A Medieval Jewel: Plaza de la Virgen Blanca

06/08/2021

If there is one place that you have to see in Vitoria it's Plaza de la Virgen Blanca. This square is in the center of town and almost always has something going on. The patios are vibrant and the cameras are active. If you are looking to bask in the culture of Basque, look no further. 

Plaza de la Virgen Blanca is where the action is. It's the main meeting place in the Basque Capital. It has been a staple of Alava socializing since the 13th century. Located just outside the walls of the old town, this plaza is meant to be experienced.

Church of San Miguel

The Church of San Miguel is located at the north of the plaza. Built in 1181, it is the oldest temple in the city. In 1995 it was registered as a Good of Cultural Interest (Bien de Interés Cultural) by the Ministry of Culture and Sport, as a non-moveable monument.

The chapel of the Virgen Blanca is a must see. She is the patron saint of the city and stands between two grand arches. The arches can be seen from the plaza easily, however, if you want to contemplate the Virgen Blanca you'll want to get closer.

Inside, there are many elements that are worth studying. The most magnificent part of this place of worship is the main altarpiece. It was designed in a baroque fashion by Gregorio Fernández and took eight years to complete (1624 - 1632). It may be possible to have a tour of the church by contacting Vitoria Tourism.

The Battle of Vitoria

There are two main monuments that are in the square. Both of which are popular places to get a photo taken. The larger of the two is located in the middle of the square and is impossible to miss. Not only is it a must see, but it is so large that you literally can't miss it. This cenotaph is named and dedicated to the Battle of Vitoria.

The Battle of Vitoria took place on June 21, 1813 against Napoleonic France. The allied forces were a combination of British, Portuguese and Spanish. Under the command of the Duke of Wellington the allies were able to force the French troops into retreat towards Pamplona, and later over the Pyrenees and into France.

This triumph came at a cost of over 5,000 casualties for the allies. This was, however, the final battle in retaking the Basque provinces from the grasp of Napoleon's rule. The monument itself was completed nearly 100 years later by Gabriel Borras.

The bottom section of the monument is made out of stone and has life sized animals and people looking exhausted after the battle. The front and south side of the monument contains General Miguel Ricardo de Alava y Esquivel along with welcoming residents of Vitoria. The other two sides depicted the French and their supporters leaving the Basque province in defeat. It is worth going up close and studying the exemplary detail. 

The midsection of the monument is made out of bronze and is dedicated to the allies. It depicts the Duke of Wellington on a stallion charging. The other parts of this section depict the allied forces engaging in warfare.

The top of the monument is a winged figure meant to represent victory. This symbol of triumph has an olive branch in one hand, portraying peace. The other hand holds a flag of the Kingdom of Spain. Check out the historias de vitoria gasteiz website for a more detailed breakdown of the monument.

The Vegetable Sculpture

The vegetable sculpture is located on the south eastern side of the plaza. On the opposite side of the plaza from the church of San Miguel. This monument says the name of the city in Spanish (Vitoria) and Basque (Gasteiz) with a large exclamation point.

**Image flipped for readability
**Image flipped for readability

The vegetable sculpture is made out of two different types of plant species that literally bring this sculpture to life. Originally meant to be a temporary installation it was such a hit that it became permanent.

It is roughly seven meters (23 feet) long and three meters (10 feet) high, which makes it ideal for individual and family photos. This instant classic is emblematic of Vitoria winning the European Commission's 2012 European Green Capital Award.

Vitoria is a beautiful city, with an incredible amount of history. This is embodied by the plaza de la Virgen Blanca, with its heritage and surroundings. It is the primary location for tourists and locals alike. Use this plaza as a starting point or end up here as a landing spot, just make sure you have time to be submersed in it. Observe the monuments, explore with your camera, and savour the scenery of this cultural gem.

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