León is the capital of the province of León, located in the northwest of Spain. Its city population of 131,680 (2012) makes it the largest municipality in the province, accounting for more than one quarter of the province's population. Including the metropolitan area, the population is estimated at 494,451 (2012).
Founded as the Roman military encampment of the Legio VI Victrix around 29 BC, its standing as an encampment city was consolidated with the definitive settlement of the Legio VII Gemina from 74 AD. Following its partial depopulation due to the Umayyad conquest of the peninsula, León was revived by its incorporation into the Kingdom of Asturias. 910 saw the beginning of one its most prominent historical periods, when it became the capital of the Kingdom of León, which took active part in the Reconquista against the Moors, and came to be one of the fundamental kingdoms of medieval Spain. In 1188, the city hosted the first Parliament in European history under the reign of Alfonso IX, due to which it was named in 2010, by the professor John Keane, the King of Spain and the Junta of Castile and León, as the cradle of Parliamentarism, and the Decreta of León were included in the Memory of the World register by UNESCO in 2013. The city's prominence began to decline in the early Middle Ages, partly due to the loss of independence after the union of the Leonese kingdom with the Crown of Castile, consolidated in 1301.
After a period of stagnation during the early modern age, it was one of the first cities to hold an uprising in the Spanish War of Independence, and some years later, in 1833 acquired the status of provincial capital. The end of the 19th and the 20th century saw a significant acceleration in the rate of urban expansion, when the city became an important communications hub of the northwest due to the rise of the coal mining industry and the arrival of the railroad.
Leon's historical and architectural heritage, as well as the numerous festivals hosted throughout the year (particularly noteworthy are the Easter processions) and its location on the Camino de Santiago, which is ranked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, make it a destination of both domestic and international tourism. Some of the city's most prominent historical buildings are the Cathedral, the finest example of French-style classic Gothic architecture in Spain, the Basilica of San Isidoro, one of the most important Romanesque churches in Spain and resting place of Leon's medieval monarchs, the Monastery of San Marcos, a prime example of plateresque and Renaissance Spanish architecture, and the Casa Botines, a Modernist creation of the architect Antoni Gaudí. A noteworthy example of modern architecture is the city's Museum of Contemporary Art or MUSAC.
León was founded in the 1st century BC by the Roman legion Legio VI Victrix, which served under Caesar Augustus during the Cantabrian Wars (29-19 BC), the final stage of the Roman conquest of Hispania. In the year 74 AD, the Legio VII Gemina —recruited from the Hispanics by Galba in 69 AD— settled in a permanent military camp that was the origin of the city. Its modern name, León, is derived from the city's Latin name Legio.
The Romans established the site of the city to protect the recently conquered territories of northwestern Hispania from the Astures and Cantabri, and to secure the transport of gold extracted in the province —especially in the huge nearby mines of Las Médulas— that was taken to Rome through Asturica Augusta (modern-day Astorga).
Tacitus calls the legion Galbiana, to distinguish it from the old Legio VII Claudia, but this appellation is not found on any inscriptions. It appears to have received the appellation of Gemina on account of its amalgamation by Vespasian with one of the German legions, probably the Legio I Germanica. Its full name was Legio VII Gemina Felix. After serving in Pannonia, and in the civil wars, it was settled by Vespasian in Hispania Tarraconensis, to supply the place of the Legio VI Victrix and Legio X Gemina, two of the three legions ordinarily stationed in the province, but which had been withdrawn to Germany.
That its regular winter quarters, under later emperors, were at León, we learn from the Itinerary, Ptolemy, and the Notitiae Imperii, as well as from a few inscriptions; but there are numerous inscriptions to prove that a strong detachment of it was stationed at Tarraco (modern Tarragona), the chief city of the province.
Kingdom of León
The post-Roman history of the city is largely the history of the Kingdom of León. The station of the legion in the territory of the Astures grew into an important city, which resisted the attacks of the Visigoths until AD 586, when it was taken by Leovigild; and it was one of the few cities which the Visigoths allowed to retain their fortifications.
During the Umayyad conquest of Hispania, in 715 Tariq advanced from the area of La Rioja towards Astorga and León. The same fortress, which the Romans had built to protect the plain from the incursions of the mountaineers, became the advanced post which covered the mountain, as the last refuge of Cisastur Tribes. However, there is no notice of resistance whatsoever. An attempt was made by the invaders to settle the strongholds with Berbers came in a military capacity, but the scheme was abandoned when the Berbers of northern Iberia rebelled against the Arabs and gave up their positions to join the revolt around 740.
Towards the year 846, a group of Mozarabs (Christians who did not flee from the Muslims and lived under the Muslim regime) tried to repopulate the city, but a Muslim attack prevented that initiative. In the year 856, under the Christian king Ordoño I, another attempt at repopulation was made and was successful. Alfonso III of León and García I of León made León city the capital of the Kingdom of León and the most important of the Christian cities in Iberia.
The Kingdom of León started as an independent Kingdom in 910 when the seat of Asturias moved to León, but there was no such thing as an official name change.
Sacked by Almanzor in about 987, the city was reconstructed and repopulated by Alfonso V, whose Decree of 1017 regulated its economic life, including the functioning of its markets. León was a way-station for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago leading to Santiago de Compostela. With Alfonso V of León the city had the "Fueru de Llión", an important letter of privileges.
The Kingdom of León conquered the Leonese Extremadura, and was brought to their sisters by Fernando III, king of Castile, joining both crowns in 1230. His son, Alfonso X divided the kingdom again in his testament, but it was not accepted by the King of Castile, who rejoined both crowns. From 1296 to 1301. León was an independent kingdom again, and from then until 1833, when Spain was divided into regions and provinces, the Kingdom of León kept itself as a Spanish Crown territory, whose capital city was León apart from a short period, during which French troops invaded the Kingdom when it was Carracedo.
First democratic Parliament in 1188
In 1188, Alfonso IX of León joined in the city of León all the three states becoming the city in the first European Parliament, developing laws that protected the people. Suburbs for traders and artisans sprang up, who, after the 13th century, began to influence the municipal government. During the early Middle Ages, the livestock industry produced a period of prosperity for the city.
During the 1960s, León experienced much growth due to in-migration from the rural zones of the province.
In 1983 León was added to the neighbouring region of Castile, to form the Autonomous Community of Castile and León. A popular and local political movement was opposed to being ruled from. Consequently, León is the centre of a peaceful political movement for Leonese autonomy. Some of the Leonese people support the idea of creating a Leonese autonomous community formed by the provinces of Salamanca, León and Zamora, which have traditionally composed the Leonese Region.