In the south of the province of Lugo there is a city built around a mountain, a river and a valley, with a powerful past, a rich historical-artistic heritage and… a lot of trains. Yes, it is Monforte de Lemos! To discover all the treasures it has to offer, there are five destinations not to be missed:
Monumental complex of San Vicente do Pino. This monumental complex crowns the hill of San Vicente. It is made up of the keep, the County Palace and the Benedictine monastery. The tower and the wall date from the 13th century, although they were rebuilt after being ravaged by the Irmandiños. Of the towers that once stood on the wall, only five remain: Santo Domingo, Castelo pequeño, Monxes, Arcos and Cárcere Vello. There are also two gates: the Alcazaba and the Nova. The keep, symbol of the city, measures 30 m, a skyscraper in its time. From the top you can see the whole of Val de Lemos at a glance.
The monastery was built on the site of an ancient hermitage. Although its origins date back to the 10th century, what remains is mainly from the 16th century. The façade, as well as the cloister, is neoclassical, and has a royal coat of arms and an image of Saint Benedict. In the adjoining church, with a high altar by the master Mil Bienes, is the tomb of Abbot Diego García. According to legend, he died under a crown of fire at the hands of the Count of Lemos, for having had secret meetings with his daughter.
The count’s palace was built in the 16th century on the remains of an earlier construction and, in the 17th century, it was rebuilt after a great fire. Its splendour took place in the 16th and 17th centuries, during the time of the 7th Count, Don Pedro Fernández de Castro, who was very powerful in the peninsula and in Italy, and patron of great writers, such as Cervantes. Today, the palace and the monastery are used as a Parador de turismo.
Jewish Quarter. Walking down through the medieval burgh, the streets of the Jewish quarter are clearly identifiable, because they all refer to trades (shoemakers, fishmongers…). The Jewish quarter of Monforte, together with that of Ribadavia and Tui, forms part of the Network of Spanish Jewish Quarters and the Network of Sepharad Routes. The Jewish population gradually settled in society and, even after the expulsion, many Jews returned as converts.
The route of the Jewish quarter begins on the hill of San Vicente itself, where two Solomon’s crosses are engraved on the keep. In the Porta Nova there are remains of a synagogue and several houses, today almost all of them vegetable gardens, once inhabited by Jews. The main street was the Falagueira, which connects the Porta Nova with the Pescadería. There are still remains of the trabuleiro, the display stand used by shoemakers on the window sill. At the end of the Pescadería is the house of the Gaibor family, an important Jewish convert family.
Nosa Señora da Antiga. A great-uncle of Count Pedro, Cardinal Rodríguez de Castro, was the one who began its construction, although he would not see it finished. The college of Nosa Señora da Antiga, or college of the Escolapios, or Galician Escorial, was born with aspirations of becoming the Escorial Galego, and in fact it has an air of it, with its 16th and 17th century Herrerian style. It is an imposing, symmetrical construction, with a central dome topped by a lantern. It has an important art collection, which can be enjoyed in the exhibition room located in the old sacristy. There we can contemplate a Saint Jerome and a Saint Francis by El Greco and five panels by Andrea del Sarto, among other works. A real Escorial for Monforte. At one time, it even had an adoration by Hugo van der Goes, which was controversially sold at the beginning of the 20th century to restore the building.
A walk along the river Cabe. The river that crosses Monforte rises in the mountain range of O Courel and dies in the Sil, in the middle of Ribeira Sacra. It is a luxury to have the river in the town centre itself, and to be able to walk along both banks, among the trees and, if we wish, by bike. The walk takes us out of the city, as it continues in the parish of Piñeira. This river, which brings us the London mists of Monforte, among which we can sometimes only make out the tower of San Vicente, also sometimes brings us ice in winter (to contemplate, so nobody takes out their skates), and rides in rented boats in summer, from the jetty of the Parque dos Condes. On the river you can see ducks, swans, canoeists… and a lively river club.
Over the Cabe cross the Ponte Vella, a bridge of medieval origin, with the convent of Santa Clara opposite, or a recent wooden bridge.
Railway Museum (MUFERGA). If in the 16th century Monforte went through a period of splendour, in the 20th century another one would come with the arrival of the train. It would even be awarded the title of city, granted by Alfonso XII for its progress. Monforte would become a very important railway junction, the driving force of its economy for many years. To remember all its railway history, we only have to visit the Galician Railway Museum. It has two buildings: the museum itself, which occupies the old traction and repair workshops of the Galician steam locomotives; and the railway roundabout or nave de la rotonda, once the largest rotating train ferry in Spain. The museum preserves and exhibits unique pieces in terms of locomotives, wagons, and all the objects that have to do with this world. The good thing is that it is always being updated and receiving contributions to the collection. It also has a children’s train that runs around the outside of the museum.