At the confluence of two rivers, Valladolid is one of Spain’s most historical cities in a country teeming with legacy and legends.

Settled by Celts and then Romans, it grew to become the seat of the Court of Castille (and therefore Spain) in the Middle Ages. 

Plaza de Zorrilla

As such, Valladolid was endowed with trading privileges, markets and fairs as well as one of the countries earliest universities, the Royal Court Chancery and Royal Mint. It saw the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabel of Castille in 1469 and the death of Christopher Columbus in 1506.Its artistic heritage boasts the poets Francisco de Quevedo and Jose Zorrilla and the author of Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes.

Architects and master builders famed in the 1500s constructed its most important buildings, including the first example of a Renaissance building in Spain, the Santa Cruz Palace. It was very beguiling. 

Begun in a Gothic style in 1486, the design swiftly shifted to embrace the Renaissance, including a spectacular three-story arcaded interior in dazzling white limestone.

The religious and academic heart of the old city is a mix of white limestone and golden sandstone which shone under the emerging blue skies.

Recently cleaned and restored the charming church of Santa Maria la Antigua is a good example of the mix of architectural styles and stones. Its honey-coloured Romanesque tower and portal date from the 1100s, whilst its later Gothic naves and sanctuary were built in the 1400s.

Santa Maria de la Antigua

Opposite, the romantic-looking ruins of the original 13th century Collegiate Church are crumbling amid trees and ivy and only propped up by the outer wall of the cathedral.

Valladolid’s cathedral was begun in the 1500s and was to be the largest in all of Spain, but finances became a problem when the Royal Court moved its home from the city to Madrid.

Cathedral behind Calle Regalado

The absence of the royal family and accompany nobles meant the money dried up and less than half of the original conception was eventually completed. We were told that its great green doorway, set in a stone portico eventually in 1730, only opens during the city’s spectacular celebrations of Semana Santa.

During the two weeks of the Easter festivities, the winding medieval streets surge with thousands of people processing with the colourfully silk-clad and coned-hat wearing Catholic Brotherhoods.

Plaza Mayor preparing for Semana Santa

Sinister in appearance, and especially when on horseback and bearing fiery torches, their members carry huge wooden sculptures or ‘pasos’ depicting in gruesome detail the passion and crucifixion of Christ.

We were a week too early to see the spectacle but did admire a heart-wrenching and sorrowing Maria de los Dolores dressed ready for her procession, following in the tradition that can be traced to 1411 and which boomed in Valladolid monasteries in the late 1400s and early 1500s.

Perhaps the finest emblems of the city during these times are the neighbouring and splendid St Pablo church and San Gregoria college.

We visited late in the afternoon when the warming sun burst onto their golden sandstone porticos, teeming with detailed sculptures of local nobles, scriptural figures, academics, animals, flowers and even a mischievous goat all decorated in delicate lace-like stonemasonry in the ‘plateresque’ style.

With the capital of the Kingdom of Spain moving to Madrid (although it briefly returned during 1601 – 1606) Valladolid became a quieter, provincial capital of Castile and Leon. It boomed during the industrial years of the 19th century when the bourgeoisie became established as the dominant social class.

Industrialisation began with the arrival of the railway in the city, which led to the seizing of church property to provide for urban expansion.

A wonderful array of highly decorated and iron-worked town houses line the Acera de Recoletos which was built along a new boulevard leading from the new railway station into the new heart of the city, the Plaza de Zorrilla. Casa de Principe is a fine example of local Modernisme, created in 1906.

We stumbled across an unexpected treat inside the gold, green and mirrored interior of the shopping arcade the Pasaje Gutierrez (1886). 

Pasaje Gutierrez

Romantic figures of goddesses and satyrs held up brass lamps under the domed, glazed ceiling to light the bevelled glass shop fronts of the upmarket boutiques and bars. It felt as if we had been transported briefly back to the Parisian heyday of the late 19th century.

We finished a wonderful day of sight seeing by enjoying the local’s dramas at the sun-drenched Plaza Mayor in the early evening.

Smartly dressed and squabbling women berated each other over glasses of wine and boutique bags of shopping, breakdancing teenagers practiced on the stages set up for Semana Santa, begging gypsies asked for pennies and an elderly couple that looked as if they were still living in the styles of the 1960s, sipped on martinis in the sunshine.