Today we will walk a leisurely 22 kilometres through the heart of Galicia, a region with strong Celtic roots and its own distinct language, Galician, a cross-cultural mix of Spanish and Portuguese, the region’s southern neighbor.
Winding our way through the hilly countryside, the unique qualities of Galician architecture reveal themselves. It is a largely rural way of life, with small, isolated communities scattered here and there. Called caseríos, these hamlets consist of three or four rustic houses constructed with local fieldstone, without the need of mortar. Often the house and barn are built as one building.
Along the route, another unique feature of the Galician farmscape appears. The hórreo is a tall, slim structure designed primarily for storing corn, but also used to protect other crops and valuables. Raised on two stone pedestals, the rectangular container has walls of wood or stone or both, perforated to allow air circulation, and topped with a simple gable roof. It is a piece of practical yet elegant vernacular architecture that will be repeated around every corner as we make our way through the Galician landscape.
Our destination on this twenty-ninth day of our pilgrimage is Portomarín. It is a city defined, for better and worse, by the Miño River, set in a deep valley. A defensive bridge has crossed at this point since 993 although it has been destroyed and rebuilt many times since then. On both sides of the bridge the community of Portomarín grew as an important military and commercial outpost.
In 1956, the river was dammed to provide hydro-electricity and the historic community of Portomarín found itself underwater, at the bottom of a newly formed reservoir. Within six years, the entire town was relocated to the top of the river valley. Important monuments were disassembled and reassembled in the new town. That was our destination for the night.
The town has a not-quite-right quality to it. it feels too planned. There are no missing teeth, no delapidated structures that give a community its patina of history. In the middle looms the reconstructed fortress-church Iglesia de San Juan, the largest single-nave Romanesque church in Galicia. Its severe, blockish mass rises high above the town square. No charming steeples or bell towers here. Instead, the unembellished stone walls terminate in battlements which, in its heyday, served as a defensive post. It is a design true to its combined functions of church and fortress but it does impose an austere face on the town. The church was closed when we arrived, but I understand that the interior is finely embellished with Romanesque carvery.
Our night ends softly with a fine bottle of wine, good food and our first slice of a favourite Galician confection, the Tarta de Santiago.
The next day takes us back across the Miño River. Ironically, the view from the more modern bridge crossing the river reveals the remains of the original Portomarín settlement along the its banks, exposed now that the reservoir has receded almost completely.
Our journey continues through the hills of Galicia. We wander for 25 kilometres through more caseríos and delight at the endless stream of hórreo. It is quiet day of walking that ends in the quiet town of Palas de Rei. Time to rest as we contemplate the last few days of our pilgrimage to Santiago.
This is the nineteenth of a number of planned posts to my on-going Walking the Camino de Santiago, A Photo Essay. If you have any observations or your own Camino experiences to relate, feel free to use the Comments section below.
If you are interested in purchasing prints for any of the photographs in this series of Camino de Santiago blog posts, they can be ordered directly from my website at www.firmangallery.com/camino-frances
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