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Madruga Route: a trip to the fortresses in Rías Baixas

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In the province of Pontevedra you can discover a rich fortified heritage, part of its Medieval history, through the characters who dwelled in the fortresses, castles and towers which once dominated the territory. One of the best examples is the Sotomayor family, who wielded enormous political influence in Galicia. The origin of the family name is related to Pay Méndez Sorrede, who lived in the valley Val do Souto, by the Oitavén River, and renamed the area as “Soto Mayor”.


Fernán Yáñez de Sotomayor, the Brave, married Leonor Maxía and their son was Álvaro Páez de Sotomayor, who died in Tui in 1468 while defending the city against the Irmandiños attack (social uprisings against the nobility). As Fernán had no direct heir, his bastard son, born from his relationship with Constanza de Zúñiga, Pedro Álvarez de Sotomayor, known as Pedro Madruga, inherited the castle and the family name. This noble, the protagonist of this story, apart from being the Lord of the Soutomaior Castle, held the titles of Count of Camiña, Viscount of Tui and Marshal of Baiona. He managed to turn the castle into the hub of southern Galicia in the 15th century, and with him, the family and the castle lived their most successful and, at the same time, controversial period.

He was involved in a large number of events which would fuel his legend. It stands out the disputes between him and Alonso II de Fonseca, archbishop of Santiago de Compostela, and Diego de Muros, bishop of Tui; and his support to La Beltraneja during the Spanish Succession War. In addition, his son, Álvaro de Sotomayor, led a rebellion against him and took control over his land, with the consent of the Catholic Monarchs. Pedro Madruga had to flee to Portugal, and he would leave his son only five reales in his will (a “real” is a quarter of the old Spanish currency, peseta). Pedro Madruga died under strange circumstances in the town of Alba de Tormes, where he went thanks to the mediation of the Duke of Alba to ask for a meeting with the King, although this would never take place. Finally, Álvaro de Sotomayor succeeded Pedro Madruga, following the decision made by the legitimate heir of the land, his great-aunt Mayor de Sotomayor.

Pedro Madruga died under were mysterious circumstances, but the truly enigma was that, after he passed away, the figure of Christopher Columbus appeared. He would protect Pedro Madruga’s children and would rename the places discovered in the New World with place names from As Rías Baixas. The theory behind this presumed change of identity would be based on the deep-rooted enmity between Pedro Madruga and the Catholic Monarchs. He would have changed his name to reveal them secrets about Portuguese navigation in exchange for some important concessions.

Pontevedra boasts, both in the coast and inland, a rich defensive heritage which is highly connected with the figure of Pedro Madruga and other members of the Sotomayor family.

Pedro Madruga
Route Pedro Madruga in Rías Baixas

Pontevedra boasts, both in the coast and inland, a rich defensive heritage which is highly connected with the figure of Pedro Madruga and other members of the Sotomayor family.

1. The Soutomaior Castle: although its origins are unknown, it is believed that it dates back to the Medieval Ages, probably to the last hundred years of the period. This fortress would play an important role in some remarkable events in Galician history.

2. The Fornelos Tower (Crecente): it was knocked down by the Irmandiños during the revolution in 1467 and rebuilt by Pedro Álvarez de Sotomayor. After the peace treaty between the Catholic Monarchs and the Portuguese Crown, properties were returned to their original owners and this tower was handed back to Pedro Madruga.

Soutomaior Castle
Fornelos Tower

3. The Sobroso Castle: it would play an important role in the fights between the Sotomayor and the Sarmiento families, as well as the Castle in Salvaterra de Miño. Pedro Madruga took control over the castle, although he would lose it in the period from 1477 to 1478 due to his imprisonment in Benavente, to regain it later.

4. The Castle in Salvaterra de Miño: due to its strategic location, disputes over the ownership of this fortress were continuous between the Sotomayor and the Sarmiento families, who were competing for the hegemony of the bishopric of Tui. The Catholic Monarchs ordered to support Pedro Madruga’s accession to the control of the fortresses of Salvaterra de Miño and Fornelos.

Sobros Castle
Castle in Salvaterra de Miño

5. The town of Tui: as his ancestors, Pedro Madruga was granted the church of Tui, but he was in constant conflict with the bishops, which would lead him to hold the title of Viscount of Tui.

6. The fortress in Monte de Boi (Baiona): today it is well known as a Parador (great luxury hotel) or as the Fortress of Montreal. The Catholic Monarchs named Garci Méndez de Sotomayor, who was married to Pedro Madruga’s daughter, Constanza de Sotomayor, as its lord.

town of Tui
The fortress in Monte de Boi Baiona:

7. The town of Vigo: in the mid-15th century, Pedro Madruga received an interest of 150,000 maravedís over the actual incomes of the towns of Vigo, Redondela and Pontevedra. This would cause a confrontation between him and the archbishop Alonso de Fonseca, as these towns were under his jurisdiction.

8. The tower in A Lanzada (Sanxenxo): it dates back to the Suebi times, and these are the only remnants of the fortress built by the bishop Sisnado in the 10th century. It was part of a defensive system where bonfires were used to warn about the arrival of the Vikings to the coastal inlet Ría de Arousa. It suffered the consequences of the Irmandiño revolts, although it is said that, due to its location and structure, it was difficult to destroy.

town of Vigo
tower in A Lanzada (Sanxenxo):

9. The San Sadurniño Tower (Cambados): it was used as a lighthouse and watchtower to prevent the sea attacks led by the archbishops of Santiago de Compostela. In the 15th century, it was destroyed during the Irmandiño revolts, and it was later rebuilt by Suero Gómez de Sotomayor. In 1709, it was taken over by the Marquis of Montesacro, Diego de Zárate y Muga.

San Sadurniño Tower (Cambados):
San Sadurniño Tower (Cambados):

Pedro Álvarez de Sotomayor’s nickname comes from the argument between him and the Count of Ribadavia over the boundaries of their jurisdictions. This would lead them to agree, before a notary, to solve this problem by riding their horses from their castles at cockcrow. Thus, the boundaries would be stablished at the place where they met. Pedro trained a cock to crow when he clapped his hands and he made it crow all night long, thus arriving to Ribadavia before dawn. The Count, when he saw him, said “Madrugas, Pedro!” (You’ve got up early, Pedro!). And you? Do you get up early? 

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