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Majestic and well preserved monasteries: route along the province of Pontevedra

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From the far north to the south. From the east to the west. They can be found throughout the province. Majestic. Stony. Historical. Monasteries that tell about their past and that, at the present time, they have become true tourist spots. We suggest you to tour some of the most emblematic ones (and best-preserved) in Galicia; all of them are situated in the province of Pontevedra.

Monastery of Carboeiro (Silleda). The building has been frequently used as a film set or as a stage for audiovisual projects. Remodelled just a few years ago, its history began with the construction of the monastery on the grounds of the small shrine known as Égica. The promoters of the building, disciples of Master Mateo, left their hallmark on the decorative elements of the monastery, which have similarities with those of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

On its surroundings, over the River Deza, an ashlar stone bridge keeps several legends. At the same time, this bridge provides access to Carboeiro, considered one of the jewels of the Romanesque in the region of Deza. Nowadays, this monastery belongs to the Archidiocese of Santiago de Compostela. We have to go back to its origin to understand its importance. It was founded in 939 by the Count Gonzalo and the Countess Teresa, and at the end of the 10th century it was destroyed. The monastery was at its peak between the 11th and the 12th centuries, and, its church, which also dates from the same period, has a nave with three sections and the capitals of its engaged columns present some vegetal motifs. Furthermore, its three apses on a large pedestal located at the crypt are so unique that they will remain engraved in your mind.

Monastery of Aciveiro (Forcarei). In the heart of the region of Terra de Montes, this old Romanesque monastery from the 12th century has been renovated and it nowadays serves as a hotel complex. It was incorporated to the Cistercian order in 1170 and its style follows the standards of this order: its rooms are arranged around the cloister. When you step inside this place in Aciveiro–the parish that grew around the monastery–you can feel the warmth of a monument declared Asset of Cultural Interest. Although its public auction took place in 1842, the church is still used for parochial service.

This temple, which has the floor of a basilica, is divided into three naves and three apses in the Romanesque style. The door to an old Romanesque factory with two series of arches and columns can be found in the northern wall of the building. The restored façade of the church, with semicircular apses, is characterised by its sobriety. An image of the Virgin is represented on the tympanum and above it there is a quadrangular window. Moreover, inside the church, a false triforium stands out in the central nave which is 36 metres (118 feet) long and 12 metres (39 feet) high. Its columns are decorated with capitals with different motifs whereas in the altarpiece of the temple The Last Supper is recreated.

Monastery of San Xoán (Poio). The municipality of Poio, which borders the town of Pontevedra, is one of the benchmarks of the religious architecture in the province of Pontevedra because there we can find the Monastery of San Xoán. The first written reference to this monastery dates from 942. The complex comprises two monasteries: an old Benedictine monastery and a Mercederian convent. The baroque and Renaissance styles stand out in the cloister area, adorning the cloister of the Processions and the cloister of the Naranjos or of the Cruceiro. Renaissance and baroque styles are combined in the church, where you should not miss the altarpiece of the high altar, the old sacristy –which houses the sepulchre and the statue of Santa Trahamunda– or the orchard, where one of the largest hórreos (Galician raised granaries) in Galicia is situated.

In addition, this building, close to the ría (coastal inlet) of Pontevedra, houses a museum, a library and several exhibition rooms. The main stairway in the baroque style, belonging to the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, is an outstanding element. It was built between the years 1747 and 1749 and it stands magnificently, avoiding the existing surrounding supports.

Monastery of San Salvador (Lérez). The monastery, of Benedictine origin, currently preserves the stairway, the courtyard and part of the cloister from its original construction. This is a building from the 9th century that presents both baroque and neoclassical elements. Centuries later, in the 17th century, the monastery was extended to become the School of Arts and Philosophy. During the 19th century the monks abandoned the building because of the ecclesiastical confiscations of Mendizábal. At present, this neoclassical church with a baroque façade welcomes hundreds of visitors during July, when the procession of San Bieito de Lérez is celebrated.

Monastery of Santa María (A Armenteira). Situated close to the Castrove hill, the Monastery of A Armenteira is surrounded by nature. It has its origin in an old monastery, which was taken over by Cistercians between the years 1149 and 1162.

Regarding its architecture, the cloister, from the 17th century, with semicircular arches and a rib vault, stands out. It has been restored in the last years and now the building is perfectly preserved. There is an ongoing activity in the Cistercian community. Nuns manufacture soap with essential oils and aromatic plants and they also run a small guest house.

Structurally, the buttresses separate the three naves, with semicircular apses, and the central nave is reinforced by transverse arches. The legend says that a knight of the court of
King Alphonse VII decided to erect the monastery after he had had a dream in which the Virgin asked him to build it in order to redeem himself for not being able to have children with his wife.

Monastery of Santa María (Oia). Apart from the privileged location of the Monastery of Oia, very close to the sea, this Benedictine building from the 12th century is nowadays classified as an Asset of Tourist Interest. With the arrival of the Cistercian Order to Galicia, Oia became a centre of great power in the surrounding area, whose influence even reached the north of Portugal. Regarding its architectural elements, they belong to the Romanesque, Gothic or baroque styles. The sacristy, the cloister, the ground floor with the monastic rooms, the library, the tower or the façade of the church stand out.

As previously stated, its proximity to the sea is the hallmark of Oia. No other monastery of the Cistercian Order can be found so close to it. In fact, its cove, with views to the Atlantic Ocean, served as shelter.

But apart from these six jewels of the monastic architecture, there are other buildings around the province that, back in the day, had a monastic or conventual activity of great importance. Nowadays, the remaining witnesses of this past are its remains or other elements that have been preserved.

This is the case of the Monastery of San Salvador of Camanzo, in Vila de Cruces, which still preserves its Romanic church, built in 1166. With a Greek cross floor and pre-romanesque remains, we can observe the last two sections of the aisles; however, on the nave, the first two arches function as a wall. The statues of four angels with the arms opened stand out on the main door, while on the tympanum the figure of the Saviour blesses us. This monastery, declared Asset of Tourist Interest, was founded in the 1oth century by the Count Gonzalo and the Countess Teresa.

In Cotobade, the Monastery of Tenorio preserves the church and the old cloister. The church dates back to the 16th century, while the cloister occupies the rooms of the rectory. The arcade columns, the baroque façade or the Renaissance style of its cloister are some of the must-see attractions in this place. The Monastery of San Pedro de Ansemil, contemporary with the Monastery of Carboeiro, can be found in Silleda. Two chapels, one Romanesque and the other one Gothic, define the old church. Very close, the Monastery of San Pedro de Vilanova de Dozón still keeps its church. It was founded in the 12th century and it stands out because of its simplicity.

The convent of San Francisco, at the heart of the town of Pontevedra, close to the squares of A Peregrina and A Ferrería, constitutes one of the most characteristic images of the town. In a few minutes on foot you can find the Monastery of San Domingos. This monastery preserves its chevet with five apses –exceptional in the Galician Gothic–, part of the south wall of the church and the entrance to the chapterhouse. This monastery was founded around the year 1282. In Tui we can find the Monastery of San Bartolomé de Rebordáns, built in granite, with outstanding capitals and mural paintings. This three-nave temple was the episcopal see in the 11th and 12th centuries.

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