Ayuntamiento de Palencia

History

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Imagen Canvas by German Calvo

Allegory of Palencia

Just above the main staircase in the City Hall there is a large canvas by the local painter Germán Calvo depicting the history and traditions of Palencia (download pdf)

Origins

Scholars don’t agree about the origin of the word Pallantia, which is the name Palencia had before Roman times. Some think it derives from the Celtic word pala, which means plain. Others see a Greek origin, from the goddess Pallas, and a third theory suggest that it might have a Basque root, meaning large fertile lowland.

Pallantia was the most important town of the Vaccaei, a Celtic people who settled down in these lands north of the river Duero, although very little is known about their culture or traditions.

Roman occupation

Imagen Tiled floor in La OlmedaThe city was starved into submission by the Romans in the 2nd century BC and incorporated into the province of Hispania Tarraconensis, in the jurisdiction of Colonia Clunia Sulpicia (modern Clunia). Although the little Roman garrison became a busy town, it was not as important as other Roman settlements in the surrounding territory. Archeologists have uncovered the remains of Roman villas in La Olmeda and in Quintanilla de la Cueza, where the fragments of mosaic tiled floors are absolutely superb.

Invasions

Imagen coin of visigothic originAccording to the 5th-century Galician chronicler Idatius, the city of Palencia was destroyed in the year 457 AD, during the Visigothic wars against the Suevi.

The invasion of the Iberian Peninsula by Moorish troops in 711 brought about the depopulation of Palencia. Its inhabitants fled the city and sought refuge in the mountains up north. The Moors never seemed to be very interested in this land either so most of the Spanish northern plateau became a sort of no man's land.

In the 8th Century the Reconquista (reconquest) started in the christian kingdom of Asturias and a process of gradual repopulation  began. Now and then, the Muslims would launch raids against the christian settlements and thus, in the year 1000, an army led by Almanzor sacked the city. Finally, Sancho III of Navarre rebuilt the city and reestablished the diocese in 1035. From that moment on Palencia, unlike most other towns, was ruled by the Bishop instead of a noble man.

A Queen of France, the first University of Spain, and a new Cathedral

During the reign of Alphonse VIII (1158-1214), being Tello Téllez de Meneses Bishop of Palencia, the city reached its heyday. Palencia is also the birthplace of Blanche of Castile (1188), daughter of the King and Eleonor of Plantagenet, who became later Queen of France as a result of her marriage with Louis VII. Numerous privileges were awarded to the city. Among these, the first free City Council was chartered and in 1212 the Studium Generale (General Studies) were established. This became the origin of the first University in Spain and the transformation of Palencia into an outstanding cultural settlement.

Imagen Cathedral of Palencia (inside)

In 1219 a new, Romanesque cathedral, precursor of the current one, was consecrated. Several convents were founded at that time as well, such as San Pablo, following a a personal request of Saint Dominic, and a Franciscan one.

The first Prince of Asturias

Imagen picture of the first Princess of Asturias, Katherine of LancasterWhen King Ferdinand IV died in 1312, his heir Alphonse was a minor, and several disputes arose among those trying to control his guardianship. The noblemen of Palencia largely supported the heir's grandamother, María de Molina, who would finally become regent and later reward this by granting new benefits and privileges. Later on, in the course of the Civil War between Pedro I and Enrique de Trastámara (1351-1369), this area remains devastated. Only the arrival, in 1387, of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, leading English troops could change the situation. Legend has it that the Duke reached the city walls concurrently with the participation of the men in military campaigns in Portugal but could not enter it because of the defence carried out by the women in the city. This courageous action is said to have motivated Juan I to grant Palentinian women the right to wear a golden ribbon as only men were allowed to. A new historically relevant event takes place in 1338 in the Cathedral, the wedding between Enrique III of Castile and Catherine of Lancaster. Enrique is hence awarded the title of Prince of Asturias, which has been traditionally used by the heir to the Castilian throne and by the Spanish Crown Prince from later on. Additionally, this alliance puts an end to the conflict between the descendants of Pedro I and Enrique II of Castile, reinforcing the House of Trastámara and the peace between England and the Crown of Castile.



Palencia, ecclesiastical city

Under the patronage of the Catholic King and Queen, renowned personages come to Palencia, standing out Bishop Fonseca. As part of a plan to get control over the city, it is transformed into “Cabecera de la Hermandad de Campos” (Head of the sister cities of Campos). The power held by the bishops is increased and this, together with Carlos I unceasingly requesting for money, is the last straw for the so-called Comuneros to revolt. Once these men are subdued and judged, Palencia becomes a recurrent visit place for the King Carlos I who, fleeing from the pest in Valladolid, makes out of the city a crucial political centre. This importance is lost during the reign of Felipe II in favour of the above mentioned Valladolid, where bishops reside. Clemente VIII dismantles the Diocese of Palencia, which stops being a decision centre but remains keeping a deciding ecclesiastical presence. It is in the 16th century, favoured by the Bishops, when the Cathedral extension works do finally occur and a new urban development plan is designed. The construction of the Bishop’s Palace, churches such as Santa Marina orLa Compañía, and the Dominican, Carmelite, and Agustinian convents is executed. Palencia is organized as an ecclesiastical city. In 1581, the city wall is widened to the West and the Puerta de San Juan (Saint John’s Gate) is opened in Northern side of Calle Mejorada, known now as Calle Mayor.

The Canal of Castile

Imagen view of the lock at the Canal of Castile, Palencia

During the 18th century Palencia is managing to recover from previous decades but its presence in the overall panorama has worsened as a consequence of an out of date economic and agricultural structure that plunges people into poverty. In 1751, Carlos III initiates the construction of the Canal of Castile, works that will last untill 1849. Napoleonic troops are hosted in the city in the 19th century as they find no resistance against the French invasion. Mendizabal’s confiscations signify the end of the traditional Palencia in favour of a commercial, industrial middle-class. Landowners and flour and blanket makers become wealthier during World and Civil Wars by supplying and equipping the army. The thriving bourgeoisie will promote improvement in the city by the erection of important buildings in Calle Don Sancho, Calle Mayor, and the intersection of these two in Cuatro Cantones. City Walls are demolished and gardens such as Salón or Jardinillos are designed. These are the roots of the modern Palencia, an open city with roughly 83,000 dwellers which is structured around two main axes: River Carrión and the railway. Being a pivotal node of communications has defined its current shape.

Ayuntamiento de Palencia
Ayuntamiento de Palencia, 2014Plaza Mayor 1, Palencia, EspañaTlf: 979718100
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