June 3: Portomarin

Our battle with the rain continued as we walked through the Galician countryside. The undulating hills of this region came to a halt as we descended towards the river Mino. Miraculously, the rain ended and the sky cleared. We reached our stop for the night: Portomarín.

    Long before the Camino de Santiago emerged as a fabled catholic pilgrimage through the Iberian peninsula, the Roman Empire held control over much the territory of modern Spain. Within the province of Lugo lies the small municipality of Portomarin. Originally settled by Roman forces in the first century, today Portomarin is a historic marvel along the Camino. The remnants of the town’s past emerge miraculously under the nearby river Mino, a reminder of the constant negotiation of past identifies, histories and politics along the Camino.

    When tides are low, remnants of the old 12th century bridge emerge out of the Mino river. As early as Roman times, a bridge has crossed the river. Multiple iterations have been rebuilt, notably in the the tenth and twelfth centuries, as they were destroyed in battle. Today, the old bridge lies below the currant along with other minor reminders of the past.

Portomarín’s old town was submerged when Spanish dictator Francisco Franco ordered the construction of the Belesar dam. This construction flooded the old town of Portomarin and forced the upheaval of an entire community. While the remains of the old bridge are still imprisoned by the waters created by the dam, much of old Portomarin was saved by a dedicated citizenry. Piece by piece, stone by stone, the beautiful Church of San Nicolas was rescued. Brought up and reconstructed in the new town, this Romanesque church is one of the highlights of the Portomarin and the largest single-barrel nave church in Galicia — built during the late 12th and early 13th century as a fortress church. The town, of such strategic importance that it required a constant military presence, was given originally to the Order of Santiago, then to the Order of San Juan de Jerusalem 1188AD. Portomarin remained not only a township long the Camino, but also a site of strategic military and commercial important because its vital bridge.