Originally a Celtic settlement, Astorga became crucial to Roman interests in exploiting northern Spain’s mineral wealth, especially tin, silver, and gold. The Via de la Plata (“Silver Road”), the pilgrimage road from Seville in the south, takes its name from this older Roman mineral road. It connects with the Camino Francés here from the south.
Romans built the road to move the tin, silver and gold from the mountains of Asturias, León, and Galicia to Astorga and from there south to Seville to load on ships and transport across the Mediterranean. They also built it to gain better control over local Celtic and Celtiberian tribes, both to conquer their territories and to swiftly put down uprisings and attacks on their mining operations.
Astorga’s old Roman walls, in ruin throughout most of the Middle Ages, were rebuilt in the 15th century during an affluent period in the town’s history. That was also when the town built its Gothic cathedral, replacing a Romanesque church that once stood on the same spot.
Such late Gothic in Spain also reflects another style, called Plateresque, which is a style of stone carving that looks more like the filigree lace work seen in silver (plata) ornaments.
The Cathedral and the Episcopal Palace (designed by the architect Antonio Gaudi who lived from 1852-1926) are the two main attractions in Astorga, plus the surrounding countryside.
This location is a natural threshold place at the transition of the plains of the high plateau (meseta) and the foothills to León’s mountains.
It is also a crossroads of three distinct cultural regions, of Galicia, León, and Asturias, and further, the area around Astorga is known as the Maragatería. This is a name that refers back to the indigenous inhabitants of the area, called maragatos, a traditional semi-nomadic people who still live here.
The Camino continues to Rabanal del Camino.