San Esteban de Gormaz (Soria)

To San Esteban the message arrived
that Minaya was coming for his two cousins

Verses 2845 et seq. CMC

The medieval history of San Esteban de Gormaz, known in the ninth century as "Castro Moro" or "Castro Muros" according to versions, is determined by its geostrategic importance, on the border of the Duero, between Osma and Gormaz. In the year 912, by order of the king of León, the count Gonzalo Fernandez repopulated this area. Since then, and throughout the tenth century until the first half of the eleventh, San Esteban changed from Christian to Muslim hands on several occasions, given its importance as one of the gates of Castile. On September 4, 917, a Muslim army sent by Abderramán III entered Christian territory and sieged San Esteban de Gormaz. This army was defeated by the host of King Ordoño II. The muslim general Ahmad b. Muhammad was killed in battle. According to the Chronicle of Silos after defeating the muslims Ordoño II hung the head of the general in the walls of the castle next to the head of a boar. In retaliation on June 8, 920, the army of Abderramán III entered San Esteban de Gormaz sacked the city and razed it. This is how history was written in the 10th century.

After the death of Almanzor at the beginning of the 11th century and the collapse of the Andalusian caliphate, the weakness of the Taifa kingdoms made possible that, in the middle of the 11th century, under the reign of Ferdinand I, San Esteban would remain in Christian hands. The advance of the borders towards the South moved away the dangers of the war, so San Esteban could develop as a nucleus of importance: in the year 1187 the first Court of Castilla was celebrated there; by then San Esteban had more than 3,000 souls, population figure very similar to the current one.

In the Song of el Cid, San Esteban is quoted repeatedly. This reiteration and the knowledge of the place names of the surroundings, -although sometimes with geographical errors- has led some scholars to think that the anonymous poet could have lived or been a native of this village. The truth is that San Esteban and its surroundings play a very important role in the poem. According to the Song its inhabitants are measured and prudent.

 

Visiting the city

The first thing we see when approaching San Esteban de Gormaz is, the silhouette on a high hill of its old castle, from the 9th century, of Arab origin. There hardly remains the walls and  several architectural elements as the tanks used to store the rainwater. Some remains of the medieval wall which protected San Esteban can be seen in the village, such as the Arco de la Villa, right at the foot of the Duero river, the old gate of the outer wall that gave way to the city and today leads to the Town Hall through a colonnade street .

 The city has an interesting Romanesque heritage, condensed in the church of San Miguel - which was possibly being built when the Cid was banished - and the church of El Rivero. The church of San Miguel seems to be the oldest. One of its corbels represents a monk writting a book where it is carved: "Iulianus Magister Fecit Era MCXVIIII". The difficulties of reading the date makes it impossible to know with certainty whether the church was finished in 1081 or 1111. In the first case we would be facing the oldest porticoed Romanesque church in Spain. For its part, the church of Rivero is a building of volumes with arcaded gallery that keeps among its walls some curious paintings in the vault of the altar, possibly from the 13th-14th centuries; the exterior reliefs of the vault, long covered and now in an excellent state of preservation; and the roof of the choir staircase.

The walk through San Esteban leads us necessarily to the Douro River, the raison d'etre of this town, and to its medieval bridge with 16 archs. Part of the bridge has been hidden among the poplar groves of the bank. It is possible to imagine the importance of having this safe passage through the river between the 9th and 11th centuries to consolidate the frontier of the Duero river. It is said that the bridge has a Roman origin. Precisely, curious travelers, if look carefully, can find in their walk through the streets of old San Esteban some funeral steles and Roman tesserae on the walls of the houses of the village, used as simple stones for construction.

Finally, you can visit the Theme Park of the Romanesque of Castilla y León, in the outskirts of the village. It counts, among other attractions, with nine large scale models of the nine significant Romanesque buildings of Castilla and León, as well as a section of the arches of San Juan de Duero (Soria), two meters high. Side by side, it is the ethnographic museum of San Esteban.

We suggest...
  • It is worth sitting down to rest under the portico of any of the two Romanesque churches of San Esteban de Gormaz to breathe a bit of history. History buffs have an obligatory stop at the church of San Esteban, built in El Cid times, as they could be in front of the oldest porticoed church in Spain. The reliefs of the capitals and the corbels are very interesting, some symbolize medieval warriors: the different images, some in poor condition, allow the imagination of the traveler to suggest free interpretations. In addition, if you look carefully, you will discover engraved in one of the blocks a small game board similar to the tic-tac-toe game: it is the alquerque, an old medieval game of Arab origin. The inhabitants of San Esteban must have used it for generations under the same shadow that the traveler now shares.

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Rev. ALC: 25.07.18