Portomarín

The 20 kilometer walk from Sarria to Portomarín was fairly flat and a mix of isolated dirt paths and roadside walking.  Near the end, the path split in two and we could either walk on a shorter, very steep path or on a longer, flatter path that followed the road. As I have been having some knee problems, I opted for the longer road path, which followed a small road past homes and small farms.

To get to Portomarín, pilgrims walk across a large bridge that ends with a large staircase leading to the town. Portomarín is a town in the Lugo providence and currently has a population of about 2000. A bridge across the Mino river by this town has existed since at least 993 and was the site of many conflicts during the Medieval period. As such, Portomarín was an important military and commercial town throughout history.

However, the old town of Portomarín did not exist in the exact place where the current town is. In 1956, construction began on the Embalse de Belesar dam. As a result, the water level in the Mino river rose, putting the entire town of Portomarín under water. However, the most important buildings in Portomarín were saved from the flooding as they were moved up to higher ground brick by brick. When the water in the river is low, one can still see remnants of the old town  and bridge in the water.
One of the buildings moved was the Church of San Juan of Portomarín, which is a late Romanesque church originally designed to be both a church and a castle. As a result, the building contains components of both structures including walkways protected by battlements as well as tympanums and rose windows. The church has the largest single nave in a Romanesque church in Galicia. In the late 12th and early 13th century the church housed knights and was visited by many catholic monarchs. Today, the church houses the parish of San Nicolas. Next to the church, the Pazo de la Marquesa de Boreda, a 17th century palace, has also been reconstructed.
Our albergue in Portomarín was one of the most unique hostels we stayed at on our trip. Rather than staying in rooms housing 6-25 of us in each room, this albergue had only a single dormitory room with well over a hundred beds all in the same room. Though staying in a room with that many people was mildly overwhelming, all appreciated the cleanliness and efficiency of the albergue. Since most of us were quite tired upon arriving to Portomarín, we had a relaxed evening in the hostel and at restaurants nearby.
sada
Alison
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Palas de Rei

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

Ponferrada

Walk:
From Molinaseca the walk takes roughly 1.5 hours. The Camino splits in two shortly after leaving Molinaseca. The right goes along a road and the left is slightly more scenic but also a bit longer. Each route includes numerous places to stop and get breakfast or cafe con leche. In order to enter the city you must cross a bridge.

Templar Castle:
IMG_6068Originally built by the Celts, the Castillo de low Templarios was expanded by the Romans, Templars, and Spanish land owners across seven centuries. The original towers mimic constellations, and the castle has one and two lines of fortifications with the Sil River bordering one side. The Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, more commonly called the Templars, took control of the castle in 1211 after Alfonso IX granted it to them. They expand d it to protest pilgrims walking the Camino. The castle currently sits along the stretch of the Camino passing through Ponferrada. The castle now contains roughly 1400 books in its Templar library. From the outside the Castle looms over the area around it, and serves as a fantastic back drop for pictures or a picnic. Unfortunately the inside does not live up to the outside. The structure seen from the street and the structure of the inside are hugely similar. The Castle is also closed on Mondays; look up the hours of any place you plan on visiting before you try to go there.

Roman Mines:
IMG_6176Las Medulas is a UNESCO heritage site and the best preserved mine from the Roman Empire. It was built in 1AD and was operated for approximately 250 years, during which 1.65 million kg of gold was extracted by 60,000 slaves per year. The hydraulic mining methods used by the Romans created a stark geologic contrast between the surrounding lush green mountaintops and the red tinted, jagged, and bare bedrock of the Las Medulas mines. This long-term environmental scarring was facillitated through the use of aqueducts, which supplied the water necessary for breaking down bedrock to reveal gold. The mine is about 25km from Ponferrada; only a thirty minute bus ride away. The ride is scenic although slightly nauseating due to the winding mountain pass and elevation. The first destination includes a lovely walk, which allows for leisurely exploration of the red tinged mines and tunnels. There are numerous paths and possibilities for adventurous exploration, if visitors are so inclined. It is strongly suggested that visitors wear boots, bring water, snacks, and a camera to capture the panoramic views. The second recommended destination includes an extra ten minute bus ride to the Mirador, one of the most spectacular views available in Northern Spain.

Frances and Hania

Hospital de Órbigo, Part Two

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After spending a particularly lovely evening of yoga and vegan food at the Albergue Verde, we stopped on our path to Santiago for a brief while at Hospital de Órbigo’s most famous historical attraction – its medieval bridge named the Puente del Paso Honroso.

While this bridge no longer spans a broad and brimming river (recent dam construction has limited the Órbigo to two smaller paths on either end of the bridge), it still stands prominent in the heart of this town on the Way. Constructed in the 13th century, this bridge has been continually reconstructed from over five lost arches due to flooding and near destruction in the Napoleonic Wars  – an excellent example of medieval architecture surviving and adapting  well into the modern period.

While the architectural presence and history of this Camino mainstay may be fairly impressive, one particular historical 15th century anecdote lives on to this day – the “Paso Honroso” of Suero de Quiñones. This story of one knight and his blind devotion to his lady sounds like something out of a dime-novel fantasy, but in fact it was all too real on the Camino nearly six hundred years ago.

Picture the twilight hours of the Spanish medieval period: the emergent power of the Christian kings of Spain against their Islamic enemies. The Reconquista was creeping southward, fueled by the knights of León (among the other Christian Iberian kingdoms).  One such knight, Suero de Quiñones (1409 – 1456) is the subject of the legend of the “paso honroso”, meaning literally the honorable step. Quiñones, a proper knight of his time, was caught up in the zeitgeist of the chivalric code of honor – particularly with the concept of courtly love. Dedicating himself to a noblewoman by the name of Doña Leonor de Tobar, this knight took to fasting and wearing an iron collar every Thursday to symbolize his love for her. Unfortunately, she did not reciprocate and Quiñones was forced to up his game.

In January of 1434, Quiñones petitioned the King of León for the right to hold a tournament and challenge all knights who wished to cross the Puente de Órbigo. The King gave his permission, and in July 1434 Quiñones and nine compatriots established their post to challenge all knights who dared pass them – a situation that might sound familiar to those who remember the Black Knight of Monty Python fame. Don Suero aimed to break 300 lances in this tournament, and thanks to the well-trod nature of the Camino de Santiago, he managed to challenge and defeat 68 knights total. Despite this, Quiñones and his comprades only managed to break roughly 200 lances. Even though he fell below his original goal, the knights of the paso honroso declared their contest over and successful in August of 1434 – with Quiñones himself symbolically removing his iron collar and vowing to take on the role of a pilgrim and travel to Compostela to give his arms to Santiago, thus ending the tale of the paso honroso. As a final note to the story, Quiñones himself would live for another 20 years until he met with a knight he had dishonored at the Puente de Órbigo, who promptly challenged him to a duel that immediately killed that most famous knight, Suero de Quiñones.

When we entered the town we saw the beginnings of the preparations for the Fiestas de las Justas del Paso Honroso: the annual celebration of the 1434 tournament that began in 1997. The Puente del Paso Honroso is a great historic example of the eclectic legends that line the road to Santiago, and a historical moment that would inspire the likes of Miguel de Cervantes’ monumental novel Don Quijote.

Sincerely,

G. Barba

 

Leon, Post 1: Panteon de los Reyes

Whether you begin your pilgrimage fresh in Leon or you stumble into the city after weeks of walking, the ancient Roman fortress is a wonderful place to spend a few days. Built as an outpost for the Roman legions used for the conquest of the Spanish Peninsula, Leon is a city dominated by its history. While walking past the medieval cathedral that dominates the city’s skyline, one stumbles upon a Roman pathway guarded by the city’s ancient walls.

Nowhere is the city’s long history more apparent than the burial place of the former Kings of Leon: the Panteon de los Reyes, which is located at the foot of the Basilica of San Isidoro. The Basilica, which was built over the ruins of a temple to the Roman god Mercury, became a royal burial place in 1063 when Queen Sancha of Leon persuaded her husband to transfer the remains of their ancestors to that place.

IMG_7883Visitors entering the Panteon are greeted by a beautifully preserved painted ceiling which has been dubbed the Sistine Chapel of Romanesque art. The ceiling is painted in earth tones of red, brown, and green, and depicts both biblical scenes and calendars. The solemnity of the ceiling magnifies the sense of majesty created by the simple yet elegantly designed tombs.

After a visit to the Panteon, I would recommend a visit to Vinoteca Cervantes on Calle Cervantes for some delicious tapas: the ham croquettas and calamari are particularly good. Despite being a city rich in museums and history, Leon does not disappoint visitors looking for an exciting night life. The bartender at Molly Malone’s is particularly friendly and the bar turns into a discoteca after 9pm every day.

Buen Camino!

Dan Salerno