Other Types of Architectural Heritage Along the St. James Way

Visit a selection of extraordinary structures that pilgrims can see as they make their way along the St. James Way. Some are well known and very beautiful; others are intriguing surprises.

Monumental ensemble of Soutomerille (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

1. Ruins

The whole of Galicia is dotted with ancient structures. Many have survived the passing of time, while for a range of different reasons others were abandoned. The ruins that pilgrims see on their journey evoke nostalgia for the past, and for the people who once lived there.

Monumental ensemble of Soutomerille (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

Soutomerille, located close to Castroverde on the Primitive Way, was an important population center of which only ruins remain today. Galicia's lush vegetation has taken over the ruins in what is one of the most magical corners of the entire St. James Way.

Montouto Hospital (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

The origins of this imposing, isolated place have been lost in the mists of time. Montouto, on the Primitive Way, is the site of the ruins of the old hospital, which admitted pilgrims between the 14th and 20th centuries. Not far away are the archaeological remains of the As Pedras Dereitas dolmen.

Roman Temple of Santalla de Bóveda (3rd Century)Regional Government of Galicia

Next to the Primitive Way is the only building of its type in the world: the Roman temple of Santalla de Bóveda. Its original use is shrouded in mystery, and it is considered to be a unicum (the only example in the entire Roman Empire). The paintings inside the building are exceptionally well preserved, and are among the oldest in the Iberian Peninsula.

Cruceiro and granary on the Paseo de Monte Boi (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

2. Hórreos

The very essence of traditional Galician architecture, hórreos are structures built on pillars for storing food and protecting it from damp and animals, to keep it in the best possible condition for consumption. Today, they are extremely valuable pieces of heritage.

A Lastra, Baleira (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

They were used across large parts of the northern Iberian Peninsula. Most are found in Galicia and part of Asturias, although there are also examples of them in the provinces of Leon and Zamora, in Cantabria, and in certain parts of the Basque Country and northern Portugal. Winter, with its cold, wet weather, arrives earlier in this part of the country, so crops are harvested earlier in the year.

Granaries in Olveiroa (2004)Original Source: Axencia Turismo de Galicia

Many hórreos have little slits in the walls for ventilation. In some areas, such as this one in Olveiroa (A Coruña), they are grouped around the church, resulting in a charming, attractive architectural complex for pilgrims to look at.

O Cebreiro (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

Depending on where you are in Galicia, you'll see different kinds of hórreo with different local names. This one, in O Cebreiro, is similar to the ones found in Asturias. It is large and square-shaped. Today, it is used as a shop.

Church of Santa María do Leboreiro (14th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

Next to the church of Santa María do Leboreiro is another type of early hórreo called a cabazo. This grain store is like a giant basket, and was used for storing corn. 

What other names are hórreos known by? Depending on where you are in Galicia, they could be called horrio, canastro, cabaceiro, piorno, cabana, or paneira ...

Pambre Castle (1375)Regional Government of Galicia

How many hórreos do you think there are in Galicia? It is estimated that there are around 30,000 of them. Although they are no longer used for their original purpose, they are important aspects of cultural and ethnographic heritage that deserve to be more widely known. They are fully protected by the law.

Pambre Castle (1375)Regional Government of Galicia

3. Military and defensive architecture

There are several well-known examples of defensive and military structures along the St. James Way. These include walls (such as the ones in Lugo), towers (such as the Andrade tower), and castles (such as the Castle of Pambre). Let's take a look at some other fortifications that are found along the different routes of the St. James Way. While less well-known, they are no less significant, each one with its own exciting history.

Castle of San Carlos (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

Although it is known as the Castle of San Carlos (St. Charles), this small defensive fortification in Fisterra is actually the remains of an 18th-century military fortress. Its construction was ordered by Charles III of Spain for the defense of Corcubión and its estuary. Today, the castle houses the Museum of Fishing.

Porta da Ponte Nova, medieval wall of Betanzos (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

The remains of the walls around Betanzos are another outstanding example of a fortification. There is evidence of their existence in the 13th century, and they were rebuilt several times over the centuries that followed. Most of the structure was demolished in 1872 as part of the work to widen the entrance to the town. Its remains were used in the construction of several buildings at the time.

Sandiás Tower (2008)Original Source: Axencia Turismo de Galicia

Many defensive structures are now ruins, as they are no longer needed for their original purpose. This hill overlooking a vast plain in Sandiás (Ourense) was once a hillfort, and in the 11th century a watchtower stood there. It was destroyed by the Duke of Lancaster in 1386, and then again about a hundred years later during the Irmandiño revolts.

The lighthouse of Cabo Fisterra, aerial view (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

4. Lighthouses

Every lighthouse in Galicia has its own stories to tell, whether they are tragic tales of shipwrecks, or incredible feats to protect boats. They are popular tourist attractions, symbolizing the starting point of many of the routes of the St. James Way (although conversely, the Finisterre Way ends at a lighthouse).

Ría de A Coruña from the lighthouses of Mera (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

The small lighthouse at Mera has a strategic position overlooking the Gulf of Artrabo. This is the most important natural port in northeastern Spain, and is formed of three estuaries: A Coruña, Ares and Betanzos. In the background is the Tower of Hercules, a Roman lighthouse that stands in A Coruña, one of the two Galician towns that mark the beginning of the English Way.

Cape Fisterra, aerial view (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

In ancient times, it was considered to be the end of the earth (known in Latin as Finis Terrae which is the source of the name Fisterra, or Finisterre). The light in this lighthouse, which was built in 1853, is almost 470 feet high, with a visible range of 26 nautical miles. This site marks the end of the Finisterre Way, and the end of the pilgrimage for thousands of travelers, who are sure to be overwhelmed by the magnificent views over the Atlantic Ocean.

Bridges over the river Miño as it passes through Ourense (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

5. Bridges

The great storyteller, Álvaro Cunqueiro (originally from the town of Mondoñedo) somewhat exaggeratedly described Galicia as the land of 10,000 rivers. Although the true number is rather smaller, it is a fact that the Galician landscape has an abundance of rivers, and the bridges over them are many and varied. The Miño River in the city of Ourense, for example, has eight bridges built between the Roman era and the 21st century.

Ensenada de San Simón, in the Vigo estuary, and Rande bridge (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

The Rande bridge connects the banks on either side of the Vigo Estuary. Built in 1981 to carry traffic traveling along the Atlantic Highway, it is not accessible to pedestrians. However, it provides pilgrims with a spectacular view over the estuary, in which nature and technology coexist in perfect synchronicity. 

Aerial view of the river Miño as it passes through Lugo (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

The Roman bridge in Lugo was built in the 1st century. It was part of a Roman road connecting Lucus Augusti (the Roman name for Lugo) with Braga. It is almost 330 feet long, and 13 feet wide.  It has been rebuilt several times but still retains the essence of the original structure. It is now a footbridge and a glorious place for a stroll across the Miño River.

O Burgo Bridge (12th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

This bridge in O Burgo was built in the Late Middle Ages, and has been restored several times since then. It has 11 semicircular arches and is now a footbridge. Interestingly, it was partially destroyed by the British army under the command of Sir John Moore as they tried to flee the French during the Spanish War of Independence (1809).

Ponte do Pasatempo (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

Pilgrims on the St. James Way will cross countless bridges, each one beautiful and unique in its own way. These structures, weather beaten and full of charm, hold the stories and legends of the thousands of people who have crossed them, such as the ancient O Pasatempo bridge in Mondoñedo.

Barrio dos Muíños, Mondoñedo (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

6. Other forms of public architecture

Numerous other types of unique, fascinating, and unusual structures can be found along the St. James Way. Muíños, for example, which is a neighborhood in the town of Mondoñedo, is crisscrossed by several canals, and also has a dozen mills, small bridges, communal washing places, and fountains.

O Padrón, A Fonsagrada (2020)Regional Government of Galicia

Pilgrims will encounter numerous villages, hamlets, and little groups of houses that show the extent to which Galicia's population is geographically dispersed. The stones used in traditional Galician architecture are the result of hard work by the region's population over the centuries.

Casa Núñez, Pazo de Bendaña and church of Santiago in the Plaza de la Constitución in Betanzos (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

Public heritage is visible in every corner of the region's historic houses, such as pazos (traditional Galician country houses), and manor houses. In Betanzos, for example, pilgrims will come across a colonial-style building known as Casa Núñez, now home to the International Center for Contemporary Printmaking. Another example is the 15th-century Bendaña pazo, another traditional Galician country house.

Pazo de Mariñán, aerial view (15th Century)Regional Government of Galicia

Galician pazos are usually large, architecturally complex country houses, such as this one in Mariñán (Bergondo, A Coruña). Built in the 15th century, the house and its magnificent gardens are among the most spectacular in Galicia. The house and grounds were awarded the status of a site of historic and artistic significance in 1972.

María Pita Square and A Coruña Town Hall (2021)Regional Government of Galicia

Visitors to Galician cities can lose themselves for days on end, soaking up the wide variety of architectural heritage that these cities have to offer. There are countless examples, such as the María Pita city hall in A Coruña; the rather elegant seat of the municipal government. This eclectic, landmark building was designed by Pedro Mariño in the early 20th century.

Peregrinos en la Rúa do Vilar, en Santiago de Compostela (2021)Original Source: Axencia Turismo de Galicia

The varied structures of Galician architectural heritage tell the story of the stones used to build them, and of the people who built them and lived in them. Look around you as you walk along the St. James Way, and you'll see Galicia's history in every building you pass. 

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