The city of Burgos used to be surrounded by a 12th-century wall, but today only some parts of the medieval barrier remain intact, including the triumphal Arco de Santa María, the most impressive of the dozen arched entries to the walled city.
The sections of old wall that once stood on either side of the archway are now gone, but the arch stands in splendid isolation, joined to more recent structures. The stonework, turrets, and brilliantly executed sculptures on the front facade make this one of the most attractive building exteriors in Burgos.
Yet this splendid arch was not always so elaborate. Originally quite plain when it was constructed in the high Middle Ages, it was rebuilt in its embellished form in the 16th century by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, as thanks to the city leaders who supported him during a revolt. Some of these leaders are featured among the sculptures on the facade, alongside other Burgos notables.
Walking under the arch is certainly the most impressive route to the cathedral of the same name, from either the riverside or the lovely, tree-lined, Paseo del Espolón, which leads up to it from the theatre, and is really worth a visit in its own right.
The interior of the building can also be visited. It houses temporary art displays and an exhibition of antique pharmaceutical equipment. At night the statues on the facade are back lit, making it look even more marvelous.