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León (Municipality, Castilla y León, Spain)

Last modified: 2015-01-17 by ivan sache
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Flag of León
Left, as currently used - Image by "Jgaray" (Wikimedia Commons), 5 June 2011
Right, as reported in 1999 - Image by Antonio Gutiérrez (VexiLeón website), 15 July 1999

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Presentation of León

The municipality of León (134,012 inhabitants in 2010, therefore the 4th most populous municipality in Castilla y León; 3,903 ha; municipal website) is the capital of León Province. The municipality is made of the town of León and of the neighboring villages of Oteruela de la Valdoncina (382 inh.) and Trobajo del Cerecedo (785 inh.).

León originates in a Roman military camp set up in 75 between rivers Bernesga and Torio to house the 7th Legion ("Legion VII Gemina"); the place had already been settled in 15 BC by the 6th Legion ("Legio VI Victrix"). Accordingly, the name of the town, subsequently given to a Kingdom, a Province and a Community, comes from "legion" rather than from "lion".

Abandoned by the 7th Legion in 409, León was Incorporated in 586 to the Visigothic Kingdom by Liuvigild. The town was seized by the Moors in 717. Reconquerred by the Christians, León was destroyed by Abd-ar-Rahman II and resettled by King of Asturias Ordoño I (850-866). Ordoño II (914-924) transferred the capital of his kingdom from Oviedo to León, transforming the "Regnum Asturum" (Kingdom of Asturias) into the Kingdom of León ("Regnum Legionis"). Destroyed again at the end of the 10th century by Al-Mansur, León was reconquerred in 1017 by Alfonso V (999-1028), who revamped the old Roman town walls and issued in 1020 the Fueros de León (León Charter), aka Buenos Fueros (Good Charter), considered as the first municipal laws. In 1035, Fernando I (1037-1065) and his wife Sancha started the building of the St. Isidor Royal Basilica, today the biggest Romanesque monument in Spain; the Royal Pantheon (11th century) is the León Royal necropolis, keeping the tombs of 23 Kings and Queens, 12 Infants, and 4 Counts of León.

The town increased in the 12th century due to the popularity of the Way of St. James, with the addition of new boroughs forming the "Burgo Nuevo" (New Town). In 1188, Alfonso IX (1188-1230) gathered in the cloister of the St. Isidor Basilica the Cortes de León (León Parliament), the first of that kind in Europe. Fernando III (1230-1252) ordered the building of the St. Mary Cathedral, to replaced the old Romanesque cathedral, which had itself been built on the site of Ordoño II's palace and of the Roman thermae; the cathedral was achieved in 1302. Some architectural elements of the cathedral have inspired the Catalan architect Gaudí, who built for the León cloth merchants the Casa de Botines in his very specific style.

Ivan Sache, 5 June 2011

Symbols of León

The flag of León (photo, photo, photo) is crimson with the municipal arms in the middle. The flag is very close to the flag of León Province, the main difference being the lambrequins around the shield.
The flag in current use appears to be of a darker shade than reported earlier (1999).

The connection of the flag of León with the banners of the old Kingdom of León is not clear.

The origin of the modern flag of León is indeed unknown. The flag is most probably not as old as usually believed. First, the design of flags with a coat of arms in the middle is a late heraldic tradition. Second, the first description of a banner of that design is credited to Waldo Merino in an act dated 18 February 1789, recorded in Libro de Acuerdos Municipales (Record of Municipal Acts); the town's banner is described as crimson with six escutcheons argent with a lion or. In the 19th century, the banner was renewed for each coronation of a new King, with the number of escutcheons varying. The banner kept today in the Mayor's office, the one mentioned by Merino or a slightly later one, is crimson with a shield bearing a lion rampant in the middle and two smaller escutcheons in the point. This banner must have been used in the 19th century to design the modern Leonese flag.

Ivan Sache, 5 June 2011