“Arid and cold is the land of Soria. Among the hills and the bare mountains, green meadows and ashen slopes, spring comes scattering small white daisies over the fragrant grasses”. So begins a poem by the admired Sevillian poet Antonio Machado (1875-1939) from his book Campos de Castilla (Landscapes of Castille) dedicated to Soria, the Spanish town where he lived during a very important part of his life.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of Machado´s death, and Soria prepares to commemorate his significant sojourn through the city with various celebrations and tributes.
Antonio Machado came to Soria in May of 1907 at the age of 32, after accepting a professorship in French language in this Castillian city. He settled in the now defunct hotel of Isabel Cuevas, in the corner of Estudios Street, where he met Leonor Izquierdo, with whom he fell in love. After the customary courtship, the couple married on July 30, 1909 in the church of Nuestra Señora de la Mayor.
In January of 1911, they moved to Paris, where Leonor fell ill with tuberculosis, which forced the couple to return to Spain. The wife and Muse of the poet died on August 1, 1912— just three years after their marriage— and was buried in the cemetery of El Espino in Soria. A few days later Machado left the city to continue his teaching in Baeza, Jaén. In 1932, he returned to Soria for the last time to receive a heartfelt and well-deserved tribute. The poet died in the French town of Colliure on February 22, 1939. However, Soria powerfully marked his life and work, a perennial reminder of a truncated love, which was masterfully reflected his intense poetry collection.
Soria is a city that seems suspended in time as if detained in its medieval past. A tour of the areas frequented by Antonio Machado in this town may be one of the most interesting and enlightening attractions in this peaceful corner of Spain. An emotional journey by the hand of the poet, visiting locations of unusual beauty that deserve to be discovered to get to know the rich history of Spain, a country with a vast, rich and splendid cultural and artistic legacy.
Cloister of San Juan de Duero
Built between the 12th and 13th centuries, the old Hospitable Monastery of San Juan de Jerusalén is home to one of the most peculiar Romanesque cloisters in the world. The stylistic mixture that characterizes this Mudejar building with Sicilian influences makes it a place like no other. The monastery hosts, in its interior, two outstanding small temples with orientalist influences.
Cathedral of San Pedro
A clear example of Romanesque architecture in Castile, the Cathedral’s interior cloister is the crown jewel of this magnificent structure. Built in the middle of the 12th century and declared a National Monument, the courtyard retains three of its galleries, with semicircular arches on double columns resting on a continuous podium. Its sandstone capitals depict a universe of fantastic beasts, allegories and scenes from the Bible. The old refectory’s door and the entrance to the Chapter Room, with its lobed half-point arch are treasures to be cherished. This courtyard was one of the places where Machado sought reflection and inspiration.
The shrine of San Saturio was built over the grotto where the hermit Saturio lived during the 6th century. This construction is the most recognizable image of Soria, not only because it houses its patron saint, but also because it beautifully blends art and nature on the banks of the Douro River. The 18th century Temple at the end of the promenade, which links it to San Polo, consists of a rock chapel, several rooms and an octagonal church with frescoes and a baroque altarpiece.
This convent was founded during the reign of Alfonso the Battler. It was inhabited until 1312, the year when the Order of the Templars was abolished and all their properties passed into the hands of the King. This was the setting of beautiful and terrifying tales by Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer: Moon Ray and The Mountain of the Spirits. It is also an evocative refuge that inspired the poet in his long and frequent walks.
Church El Espino
“The old elm wounded by lighting and half rotten, with the April sun and the May rains, has grown a few green leaves.” This is the beginning of one of Antonio Machado’s most emblematic poems, To a Dry Elm. The centenary tree, sick and languishing in front of the Church of El Espino inspired the poet, who saw a parallel between the dying elm and his ailing wife. The remains of Leonor, the poet´s young wife, rest in a tomb nearby.
Without a doubt, the best place to stay in Soria is the Hotel Parador de Turismo (Spanish Paradors), which bears the name of Antonio Machado. Its location atop a hill provides excellent views of the monumental city. For the best cuisine in town, visit Baluarte restaurant, where you will find excellent food inspired in the Castilian tradition with interesting touches of modernity using high quality local products.
Soria is an unforgettable city, full of unique corners and endless possibilities. A Castilian land rich in art and history where once lived Antonio Machado, one of the greatest poets of the Spanish language. ■