La Alberca and the Sierra de Francia

This is going to be one of those frustrating posts where my photographic skills sadly disappoint in capturing the landscape and buildings adequately.

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Historically, Miranda del Castanar was the capital of the Sierra de Francia area, but La Alberca holds that position now and is visibly the more prosperous town. While distinctly medieaval, it doesn’t ‘feel’ as ancient as Miranda does and the remains of a pre-Roman settlement have been found under part of the town.

The town was resettled in the C12th. and C13th. with a significant number of settlers being Burgundian French, reflected in the numerous French names and references in the area, such as the ‘Sierra de Francia’.

The streets are typically narrow and paved and the degree of up-keep of the buildings declines noticeably away from the main square and tourist area, although evidence of significant former prosperity abounds in the architecture on closer inspection.

According to legend, in 1465 the women of the town defeated the attacking Portuguese troops of the Prior of Ocrato, capturing their standard in the process.  It is still kept in the town to this day.

The main square (Plaza Mayor) is very much the central feature of the town. Despite sitting at just over 1,000m and with a biting chill to the air, there were still geraniums in flower in a few hanging baskets adding a vestigial spot of colour.

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Some 5km away (12km by road) is the ‘Sanctuario de Nuestra Señora de la Peña de Francia‘ or ‘The Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Rock of France’, which sits atop the 1,727m Peña de Francia. In 1434 one Simon Vela, a French Pilgrim, discovered a Romanesque image of the Virgin in a cave on the summit of the mountain, now in the crypt of the White Chapel. In 1436 construction began on the Convent and the Church which was completed in 1450, while subsequent further additions have been added over the intervening centuries.

It is a desolate and windswept spot, even on the warm December day when I visited; the temperature dropping noticeably as I wound my way up to the summit. The remnants of some early snow being a pertinent reminder that during the winter months the Sanctuary is typically cut off. During the summer months however, it is a popular destination for pilgrims as well as a wedding venue.

Time to descend to warmer climes!

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