I am loving you so hard, Santa María del Naranco

Hey everyone–meet my new girlfriend:


This is Santa María del Naranco, also known as my girlfriend. (In case you were wondering, I also have a wife and a husband.) notoriusRBG   hob


Santa María del Naranco was a summer palace built in the mid-9th century in the kingdom of Asturias, present day Oviedo.  At the time, Asturias was one of the few places in Spain not controlled by the Moors and a unique form of pre-Romanesque developed as a result.  Santa María’s designers had clearly been inspired by Roman ruins, though the resulting building is no mere imitation–it was architecturally innovative.  The vaulting and arcaded galleries were ground-breaking designs that allowed this elegant, slender palace to be filled with natural light.  Amazingly, the building has never been restored!

The white box you can see on the second story, behind the three arches, is an altar from year of dedication, 848.


North side–the double stairway is exterior only.  See those buttresses?  They are a forecast of much later Romanesque and Gothic architecture.


This type of barrel vaulting with supporting transverse arches was way ahead of it’s time–it didn’t show up in the rest of Europe for a couple hundred more years.  Though it’s hard to see in our picture, the central-most vault is thicker than the further-out vaults which creates an optical illusion of a higher and longer ceiling.  Also unique is the Visigoth-influenced linear designs, columns and capital carving, and sculptural medallions.


This picture was taken from the inside of the belvedere (belvedere is one of my favorite architecture terms so I’m happy to have the opportunity to use it).  The columns have a cool braided rope design.


Ornamented medallions inside the spandrels.  (Spandrel is my other favorite architecture term.  Say them with me now: belvedere….spandrel.  So satisfying.)  These column capitals are carved with stylized flowers and leaves.

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Carved plaques over the medallions.

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I’ve never seen anything like this Visigoth treatment of the capitals.

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Cross cutout in the window of the crypt.  This cross, an emblem of the Asturian monarchy, is seen throughout Oviedo.  We saw the original Cross of Angels (the fancy gold cross from year 808) in the Cathedral of Oviedo.

Visiting the palace is confusing.  There are limited hours and you just sort of show up and wait for a lady to decide there are enough people for her to unlock the entry and give a tour.  The tour is in Spanish, so if you don’t know Spanish, bring printed information like we did.  But whatever you do, don’t miss this ground-breaking architectural beauty.  I’m sure that like me, you’ll fall in love.

Thank you for waiting 1175 years to meet me, Santa María del Naranco.  You’ll always be my girlfriend.


How we got to Oviedo: bus from Santiago de Compostela.

Where we slept: Gran Hotel España.  Price: €39.69 for a double.  Recommended: yes.


  1. Envy, envy envy! But thank you for the photographs…


    1. Agreed that Oviedo is incredible. I wish we had stayed at least a week.


  2. I was in Oviedo on Saturday, it was beautiful!


    1. And the surrounding landscape too–isn’t it lovely?


  3. Those reliefs are stunning!


    1. You’re so right Hamilton! I especially love the one with the little people with their crossed arms.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What beautiful arches for such an old building! I can’t believe it was built in the 9th century. Also, the unpredictable operating hours – so European. Awesome and frustrating all at the same time.


    1. I try to embrace the awesome and frustrating the best I can. There’s another nearby church we visited, San Miguel de Lilo, that has no onsite attendant at all–you just wait at Santa María del Naranco and eventually the same lady who unlocks the first building for you will drive over to the other one and unlock that too.


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