There was a time when the coasts of Galicia, and especially those of the Ria de Arousa, were the scene of battles and invasions. Vikings and Saracens visited this land from time to time to the goal of obtaining treasures and, while they were at it, devastate everything they found along their way. This was, in addition, the most adequate access to reach the city of the Apostle, who had arrived at Compostela this same way, according to tradition. That is why, in the Middle Ages, there were several defensive constructions that the nobles and the Santiago bishopric built in order to protect their lands from constant raids. The tower of San Sadurniño, in Cambados, was one of those fortresses.
Cambados is one of the Galician towns with the greatest monumental and cultural richness. The spectacular palace of Fefiñáns, the houses in the old town, the romantic church of Santa Mariña de Dozo, the statues in the streets recalling its literary past … The entire centre of the town is a reminder of the town’s brilliant history. At the southern end of the municipal capital is the neighbourhood of Santo Tomé do Mar, probably the oldest settlement and a village in its own right. In fact, it was independent until the urban growth united it with Cambados and Fefiñáns, originally separate villages. It is a small population centre overlooking the estuary that is worth visiting at leisure, strolling through its narrow streets and calmly walking along the promenade.
It is in this ancient independent village where we can find what remains of the castle of San Sadurniño, which sinks its foundations into the sand of the A Figueira islet. It was once part of the defensive system devised by the Bishop of Iria Sisnando and later reinforced by the Compostela archbishop Xelmírez. Its origins can be found, therefore, in the Middle Ages, and are related to other towers like those of Oeste, in Catoira, Cálago, in Vilanova, or A Lanzada, between O Grove and Sanxenxo. Between them, a system of surveillance and warnings was established to alert the Episcopal headquarters of the proximity of the pirates and take, in this way, pertinent measures.
At its foot stood a chapel dedicated to St. Thomas, which gave the neighbourhood its name, but of which no remains are left. The fortress fulfilled its mission until the fifteenth century. Like many galician towers and fortresses, the Irmandiños tore parts of it down. Rebuilt shortly afterwards, with the arrival of modern armament it ceased to be useful and was abandoned. The result of this abandonment is its current state: most of the castle collapsed and nowadays we can only see one corner and the curious start of a chimney. It must be said, on a sunny day the surroundings are unrivalled, with the sea full of rafts and the mountains that surround Arousa flanking the scene.
The remains of San Sadurniño radiate peace among the Cambados shellfish banks. At low tide it is a pleasure to walk along the promenade, watch the shellfish gatherers work, and cross the stone bridge that leads from the mainland to the islet itself.