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Santa María del Naranco

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The greatest Asturian church, indeed the architectural gem of the principality, is Santa María del Naranco, majestically located amid the fields on a wooded slope 3km above the city. It’s an easy signposted drive, or a 45min walk from the train station through the quiet suburb of Ciudad Naranco. The one drawback is that its impact is inevitably diminished by the huge tour groups that descend upon it in summer.

The initial glimpses of the warm stone and simple bold outline, in perfect harmony with its surroundings, led Jan Morris to describe it as “formidable beyond its scale”. If you don’t think it looks like a church, there’s a good reason for that – it wasn’t built as one. Instead it was designed as a palatial hunting lodge for Alfonso’s successor, Ramiro I (842–52), and only converted into a church at the end of that century. Architecturally, the open porticoes at both ends predate later innovations in Byzantine churches, while thirty or so distinctive decorative medallions skirt the roof.

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