Pre-Romanic Asturian art is, in reality, Roman art, which had not disappeared in Asturias, just as the Roman religion resisted Christianity on the Cantabrian coast for many centuries after its imposition as the official religion.
When one reads ancient and medieval history on the Iberian Penninsula, one finds the most entertaining things. For example, studies of texts from the times and archaeological remains indicate that all the tribes that inhabited the Cantabrian coast, from the Gallaeci to the Gascones, were very similar, basically Celts, with more Roman influence in some cases than others, but with few significant differences.
However, Luggones and Pesicos tried not have anything to do with Asturians — much less the Gallaeci and Vascones — and defined their differences and borders with everything the technology of the time allowed. That changed, however, with the barbarian invasions, when the tribes joined together in the defense of a common culture and territory. They really joined together for efficiency, because separately, there were few of them, and the barbarians were very brutish, but since that the Kingdom of Asturias would end up being the embryo of the future Spain, the first explanation sounds better.
The identity-based discussion ended with Visigoth domination which, as we already know, had a very good reputation a posteriori, because they came from the north. But they had little depth, and in reality, took advantage of the Roman structures and organizations to make their domination work passably well. When the Umayyad Caliphate, which was militarily and culturally very superior, took control of the Peninsula, a caudillo from the village of Sueve, the famous Pelayo, manages to overcome Munuza‘s Berber troops in Covadonga, which led to the best story-telling in the history of Spain.
Which is undoubted is that Pelayo becomes very popular. No one was pleased about the arrival of the Romans, but in the end, they had to recognize that the quality of life there had increased a lot since their arrival. The Visigoths were a disaster, but in the north, they hadn’t modified things too much. The arrival of a third party from who-knows-where wasn’t appetizing to anyone, even though they were more handsome and sophisticated that the earlier ones.
So, Pelayo was chosen princeps and began what is known as the Asturian monarchy, which was elected until Ordoño I, even though the son of the deceased king was almost always elected — or alternative heir, as in the case of Favila, son of Pelayo, who lasted a short time, because one of those beautiful bears that appear in the Principality’s advertising ate him up while he was taking a nap.
Since then, there was an era of peace with the Berber south and internal war between families, with the Gallaeci and Vascones people helping one band or another, according to what suited them. This ends with the second reign of Alfonso II, the Chaste (791-842), the great creator of stories, and from then on there would be no more peace with the south, at the same time as the true cultural and territorial development of Asturias was beginning.
In close relationship with the marketing of the Camino and the peninsular reconquest are the architectural works that began to be built more or less around the time of the the arrival of Alfonso II, which was doubtlessly due to the new importance of spaces in the strategy general of global positioning. Today, these works are called Asturian art or pre-Romanic Asturian, but in reality they are not the least bit pre-Romanic.
Just as in the case of the Byzantine art, pre-Romanic Asturian art is really Roman art, which had not disappeared in Asturias, much the way the Roman religion resisted Christianity on the Cantabrian coast until many centuries after its imposition as the official religion. Its definition as the continuance of Visigoth art is part of the story, as well as its similarity with Carloingian art. The most significant changes come more from the change in ritual taking place in its interior than from the introduction of new elements.
Visigoth art itself also was Roman art, and the name “Visigoth” derives from the tribe that had power during the period between Roman Hispania and the Castillian kings, but not its own style of representing things and building buildings. When Romanesque arrived in Europe, by Alfonso’s Camino, it was mixed with what they already had — which was Roman — and was modified little by little.
But without a doubt, the most original and most significant building of that time is Santa María del Naranco. While it is called a “church” and worked as one later, Alfonso’s successor, Ramiro I, had the building built as a second residence, which, by its design, functioned basically as a party house. We were also told that the large room was no more than a throne room, but there’s no place for one. Anyone who knows the place will see clearly that it is the best setting to throw parties: the capital already was in Oviedo, and the main room is perfect to put out tables with the finger food and where the waiters can calmly serve wine between the coolest people of the century IX.
Ramiro himself was responsible for continuing the campaign of his predecessor, Alfonso II, with the legend of the battle of Clavijo, in which the Apostol Saint James appeared to Ramiro’s soldiers astride a white horse to help them in the battle. This victory put an end to the tribute of the 100 damsels annually that the Asturians had to pay Cordoba and Ramiro, grateful, established a remembrance of Saint James, for which a large quantity of rents (an extra tithe of grapes and other crops) would go to the church of the Apostol, as well as a part of the booty of each battle won against the kingdom of the south.
Apart from creating the unpleasant representation of Saint James as matamoros [the Moor-killer], it was a smart way of sending funds towards what must have been the main course of the spatial strategy. The end of the Camino de Santiago couldn’t disappoint anyone. There were many outsiders who married locals, from Navarre and La Rioja to the Atlantic coast. No expense could be spared, and what better way than medieval crowdfunding to make sure there would be nothing lacking?