Palas de Rei, where we arrived on June 5, has been a stop on the Camino de Santiago since ancient times. According to tradition, the city is named for a Visigoth king, Witiza, who ruled the area in the early eighth century. The city has long been linked to Spanish military history and has a very well-preserved castle from the 14th century. The city seems to have really expanded as the popularity of the Camino has grown, leaving the city as an interesting mix between the medieval and the modern.
The walk to Palas de Rei was long but very enjoyable. We had excellent weather, which always makes the day’s walk better. The day started out with some nice fog which helped to cool off the Spanish Sun that Dr. Myers always warns us about! A tip for future peregrinos and peregrinas: the first place to stop for food isn’t for several kilometers outside of Portomarín, so if you walk better after having eaten some food, either eat something in Portomarín or bring some food to snack on along the way.
We split up for lunch, with some of us going to a Pulperia (home of the famous Galician octopus, or pulpo as it’s called here) and others getting some burgers at a local pub. Because it was a Sunday, a group went to the Church in town where one of our Camino friends, a bishop from Brazil, said Mass. We met this Bishop initially in Rabanal where he said Mass at the monastery there, and we’ve walked alongside the Bishop ever since. For dinner, we enjoyed a group meal at our albergue. Our albergue was very cool – we had the entire third floor to ourselves, which had some nice sitting areas in addition to the usual bunk beds. Several of us did experience some issues with the motion-detected lighting, which seems to be a common lighting trend along the Camino. Waving one’s hands in the air or opening doors tends to turn the lights back on (another tip for future Caministos and Caministas!).
In Palas de Rei, we also focused on domestic medieval architecture and city planning. Unfortunately, many homes of medieval peasants did not survive, so much of what we know about this topic comes from surviving wealthier houses or urban areas. Most medieval houses were built of wood, with the more expensive ones having stone, and had relatively small windows. In cities, some houses were built almost like townhouses, with houses adjoining and external staircases leading to higher floors. Medieval Spanish towns were typically enclosed by walls to protect against invaders, so builders had to look up instead of out. These towns were often planned block by block rather than in a coordinated gridiron system unless they were built on ruins. One of the most prominent features of the Spanish medieval town that remains a prominent focus in many cities, the Plaza Mayor, was actually inspired by Islamic architecture where a town had a central space in town for all of the major municipal buildings.
Written by: Kara Hurley