Virtue and vanity at the Pazo de Oca: the two ponds of the "Galician Versailles"

Many of the pazos (noble manors) in Galicia, which have become botanic parks in their own right, smell of stone and seduce their visitors in shades of green. It is the same chromatic scale that prevails in the hundreds of species that inhabit their gardens, scattered all over the province of Pontevedra. But, in the case of the Pazo de Oca, this splendour has an indisputable ally: water. The "Galician Versailles" confirms the popular saying that the frequent rain is a small price to pay for our lands to look as lush as they usually do.

The pazo's architectural value is worthy of praise, and so is its church, used by the local parish. Or the gardens. Or the lime boulevard. Or its camellias. Or its century-old species. And a string of other attractions that make Oca a benchmark for the pazos in our region, apart from being one of the best preserved. Nevertheless, there is more to it than these resources, and if you set foot in Oca you will retrace your steps, most of the times, with a snapshot souvenir: that of the often photographed ponds at the pazo.

If you enter Oca for the first time, you will be surrounded by such beauty that you will not even know where to look at. And, at the ponds of the pazo, you will find a haven of peace and tranquillity. This space, bounded by a stone wall and a plant wall, gives visitors the impression that a conceptual idea was meant to be developed, but it has not been properly analysed yet. However, the stone rowboats (a war boat and a fishing boat) and the presence of the lord of the serpents seem to hint at the existence of two well-differentiated realms: on the one hand, the still waters of the higher pond would represent virtues; on the other hand, the troubled waters of the lower pond would harbour the vanities of the world.

The ponds are in the ideal spot to make the best possible use of the waters of the River Boo, as it flows through the garden. This way, water serves both aesthetic and functional purposes, because the river stops at the washing place; flows through canals and fountains; takes a break at the pond but does not forget to move a mill and an electric generator, which currently has no use; and it still has enough energy to reach the second pond, now bearing calmer waters. This breathtaking space is topped off by a plantation of box hedges that are over three hundred years old. As a result, functionality and beauty go side by side in the garden of Oca.

Thus, the Ducal House of Medinaceli Foundation, which manages the pazo, explains that "it seems evident, or at least it is the most plausible theory, that the first Marquis of San Miguel das Penas intended to represent the ponds as an inverted boat (water does not surround it, it fills it) which two small boats sail in, portraying a symbolic and polysemic contrast between earth and hell, the vanity of the world (represented by the lower war boat) and paradise (symbolised by the higher fishing boat), all of it topped off by a chapel that seems to float, surrounded by vegetation". Heraldic monsters adorn the war boat, just like crenels and spheres surround the ponds.

Included in the Route of the Camellia, the Pazo de Oca is open every day of the week and entrance in the estate is allowed until 30 minutes before closing time. The gardens can be visited from 9am to 6.30pm in Winter (November to March) and from 9am to 8.30pm in Summer (April to October).

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