Along the pilgrim's route; Camino de Santiago or also known as the French Way you will find the Hostal San Marcos (now a luxury hotel run by the Paradores de Turismo) in the city of León. Originally it was called the Convento de San Marcos and first built in the twelfth century with a donation from Infanta Sancha of Castile, the sister of Alfonso VII of León. Built on the banks of the Bernesga river, it was a hospital/temple visited by pilgrims travelling to Santiago de Compestala, where St. James' (a disciple of Christ) bones are supposedly buried. It was rebuilt in the 16th century by Ferdinand the Catholic King. It wasn't finished until 1679.
Now closed for major renovations until 2020 this grand old gal is getting a much needed facelift. It will not be the same when we travel to León; we shall miss our afternoon merienda in the bar with its fancy low-back chairs and professional waiters. The dining room serving up traditional Leónese cuisine with its black and white checkered floor was always a favourite as well.
Getting ready for dinner service in the main Dining Room.
Before becoming a fancy 5 star hotel and renovated by the Parador chain, the building was also used as a dungeon/jail. During the Spanish Civil War every inch of this majestic building was used for prison cells and jailer offices. This included the cloisters, church, choir and museum areas. Walking through the building today it is hard to fathom this grim part of history.
Thinking back to the 12th century when the first stone was laid, try to imagine all the people that have prayed, cried, laughed, contemplated, died and more recently shared a meal or drink and slept in this majestic old building. All the hands that have touched the stones, now smooth. Barefeet, sandals, leather shoes, hiking boots that have trod on the stones. The souls of many.
When the renovations are complete a new generation will come here to touch the stones, sit in the chapel, pray, sleep, eat and maybe feel a little bit of the mysticism that haunts this grand hotel.