Duration: Half-day tour
Description: Located near Santiago are the old “pazos” (ancestral homes) of Santa Cruz de Ribadulla and Oca, whose gardens –historical and artistic- are among the best in Spain and can be visited. The trip goes through the region watered by the River Ulla, an area of great interest due to its scenery, vegetation and old monuments. San Xoán da Cova is the site of Ponte Gundián, an old engineering feat that still functions as a train viaduct and is an icon throughout the entire region. The landscape is dominated by the silhouette of Pico Sacro, Galicia’s most beautiful and symbolic peak, featuring medieval rooms, which is well worth visiting.
Pazo de Ribadulla-Pazo de Oca-Ponte Gundián
In the vicinity of Santiago are the most beautiful and celebrated pazos (palaces) of Santa Cruz de Ribadulla and Oca, of which the gardens, laden with art and history, are among the best in all Spain.
This trip is to the district watered by the Ulla river. Its landscape, vegetation and ancient monuments make of a visit there an absolute must, and for its relation to Santiago, it should be considered the city’s garden and, indeed, its vegetable garden.
The valley, with shapes carved by sunken meanders and high cliffs, is dressed in pine tree groves deep and dense, and large patches of oak interrupted by vineyards which produce mild golden wines, corn fields and prairies. No village in the area is without its beautiful pazo, its church well built and carved. The fair waters of the river, for its volume the second in Galicia, are full of trout, salmon, and in its lower section, lamprey.
The landscape is dominated by the outline of the Pico Sacro (Sacred Peak), the most beautiful as well as symbolic summit of Galicia, visible in the composition of many ample vistas. Its core is made of quartz –it comes first among the natural quartz chasms of the world- and on its peak is the hermitage of San Sebastián (not visitable), with its beautiful Romanesque arches and capitals. The Pico, a legendary place, already known in Latin Antiquity, was the legendary setting of Gospel preaching by the Apostle, who with only the sign of the Cross made the dragon inhabiting it fall, a symbol of paganism. It was also according to legend the place where the disciples of the Apostle Saint James tamed two wild bulls so that they would carry his body to the place where the cathedral now stands.
On the Pico there were towering castles; it both threatened and defended Santiago, but its warlike history fades before its beauty, its horizon. On clear days, fro there one can see all of Compostela’s finest buildings huddled around the basilical towers, the Ulla river valley and even the sea of the Ría de Arousa into which the Ulla flows.
Pazo de Santa Cruz de Ribadulla and Pazo de Oca
Pazos (palaces) are noble households typical of rural Galicia, which reached the height of their splendor between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. Two of the best are included in this itinerary: the Pazo de Santa Cruz de Ribadulla, also known as de Ortigueira, and the Pazo de Oca, both in the vicinity of Santiago de Compostela.
Pazos are frequently considered akin to castles, presenting them as a derivation suited to more peaceful times. However, the genuine Pazo style owes more to rural and monastic architecture than to the military. The towers are not merely decorative though, since they are convenient for both sunbathing and looking at the landscape. The sun gallery opens toward the patio as both watchpost and post of honor. Popular festivities were often celebrated in the patio, which could be seen from the chapel, and the sun gallery was the box for guests of quality. The baroque style is usually the one predominating in the decoration. Once transplanted to the city, it adapted to a milieu of streets, but still preserved much of its style without blending with the strictly bourgeois architecture, neither even with the noble houses derived from the old fortress-houses of the city.
Although the interior of these buildings cannot be visited, their fabulous gardens can be, and they are true monuments of nature, remarkable for the variety and elegance of their species, and for the way in which they blend with their surrounding areas. They both have a garden section, a forest section, and another for cultivated land. The difference between their respective gardens has more to do with their original conception, more voluptuous, spectacular and rustic in the case of Ribadulla, following rather the pattern of the English garden, more cared after, decorative and smart in that of Oca, with a more elaborate design involving water and stone.
Vegetation is at its most powerful and varied at the garden of Santa Cruz de Ribadulla. Galician Carballeiras (oakwoods) and venerable olive trees havelong grown side toside with magnolia trees and eucaliptus, and the avenues of myrtle climbed by white and gray lichen are of aroyal and melancholy beauty. Since it is inhabited, it has the warmth of lived in monuments, and it deals in camellias much coveted by wholesaler florists.
At Oca, the decorative towers and its garden of myrtle, roses and mazes preserve the incomparable grace of the eighteenth century. A magnificent aqueduct, carved and decorated, feeds ponds worthy of a cardinal’s villa, and the avenues are formed by old chestnut trees.
Galician pazos have become a literary subject in themselves, especially after the novels by Emilia Pardo Bazán and Valle Inclán (Los pazos de Ulloa, Cuentos, Bucólica, La Sirena Negra, Sonata de Otoño, Romance de Lobos, Águila de blasón).
Viaducto de San Xoán da Cova (Ponte Gundián)
The groove of the valley is easily visible from the point where San Xoán da Cova becomes narrow, in Ponte-Ulla, crossed by the spectacular train viaduct dominating the whole landscape: Ponte Gundián, icon of the entire district.
En el estrecho de San Xoán da Cova vivió anidado entre los formidables peñascos de la margen derecha sobre el río, un monastery de aquel nombre, habitado desde el siglo IX por hermitageños de la regla de Santo Agostiño. En febrero de 1571 uba excepcional avenida del río derrumbó el monastery, que no volvió a edificarse.