Medieval towns among vineyards
The itinerary begins in the city of Ourense, neighboring to the Ribeiro district.
The District do Ribeiro, located around the middle course of the Miño river, lying to the west of the province of Ourense and on the border of the province of Pontevedra, has a varied repertoire of cultural, gastronomic and scenic attractions making of this area one of the most interesting of the interior of Galicia. Ribadavia is its most important town.
The area’s character is defined by its waters, that of its rivers, of its spas and reservoirs. As they pass through these lands, the rivers Miño, Arnoia and Avia are the source of a succession of still waters and gorges, thus creating O Ribeiro’s emblematic landscape, defined by its rolling hills, its fertile soil and its benign weather. Most of the district’s population is settled on the river valleys.
The courses of the rivers are surrounded by dense forest. Grapes for wine production are the most important crops, usually disposed in the form of terraces or "socalcos". The several varietals included in the denomination of origin ‘Ribeiro’ have given the wines from these lands a reputation of quality that has been acknowledged since Roman times, something visitors should seize the opportunity to judge for themselves by going to atypical bodega or wine cellar.
The passing centuries have left a great wealth of monuments in the form of medieval villages, monasteries, churches, convents and bridges. Although there are no great heights in the area, it does have several vantage points overlooking the vineyards and vegetable gardens so characteristic here.
A city on the banks of the Miño, it is the capital of the only Galician province without a coastline. It was already important in Roman times for being the most convenient point for crossing the Miño. The foundations of its Old Bridge, an essential landmark of the city, are Roman.
Also important is its cathedral (twelfth century and later), especially the Pórtico del Paraíso, which emulates the world famous Pórtico de la Gloria in Santiago de Compostela; The churches of San Francisco –Gothic- that of la Trinidad, Santa Eufemia and Santa María la Madre. And there are also of course its streets, plazas and gardens of well preserved old town, with the quiet flavor of the good life in an old provincial town.
Ourense is also the city of the ‘Burgas’: three hot water springs with temperatures of about 70ºC, the origin of which has given rise to countless theories and stories.
This town, the capital of O Ribeiro, is on the meeting point of the rivers Avia and Miño, on the way between Ourense and Vigo. The landscape surrounding it is one of river valleys, vineyards and rolling hills.
In the twelfth century its population and trading influence began to expand, taking advantage of the vigor of the nearby monasteries of San Clodio and Melón. After this, Ribadavia became the home of a large Jewish community that took part in the prosperous wine trade, and their influence is still felt today.
Its economic life, very prosperous between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, has always been linked to wine production. The local wines have been appreciated throughout Europe since Antiquity, and they began to be exported to the New World soon after its discovery.
So many centuries of life have left a rich cultural and artistic heritage in Ribadavia, which won it the declaration of Conjunto-Histórico Artístico in the year 1947.
Among the civil architecture we should feature the castle of the Counts of Ribadavia (fifteenth century), where there are graves excavated in the rock in the ninth century, a twelfth century sepulcher, the Jewish quarter, which is unique in Galicia, or the walls (twelfth to fifteenth century), at some points 5,50 meters high and preserving three of the original five gates. Also, the House of the Inquisition (sixteenth century), which in its day kept a close watch particularly on converted Jews, who were suspected of heresy. The religious repertoire is made up by the church and convent of Santo Domingo, the church of Santiago, the church of Santa María de Oliveira, the church of San Juan and the chapel of Nuestra Señora del Portal.
Apart from its architecture, Ribadavia has many other cultural assets. The Museo Etnolóxico, housed in an eighteenth century pazo, owns an excellent book collection, one of the best regarding the history of Galicia. Thereis alsothe much visited Festa da Historia, a celebration with its origin in the seventeenth century in which during one day, either the last Saturday of August or the first Saturday of September, Rivadavia returns to the Middle Ages: costumes, dances and music, a market, arts and crafts, a recreation of Jewish weddings … all is medieval, and even the official currency is the old maravedí.
It is striking to discover the survival of Hebrew influence in Ribadavia la influencia hebrea pervive todavía: in several places they still prepare traditional Jewish sweets such as ‘kamisch-broit’, ‘ma´amul’ or ‘masiñas de mapoulas’.