As you may already know, soy de Pontevedra (I’m from Pontevedra). I grew up here, then lived abroad in Ireland for a few years and moved back here in 2014. Oh! And I love the place. There are so many things I’d love to tell you… but this post would go on forever. So, I’ll try to control myself.
For those not familiar with the Camino Portugués, Pontevedra is around 65km (3 days) from Santiago. The coastal and central routes join in Redondela, before Pontevedra. And right outside Pontevedra the Camino splits again: a la derecha, the traditional Camino. A la izquierda, la Variante Espiritual.
Pontevedra is the biggest town on the Spanish section of the Camino Portugués, after Santiago. It’s common now to see pilgrims throughout the year, but it hasn’t always been like that. I don’t remember ever seeing any pilgrims growing up and until the time I moved abroad. There were no flechas amarillas or conchas de vieira in every corner either.
The Camino has always been there. In fact its origins date back to the 12th century. So, it is part of the history of the city, and we have many references to prove it, like a calle Virgen del Camino or a calle and plaza Peregrina.
And, of course, one of the main symbols of Pontevedra is the popular Iglesia de la Virgen Peregrina, dedicated to the patron saint of the Camino Portugués. Its construction began in 1778 and its most characteristic feature is its floor plan, in the shape of a scallop shell.
So, we can’t imagine Pontevedra without its links to the Camino de Santiago, but the 20th century was not a good one for the Camino in general. Until the Holy Year of 1993. The Camino was then heavily promoted by the Galician authorities; pilgrims started returning. Nowadays, the Camino Portugués is the second one in number of pilgrims, after the Camino Francés.
La historia de Pontevedra
According to legend, Pontevedra was founded by Teucro (Teucer or Teucrus), one of the heroes of the Trojan War. The truth is that it’s not clear when Pontevedra was founded exactly, but it goes back at least to Roman times. There is evidence of a settlement on the Vía Romana XIX, in the area close to the Puente del Burgo. This is the bridge pilgrims must cross on their way out of town.
The Middle Ages
In the Middle Ages, Pontevedra was a prosperous city: it had one of the most important ports in western Europe, which attracted a lot of international trade. There was an important shipyard too. In fact, the Santa María, one of the 3 ships that Columbus took to the Americas, came out of here.
In 1467, King Enrique IV granted the city the right to host a ‘feira franca’, a 30-day tax free market that attracted many people, rich and poor.
This market is remembered nowadays with a medieval festival. It’s called Feira Franca and it takes place during the first weekend in September. People dress up in medieval fashion, the whole historic centre is decorated to look more medieval, there’s a market, music, entertainment and other events (there are a couple of images of it in the video below).
Pontevedra was the most populated city in Galicia during the 16th century. But the next 2 centuries brought in a recession, caused by several factors.
Then, in the 19th century, it started to grow again. The old city walls were demolished to allow the expansion of the city. Some remains of those old walls have been found in recent years and you can visit them.
More recent times
The end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries was an era of great expansion, and not just physically. Pontevedra was then a cultural and intellectual hub. It was also the first Galician city with electric light. In fact, you can still see where the electricity was produced. The place is aptly called Casa da Luz (house of light) and you can find it in one of Pontevedra’s many squares: praza da Verdura.
The Civil War (1936-1939) put an end to this. The repression afterwards was important and a new era of depression and decay started.
Then, around 20 years ago, Pontevedra began a deep transformation to become more ‘people friendly’. During this period, most of the city centre has been pedestrianised. Streets that used to be full of cars, with only a small space for people, are now virtually car-free and full of people. CO2 emissions are down 70%. Kids can safely walk to school unaccompanied.
The historical centre was very run-down and it was a rough area that most of us would avoid. Then cars were banned. The area was renovated. Now, it’s perfectly safe and full of life. And winning international awards.
I love just walking around, enjoying the atmosphere, going for a drink, shopping, admiring the architecture, discovering new details every time…
What to see in Pontevedra
What not to see?!
I’m a big fan of my city so I’d love for everyone to spend some time exploring it and falling in love with it. It is the perfect size to walk around and with the historical centre being mostly car-free, it is a very enjoyable experience too. So, you can simply wander around and admire your surroundings. But there are a few places you shouldn’t miss.
First on the list is, of course, the Iglesia de la Virgen Peregrina.
It’s right on the Camino, so you can’t miss it and it’s full of Camino symbols. As I mentioned earlier, its floor plan has the shape of a scallop shell. You can appreciate this if you climb to the base of the dome.
I know climbing stairs is not your ideal plan after a long day on the Camino. But the perspective is totally different.
Anyway, in case you don’t feel like climbing the stairs, I got a picture for you.
There’s a statue of a parrot opposite the Peregrina church. It’s not just any parrot. It is an important figure in the city’s recent history. Would you like to find out more about it? Read (or listen to) the whole story here.
If you keep following the arrows, you’ll arrive at the Plaza de la Herrería, the heart of the city. On one side, you can see the typical soportales (arcade), on the other, there’s the convent and church of San Francisco. According to tradition, St. Francis himself founded the convent when he stopped in Pontevedra while walking the Camino Portugués.
Pontevedra belongs to the diocese of Santiago, so there’s no cathedral here. But there are several churches worth a visit, apart from the 2 I already mentioned.
The main one is the Basílica de Santa María. The main façade is quite spectacular (can you spot the saint wearing glasses?) and the interior is very beautiful too. It was built in the 16th century with money donated by the sailors guild, which was quite powerful at the time.
Iglesia de San Bartolomé. The Jesuits built this church between the 17th and the 18th centuries. The buttresses on one of the sides were added later to reinforce the building after the Lisbon earthquake in 1755.
Ruinas de Santo Domingo. Only the ruins are left of this church and convent but they’re quite magnificent. Little story about them: the remains of this once spectacular building were almost blown up at the end of the 19th century. The local council wanted to clear the space and build something else there, despite many requests to preserve the remains. So they secretly hired someone from out of town to place some explosives there and make the church disappear.
But there used to be an orphanage next door. The person hired to cause the explosion heard children’s cries and decided he didn’t want to be responsible for killing or injuring any children. So, he left without completing the job.
If you wander around the historical centre you’ll discover many squares, some bigger, some smaller. The main one, as I said, is the Plaza de la Herrería. But if you keep on the Camino route, you’ll see the Plaza de Curros Enríquez (where the arcade ends) and the Plaza del Teucro.
Other squares that are worth visiting are:
Praza da Verdura. There used to be a vegetable market here, hence the name. Today, it’s the perfect location for a drink and some tapas. This square is also the location of the Casa da Luz that I mentioned earlier. You can also find here the oldest farmacia in town.
Praza da Leña. It takes its name from the firewood that used to be sold there in the past. Today, it’s another great location to enjoy some food in one of its many bars and restaurants (there’s even a Michelin star restaurant here!).
Praza de Méndez Núñez. There is a statue of Galician writer Valle-Inclán here. When you get to Santiago, you can look for a similar statue of the same author in the Alameda.
Other things to see in Pontevedra
Correos (the post office) is not far from the Iglesia de la Peregrina. You can get your credencial stamped here as well as admire the beauty of this historic building.
Santuario de las Apariciones. Not many people know this but Lucia, one of the 3 children who reported the apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Fátima (Portugal), later joined the St. Dorothy congregation in Pontevedra. While staying there, she had another apparition in 1925. This place is considered the third most important Marian shrine, after Lourdes and Fátima.
And finally, why not walk around the Alameda park or even along the river, towards the sea. Sunsets there can be quite beautiful.
Where to stay
If you prefer something else, the options are many.
For obvious reasons, I haven’t stayed at any of the following places but I know people who have and are happy to recommend them, so I’ll pass the recommendation on. All these places have the perfect locations to explore the city.
Hotel Rúas. Right in the heart of the historical centre, between 2 popular squares with plenty of places to have a drink or some food. This hotel has a restaurant/bar too. That, I can recommend.
Casa Sara Hospedaje. A cosy pensión, also in the historical centre. It’s on a quieter street, but still close to all the ‘action’.
Acolá Hostel. A modern albergue with a view to the Santa María church.
And, of course, if you’d like to splurge a little, we have a Parador too.
I have so many pictures of Pontevedra and I wanted to share them all but that was not possible, so I made a selection and put them together in the video below.
Today’s Spanish words
Soy... (I am)
Conchas de vieira
A la derecha (to the right)
A la izquierda (to the left)
Virgen del Camino
Santuario de las Apariciones
Warning: You should be aware that the names of towns, streets, squares, etc. can be in either Spanish or Galician. I wrote a post a while ago about the Galician language, and I think I’m due a new one, with more common Galician words you will come across.
You may have noticed that I used both plaza and praza. The first one is the Spanish word, the second one is the Galician one. Pronunciation is the same, except for the l/r. Keep this in mind if you see similar names. They probably refer to the same thing, just like plaza/praza, or virgen/virxe.
For the pronunciation of albergue, check ¿Dónde vas a dormir?
For the pronunciation of parador, check ¿Dónde vas a dormir? (II)
For the pronunciation of plaza, check Santiago de Compostela
For the pronunciation of iglesia, check the post about Finisterre
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