1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Leon (city)

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LEON, an episcopal see and the capital of the Spanish province of Leon, situated on a hill 2631 ft. above sea-level, in the angle made by the Torio and Bernesga, streams which unite on the south, and form the river Leon, a tributary of the Esla. Pop. (1900) 15,580. Leon is on the main railway from Madrid to Oviedo, and is connected with Astorga by a branch line. The older quarters of the city, which contain the cathedral and other medieval buildings, are surrounded by walls, and have lost little of their beauty and interest from the restoration carried out in the second half of the 19th century. During the same period new suburbs grew up outside the walls to house the industrial population which was attracted by the development of iron-founding and the manufacture of machinery, railway-plant, chemicals and leather. Leon thus comprises two towns — the old, which is mainly ecclesiastical in its character, and the new, which is industrial. The cathedral, founded in 1199 and only finished at the close of the 14th century, is built of a warm cream-coloured stone, and is remarkable for simplicity, lightness and strength. It is one of the finest examples of Spanish Gothic, smaller, indeed, than the cathedrals of Burgos and Toledo, but exquisite in design and workmanship. The chapter library contains some valuable manuscripts. The collegiate church of San Isidore was founded by Ferdinand I. of Castile in 1063 and consecrated in 1149. Its architecture is Romanesque. The church contains some fine plate, including the silver reliquary in which the bones of St Isidore of Seville are preserved, and a silver processional cross dating from the 16th century, which is one of the most beautiful in the country. The convent and church of San Marcos, planned in 1514 by Ferdinand the Catholic, founded by Charles V. in 1537, and consecrated in 1541, are Renaissance in style. They are built on the site of a hostel used by pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. The provincial museum occupies the chapterhouse and contains some interesting Roman monuments. The lower part of the city walls consists of Roman masonry dating from the 3rd century. Other buildings are the high school, ecclesiastical seminaries, hospital, episcopal palace and municipal and provincial halls.

Leon (Arab. Liyun) owes its name to the Legio Septima Gemina of Galba, which, under the later emperors, had its headquarters here. About 540 Leon fell into the hands of the Gothic king Leovigild, and in 717 it capitulated to the Moors. Retaken about 742, it ultimately, in the beginning of the 10th century, became the capital of the kingdom of Leon (see Spain: History). About 996 it was taken by Almansur, but on his death soon afterwards it reverted to the Spaniards. It was the seat of several ecclesiastical councils, the first of which was held under Alphonso V. in 1012 and the last in 1288.