Pontevedra

Pontevedra

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.

 

Calle Peregrina
Calle Virgen del Camino

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.

Iglesia Peregrina Pontevedra

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.

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.

 

Other churches

 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.

 

The squares

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

Albergue Pontevedra

There is a public albergue in Pontevedra. It is next to the train station, as you enter the city. More info about it and contact details here.

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

 

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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¡Buen Camino!

Finisterre

Finisterre

Last weekend I was in Fisterra. Or is it Finisterre? And why do so many people end their Camino de Santiago there? Or in Muxía.

Let’s start with the name. Is it Finisterre or Fisterra? You may already be aware that Galicia has its own language, apart from Spanish. You can learn more about it in O Camiño de Santiago.

Both languages, Galician and Spanish, are used on a regular basis. Some people prefer one, some people prefer the other. And some switch from one to the other without even thinking. It’s common to see signs and documents in both languages. Same applies to town names, although the official name is the Galician one. So, in this case, the official name is Fisterra, but you’ll see Finisterre too.

 

Where is Fisterra?

Fisterra, or Finisterre, is on the Atlantic coast of Galicia, around 90km from Santiago de Compostela. When the Romans arrived there, they named it Finis Terrae (the end of the earth); it was the end of the known world and, for a very long time, it was considered the westernmost point in Europe.

The stretch of coast where it’s located is known as Costa da Morte (coast of death) because of all the ships that have been wrecked in the area.

Faro Finisterre

 

Fisterra is a fishing village but it’s best known for the faro (lighthouse) at the tip of the cabo (cape).

The perfect location to watch the puesta de sol (sunset) over the ocean.

 

Why do people walk to Finisterre?

Pilgrimage to Fisterra is believed to have existed for centuries before Christian times. According to legend and tradition, Cabo de Finisterre (Cape Finisterre) was the location of the Ara Solis (altar to the sun). Pagan worship took place there even before the arrival of the Romans, who simply continued with the existing rituals.  

According to one legend, St. James destroyed this pagan shrine and built a chapel in its place. But Christianity didn’t totally replace these ancient traditions. In many cases, both traditions have merged.

The Church promoted devotions to Mary in that region. As a result, we have the santuario (shrine) da Virxe da Barca in Muxía as well as the iglesia (church) Santa María das Areas in Fisterra. Pilgrimages to these 2 places were encouraged during the 15th-16th centuries.

In the Middle Ages, it was common for criminals to be sentenced to complete a pilgrimage to remote places. Finisterre was one of these destinations.

On the other hand, the symbol of a pilgrim to Santiago was and still is a scallop shell. In the past, scallop shells were sold in Santiago. But, why not walk to the coast and find your own? Arriving in Fisterra and el mar (sea) also symbolises the end of your pilgrimage, the beginning of your journey back home, a new beginning.

This brings me to a certain practice that has been banned for years but some people continue to do: burning your clothes or shoes at the end of the Camino. There is a notice there, quite visible as you walk towards the rocks behind the lighthouse asking you NOT to make fuego (fire) or leave anything that wasn’t there before (see the first picture on the left).

Cartel en Finisterre
Burnt T-shirt in Finisterre
Shoes in Finisterre

However, as you can see in the other 2 pictures, people are ignoring it and littering the place. The number of pilgrims on the Camino at the moment is far from what we would normally see around this time of the year. So I was shocked and disappointed to see several half-burnt pieces of clothing, as well as discarded shoes, bottles and other items.

You may think burning your clothes by the ocean at the end of your Camino is a very meaningful ritual. But please, don’t do it. It’s harmful to the environment and a fire hazard. It’s happened too many times before that the simple burning of shoes or clothing resulted in a forest fire.

So let me say it again: don’t burn your stuff!

It’s not cool. The locals are fed up with it. And you could be fined.

 

The town

I know the highlight of Fisterra is going to the lighthouse and watching the sunset over the ocean, but don’t forget to have a look around town too. Fisterra has always been a fishing village, so a visit to the port is in order.

And I would recommend a visit to the fishing museum that can be found in the castillo de San Carlos. The castle dates back to the 18th century and was built as part of a defensive plan for the coast in the area. The fishing museum is small but Manolo, the person in charge, is very knowledgeable and is full of amazing stories. Well worth the visit.

And if you like fish and seafood… you’re in the perfect place!

 

Fishing Museum

Castillo de San Carlos

Castillo de San Carlos.
Fishing Museum. Finisterre

Fishing museum

Calle Finisterre