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Astorga (Municipality, Castilla y León, Spain)

Last modified: 2019-01-13 by ivan sache
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Flag of Astorga - Image by Antonio Gutiérrez (VexiLeon website), 18 February 2015


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Presentation of Astorga

The municipality of Astorga (12,015 inhabitants in 2010, therefore the 3rd most populous municipality in the province; 4,678 ha; municipal website) is located in the center of the Province of León, 50 km of León. The municipality is made of the town of Astorga and of the villages of Castrillo de los Polvazares (70 inh.), Murias de Rechivaldo (109 inh.), Santa Catalina de Somoza (60 inh.) and Valdeviejas (167 inh.).

Astorga emerged as a Roman camp set up in 19 BC by the 10th Legion ("Legio X Gemina") after the submission of the Asturs, whose settlement was renamed Asturica Augusta. Very interested in the nearby gold mines, the Romans made a few decades later Asturcia the capital of the "conventus asturum". Remains of ditches, of thermae, of a temple dedicated to August, of the forum and of the sewage system have been preserved until now. The most famous significant Roman remains are found in the so-called Mosaic's House, dated from the 1st century AD; the house was paved in the late 2nd century with mosaics representing an allegory of autumn and the myth of Orpheus.
In the 4th century, the town was reorganized and surrounded with walls. At the end of the 11th century, the first cathedral was built in Romanesque style and the street arrangement was redefined, blurring the Roman hippodamic (designed for horse-driven cart traffic) template.

Astorga was made in the 14th century the seat of a Marquisate ruled by the Osorio. Bishop Alvaro Osorio y Guzmán (1440-1463) started in 1444 the building on the today's cathedral; reusing some parts of the early Romanesque cathedral, the Astorga cathedral was built in Spanish flamboyant Gothic style, also used for the Seville and Salamanca cathedrals. The baroque facade was added in 1708 by Pablo Antonio Ruiz. The old tower, started in 1678 and damaged in 1775 during the Lisbon earthquake, was achieved in 1965 only; the new tower was built in 1692-1704.

In 1545, María Cortés de Zúñiga, the daughter of the conquistador Hernán Cortés, married Álvaro Pérez Osorio, the heir of the Marquisate of Astorga. A local tradition says that part of María's dowry was made of chocolate imported from Mexico, which started chocolate industry in Astorga; cocoa was transported from the port of Corunna to Astorga via the dense network of muleteer's trails, also used to bring fish to the town. In 1753, Astorga housed eight chocolate factories; In 1914, "Chocolate Town" housed 49 chocolate factories, including the most important in Spain. Following the saturation of the market, several chocolate makers emigrated to Europe and South America, spreading Astorga's fame worldwide. The Municipal Chocolate Museum (website) was inaugurated in 2005, based on the collection accumulated by the trader José Luis López García (1927-2010); the museum is housed in the former factory and residence of Magín Rubio González, purchased in 1996 by the municipality.

Ivan Sache, 20 June 2011


Symbols of Astorga

The flag of Astorga (municipal website) is red with the municipal coat of arms in the middle.

The coat of arms of Astorga is "Gules a branch of oak proper. The shield surmounted by a Marquis' coronet [and placed over a parchment or]". The coat of arms of Astorga is one of the oldest known in the León Province, but the origin and meaning of the oak branch are unknown yet. Pedro Junto, in a document published in 1635 in Pamplona and the oldest description of the arms, gives a fanciful explanation based on the (remote) similarity between "Roma" (Rome) and robur (an oak); the red field would represent the Roman camp and the blood shed by enemies assaulting it. A more modern interpretation presents the oak branch, depicted as nearly dry, as the symbol of force increasing with time.
The coat of arms is historical, used "since immemorial times", and, therefore, without date of adoption or proper legislation.

Ivan Sache & Eduardo Panizo Gómez (Banderas y escudos de la Provincia de León, Vol. 1), 20 June 2011