Castles, those buildings so fashionable in the Middle Ages, were built in strategic places for the defense and control of the land: on top of a mountain, or near the sea, or the river, to defend against invasions by the coast. So good views are guaranteed… In the province of Pontevedra we have five important and imposing examples.
Soutomaior Castle. It is on Mount Viso, in the center of the municipality of Soutomaior, dominating the valleys of the Verdugo river and its tributaries, and also the Vigo estuary. In the 12th century it began as a defensive tower, built by order of Alfonso VII. Over time it grew like a great fortress, reaching its greatest splendor with Pedro Álvarez de Sotomayor, Pedro Madruga, a nobleman of great power in the Galician southwest. As he used to say, so humble: “in Galicia, my house is enough”. This character had a life of adventures that we discovered in the museum area of the castle, where the question even arises as to whether it was not…Christopher Columbus! Its name is also linked to the history of other castles, such as Doña Urraca. It can be said that he was involved in all the messes…
After several centuries of decline, the castle passed into the hands of the Marquis de la Vega de Armijo, in the 19th century, who gave it a neo-Gothic air and used it as a summer residence. In the end, after another period of decline, it was acquired by the Pontevedra council in 1982, which rehabilitated it and opened it to the public.
The castle is surrounded by a botanical park of more than 25 hectares, with areas of camellias, vineyards, forests, fruit trees… The protagonists are the “unique trees”, the tallest at 41 m, and the camellias, which make the garden so International Camellia Garden since 2012.
Castle of Monterreal (Bayona). On the Monte Boi peninsula, where there have always been settlements, a fortress was built in the 12th century, which would undergo successive transformations, even in the 20th century, when it would become a hostel. Its period of splendor took place in the 15th and 16th centuries, with the intense commercial activity of the port of Baiona. In the 16th century, the Count of Gondomar rebuilt the fortress and named it Monterreal, in honor of the Catholic Monarchs. Pedro Madruga also passed through here, of course, and even built a tower in 1474. Felipe II would add bastions.
Today, surrounding the wall, there is a magnificent promenade facing the Atlantic. To enter the enclosure we have 4 access gates: that of the Sun, that of the Prince, the Royal and the Principal. The latter, commissioned by Felipe IV, gives access to Barbeira beach. In addition, it has several towers: that of Puerta del Sol, with the drawbridge; that of the Prince; that of La Tenaza and the Clock Tower, with battlements and artillery pieces. The walk outside and inside the walls is an essential part of a visit to Baiona.
Castle of Salvaterra de Miño. Due to its location, on the banks of the Miño, facing Portugal, this area was always a defensive point. The origins of the castle date back to the 10th-11th centuries. From here, Doña Urraca would fight against Teresa of Portugal. In the 12th century, Fernando II built a good fortress. And, come the fifteenth century, who could not miss…? Pedro Madruga, of course, who used it as a refuge in his disputes with Archbishop Fonseca. In the 17th century it underwent a major remodeling, which endowed it with a system of bastions.
At present, the walled enclosure, the Casa del Conde, the Castle of Doña Urraca and the Chapel of the Virgin of Oliva are distributed in an area of 9,700 m2. From the 12th century, the Cuevas de doña Urraca have been preserved. Doña Urraca Castle houses the Wine Science Museum, so as not to forget that we are in Condado do Tea.
Castle of Santa Cruz (A Guarda). This fortress, in the highest area of the city of A Guarda, was one of those ordered to be built by Felipe IV, c. to 1664, as a defense against Portuguese invasions. Today there are not many remains, but it was a very complete fortress, with a barracks for troops, stables, warehouses, a powder magazine… In the 17th century it was occupied by the Portuguese army and in the 19th century, for a brief period, by the French . Later it changed owners until it was recovered for public use. Currently, inside the fortress there is only one building, which houses the Interpretation Center, with three annexes built for complementary services. The ground floor is dedicated to didactic workshops. It also has a landscaped promenade and great views of the Atlantic and the Portuguese coast.
Sobroso Castle (Mondariz). The building is on top of Mount Landín, dominating Vilasobroso and O Val do Condado up to the border with Portugal. It is a medieval castle that was restored in the 20th century. Many historical figures passed through it, such as Doña Urraca, who was held here by her sister Teresa of Portugal and by the Count of Traba. The legend says that he fled through the underground passageway of the castle, crossing the mountain until he reached the banks of the Tea, from where he would go to León. The wedding of Dinis I of Portugal with Isabel of Aragón was also celebrated in the castle. And Alfonso VII was even crowned here. Like all castles, it had several owners, among them… Pedro Madruga!
In the 20th century it became the property of the town hall. The interior is rehabilitated, giving us an idea of how life was lived many centuries ago. It is also the headquarters of the Center for the Recovery and Diffusion of Popular Culture of the Ponteareas town hall, with a museum of Galician and ethnographic costume. Outside there is a good expanse of countryside and native trees.