iv): The palaces and churches in the surroundings of Oviedo provide eminent testimony to the civilization of the small Christian Kingdom of the Asturias during the splendour of the Emirate of Cordoba.
- Under Carolingian rule in Western and Central Europe, the Iberian Visigoths established a Christian kingdom in the northern part of the peninsula. Over the second half of the eighth century, they built a basilica dedicated to the Saviour in a place then known as Ovetao. A group of monks established themselves on a neighbouring hill in the same era, founding a monastery.
- The buildings were destroyed by the Moors in 794, but Alphonse II, king of Asturias, had them completely rebuilt. He chose Oviedo as the new capital of his kingdom, and bequeathed it many secular and ecclesiastical buildings. The town flourished, and played an important role during the ninth century when it even enjoyed a diplomatic relationship with the Carolingian court at Aix-la-Chappelle.
- In the ninth century, the relics of the Martyrs of Cordoba were transferred to Oviedo. The sanctuary (the Camara Santa) that was built to house them became a pilgrimage site whose popularity during the Middle Ages rivalled that of Santiago de Compostella.
- When the court of the Asturian kings moved to Leon, Ovideo lost much of its political influence, but managed to keep its ecclesiastical authority by keeping the episcopal seat. From then on the relationship between the Oviedo bishops and the Crown was very strained. The numerous ecclesiastical buildings demonstrate how powerful religious authority was in medieval times.
- In 1521, a devastating fire destroyed nearly the whole town and threw the established social order into disarray. It was then that secular powers took over from the religious authorities. In spite of the fire, there are still buildings from the early Middle Ages in Oviedo. Any modifications that are made today are strictly regulated to preserve the authentic medieval urban fabric of the town.
Sr. Alfredo Canteli
Alcalde de Oviedo
Excmo. Ayuntamiento de Oviedo
Plaza de la Constitución, s/n
Oviedo, Asturias, España
+34 984 08 38 00