Our first stop in the Autonomous Community of Galicia, Spain was Ourense, named the ‘city of bridges’.
The population of Ourense is less than 110,000 people, yet despite its size there are 8 bridges that cross the Miño River. The photo at the top of this writing is the Ponte Romana (Roman Bridge) also called the Ponte Vella (Old Bridge) and it was, until the 19th century, the only access across the Miño. Originally built by the Romans in the 1st century CE, the bridge was completely rebuilt in 1230 and has been frequently repaired over the centuries. Today the only part of the bridge that dates back to the 1st century, are the stones at its base. In 1998, all vehicles were diverted from the bridge and it is now a pedestrian-only bridge.
The Puente del Milenio (Millennium Bridge) took 28 months to build and it opened in 2001. The unique elliptical design becomes a circuit above, below and around the bridge. The walkway rises 72 feet (22 meters) above the bridge providing an extraordinary view of the river, the Roman bridge and the city. As you see, it was perfectly calm on the day we chose to explore the bridges.
The autonomous community of Galicia is made up of 4 provinces – A Coruña, Lugo, Ourense and Pontevedra. We are hoping to have an opportunity to visit each province. Galicians or gallegos are a Celtic-Romance ethnic group in the north-west of the Iberian Peninsula. There are two official languages: Galician and Spanish. 32% speak Galician, 17% speak Spanish and nearly everyone else speaks both languages.
Tenth June Brutus Galaico (180- 113 BCE) was a Roman general who eventually conquered and eliminated all resistance from the Galicians. Rome wanted this region for its gold. Tin, lead and iron were also mined and the mines were worked mostly by the local indigenous people. The rich deposits of gold were used to mint coins for the Roman Empire and gold was extracted from the mines for two centuries before the mines were closed.
The Romans loved their thermae and this area is blessed with a number of natural mineral hot springs so naturally the Roman city developed around these thermal water sources.
To this day, the city is well known for its geothermal springs but due to the current pandemic, the outdoor baths have been closed.
There is one hot spring called As Burgas, located in the old town that we were able to partially tour. The water from the outdoor baths has been temporarily drained away but we were able to run our hands beneath a waterspout that had water coming up from the ground and that water was burning hot.
There are two theories of the naming of Ourense – pronounced Or-en-say.
The first theory is that the Romans named it Auriense, meaning ‘city of gold’, due to the abundance of gold discovered here.
The second theory says the name of the city came from the Latin aquae urente meaning ‘searing waters’ or from the Germanic warmsee meaning ‘hot lake’, due to the abundance of hot springs.
Catedral de Ourense or Catedral do San Martiño
The Suebi Kingdom of Gallæcia was a Germanic kingdom that began around 409 CE and entered into the region following the near collapse of the Roman empire in Spain.
Ourense Cathedral was first built by the Suebian King Chararic in 550 CE. Gallaecia and the Suebis would maintain their independence up to 585, before the area was annexed by the powerful Visigoths.
Much of the present day Cathedral, built on the same site as the Suebian church, was built in 1220 and the interior is astonishing. For a small city this cathedral was a complete surprise. It reminded us of the spectacular Royal Chapel and Cathedral in Granada. The gold and silver filled shrines and chapels in Ourense Cathedral are breathtaking and each of the Renaissance choir stalls has intricately carved details.
Our favorite part of the Cathedral has to be the 13th-century Pórtico del Paraíso, located at one end of the Cathedral. The glorious decor faces the processional doors and not the interior of the cathedral so be sure not to miss this part. The Pórtico was restored in the 18th century and the vibrant colors and figures of angels and saints are easily discernible even though you are looking so far above your head. The 3 arches were built by students of Master Mateo, best known for his 12th century Pórtico de la Gloria in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. (we hope to visit there soon)
The central arch has the 24 figures from the Book of Revelation, the columns are sculpted with beautiful apostles and prophets, there are life-like interacting musicians holding a variety of instruments, the patron of Ourense, Saint Martín, on horseback reaching down to share his cloak with a beggar and much, much more. With so much to take in, our necks were sore from looking up by the time we left the Cathedral.
Claustro de San Francisco + Cementerio
The remains of the Cloister of Saint Francis today are 63 stone arches each carved with people, local plants, animals and imaginary creatures. Founded in the 14th century, the order remained until 1843 when the convent was converted into infantry barracks. In 1951 the church was moved to another location in the city, leaving the cloister behind. In 1984 the military abandoned the sight and today it is open to the public.
The cemetery next door, opened in 1834, is filled with beautiful mausoleums, interesting gravestones, a fascinating display of iconic old crosses and secret corners. The opening of St Francis Cemetery, which at the time it opened, was on the outskirts of the town, was a milestone in the history of burials for the city because up until that time, the dead would always have been buried inside their church or in the cemetery attached to their church.
Ourense’s old town and historic site’s can easily be explored in a day or two. We had a lovely respite here for a few days and we were able to begin to catch up on our writing and editing.
“One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of seeing things.” Henry Miller
Boa saúde from these Ourensanos,
Ted + Julia