01/04/2002 A truly unique experience. This is the most common response of the more than 150,000 people from both Spain and other parts of the world who have visited Vitoria-Gasteiz´s Santa María Cathedral since the restoration works were first opened to the public in 1999. From 20th April of this year, its secrets are now being revealed once again to thousands of people thanks to the recently inaugurated Third Series of Guided Tours.
The attractions offered by the city´s most emblematic building are linked to both its history and the grave structural problems that have beset it for centuries. Visitors are offered the opportunity of wandering around an authentic 13th century church replete with History, Architecture, Archaeology, Art and Culture, whose interest is heightened by the fact that the contents of the tour are constantly changing as the research and excavation work progresses.
The main attraction of this year´s series of tours is the opportunity they offer of gaining a first-hand view of the archaeological and restoration work being carried out on a building weakened by centuries-old structural problems and deformations. This experience, interesting in itself, is made even more fascinating this year thanks to the unique view afforded by a platform running along the entire length of the central nave at around four metres above floor level.
This exceptional vantage point offers a unique view of the inside of the gothic church. Visitors can walk all the way along the platform to get a close up view of the damage awaiting repair in vaults, walls and columns. The platform also offers a bird´s eye view of the archaeological excavation works being carried out from the foot of the nave right up to the presbytery.
The walkway is attached to the base of the columns and was built as part of the consolidation work being carried out inside the church since the beginning of the year. The subsoil is currently being dug up with a twofold objective. Firstly, to check the condition of the columns, which rest on the rocky bed which is largely responsible for the building´s instability. Once their condition has been ascertained, experts will decide on the best way of reinforcing them. The second reason for the excavation of the inside of the church is to continue the archaeological research work initiated earlier in Santa María Square.
This year´s programme of tours includes everything contained in previous programmes along with a number of important new features. Visitors will, among other things, be afforded a first-hand view of the excavations being carried out in the ambulatory and the ramparts walk of the old walled precinct, and will gain a close up glimpse of the deformations besetting the walls and columns. In addition to the spectacular walkway, this year´s tour also includes two other key attractions.
Firstly, the Visitors´ Centre (an old bowling alley in Las Brullerías Street) now has an attention-grabbing audio-visual interactive exhibition, complete with a virtual tour and a new video in which the Cathedral itself tells its story and describes its structural problems. And secondly, visitors are afforded a view of the restoration work being carried out on the portico. In the near future, specialists are due to begin work on the study and recovery of the polychrome carvings that adorn this magnificent entranceway.
Reservations can be made either by telephone on 945 255 135 or over the Internet at www.catedralvitoria.com. The old cathedral will be open for visits from 11.00 to 14.00 and 17.00 to 20.00 everyday from 20th April to the end of December.
The price of the tour is €2 per person and €1 for the over
65s. Under 12s are admitted free of charge providing they are accompanied
by an adult. There is a special rate (€8) for school groups of between
15 and 20 students. At the end of the tour, each visitor receives a pin
or set of postcards courtesy of the Santa María Cathedral Foundation.