Monuments of Oviedo and the Kingdom of the Asturias
Monuments Of Oviedo And The Kingdom Of The Asturias
Cultural Spain Europe And North America Province And Autonomous Community Of Asturias

The palaces and churches in the surroundings of Oviedo provide eminent testimony to the civilization of the small Christian Kingdom of Asturias during the splendour of the Emirate of Cordoba. Pre-Romanesque Asturian architecture represents a unique artistic achievement which is neither a metamorphosis of palaeo-Christian art nor a feature of Carolingian art. These churches, which are basilical in layout and entirely vaulted, and which make use of columns instead of piers, have very rich decors which contain Visigothic references, Arabic elements, and shapes that associate them with the great sanctuaries of Asia Minor. Asturian monuments have exerted a decisive influence on the development of medieval architecture on the Iberian peninsula.

On the morrow of the Arab conquest of Spain, the reconstitution in the mountains of Asturias of the tiny Christian kingdom of Pelage is of historical and cultural importance which greatly overshadows its political significance. For a long time, the existence of this principality, an offshoot of the Visigothic kingdom, remained precarious and it is not without a certain prejudice that the battle of Covadonga (718) was portrayed as the first victory in a war against Islam which lasted eight centuries, drawing to a close as it did with the taking of Granada by the Catholic kings.

However, the Kingdom of Asturias, although frequently threatened by Arab raids (Oviedo was captured in 789, then sacked again in 794), became a stronghold of Christianity in the 9th century and a special brand of architecture took root there, reaching its apogee under the reign of RamiréI (842-50) whom the narrative sources (chronicles of Albelda, Sebastian, and Silos) portray as a great builder.

Santa María del Naranco and San Miguel de Lillo, sanctuaries which are located in the immediate vicinity of the capital of the kingdom, Oviedo, on the slopes of Mont Naranco, both are traced back to the reign of Ramiré. A third edifice, which is slightly more recent, makes use of the spatial, structural and decorative innovations of the Ramirian period: it is the church of Santa Cristina de Lena, 37 km south of Oviedo on the road to León.

Santa María del Naranco is a former royal residence built on two levels. Excavations in 1930-34 revealed the existence of baths in one of the lower rooms. This rectangular Ramirian palace which was converted into a church between 905 and 1065, has exterior stairways at the north end and a balcony at the south end;it opens to the east and west via loggias which act as lookout points poised upon bays and open at all three sides.

San Miguel de Lillo, which has been a church right from the very start, has only retained the first two admirably balanced bays of an ambitious building which bears a strong resemblance to the Naranco Palace.

Santa Cristina de Lena, a harmonious but smaller version of these exceptional creations embodies the final phase of this incomparable Asturian architecture (c . 850-66), if it is indeed true, as believed, that this was the chapel of the royal domain of Ordoño I.