The Santiago Way is a route particularly fruitful in unparalleled views. There are many corners that pop up without warning and leave pilgrims speechless. That is the reason why it is such a peculiar journey and that is also why whose who travel it, return. Today we will stop for a view such that forces feet to slow down and eyes to concentrate on its distant beauty: Portomarín from the heights.
The scene appears for the pilgrim around kilometre 96 of the Jacobean Route (it is already known that, following the markings on the milestones by the Camino, the distance is measured in reverse, and reflects the kilometres remaining until reaching Compostela). Just when the route branches off from LU-4203 road to start a prolonged descent towards the Miño river, in a place known as Marcadoiro, a group of white buildings can be seen in the distance, on the other side of the valley. The constructions are pleasantly distributed along the low area of mountains that reach into the sky. In the forefront, the Way’s descent twists and turns between native trees and stone walls, similar to those that cross the hills the pilgrims have just left behind.
What is seen in the background is the town of Portomarín, and the strange effect of it seeming so orderly is due to the fact that it is a planned town, built just half a century ago, to accommodate the inhabitants of the old town centre, flooded by the Belesar reservoir in the sixties of last century.
The transfer of Portomarín was a collective enterprise. The village’s most important buildings were dismantled stone by stone and transported uphill to the so-called Monte do Cristo. Among those rebuilt constructions were the San Pedro church, some manor houses or the famous stairway, and the Chapel of As Neves through which the Way enters into the new town. And, above all, the imposing church of San Nicolao, formerly known as San Xoán. This Romanesque church-castle was built between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and keeps among its voluminous, almost aggressively so, parts, some corners as remarkable as the main facade, devoted to images of the Apocalypse, or a small and delicate rose window. On its stones you can still see the last trace left by the town’s history, in the form of the numbers written on the stones when the building was dismantled so they could put each piece back in its place in the new site, far from the river waters.
The new town, designed by architect Pons Sorolla, was arranged around a main square, in which both the San Xoán church and General Paredes’ house were placed, and another, smaller square presided over by the San Pedro church. The houses and streets attempted to replicate the area’s architecture by using local materials such as slate, and were equipped with very characteristic arcades under which pilgrims who nowadays cross the French Way can rest from their fatigues and the sun.