Ourense (Galicia): History and Culture
With eight bridges crossing the Miño river, Ourense is truly “the city of water”, and in Roman times was even home to a gold mine. Today there is no gold, but another very valuable asset can be found on this land: natural thermal spring waters.
They can be found all over the city and many are free. One notable hot spring is Termas de A Chavasqueira by the river's edge. In the city centre, the water temperature of the springs can rise as high as 65°C, such as the thermal spring fountain As Burgas, which, together with the Santo Cristo and the Roman Bridge, make up the city's most notable symbols.
Ourense also has an original Main Square and a historic quarter that is rich in churches and chapels. The Cathedral´s “Pórtico del Paraíso” still preserves its original polychrome style.
In Ourense’s chapels of San Cosme and San Damián is a curious site: all year round, the most amazing nativity scene is on display. And if you seek social life, don't worry, because if there's one thing that the people of Ourense really enjoy, it is going out in the street.
Ourense (Galicia): Ponte Vella
The bridge Ponte Vella, located in Vía de la Plata (Silver Way) was built during the reign of the emperor Augustus, although tradition maintains that it was built during Trajan’s reign. The lower part of the bridge to halfway up the pillars survives intact. The bridge was built using local granite and the main stone is about 38 metres above water level. The main arch collapsed in 1499 and was subsequently restored, although it was not joined until 1672. The bridge is 370 metres long and still has seven of its original eleven arches. The earliest reference to it is from 1119, in the will of Doña Urraca, which mentions the bridge being repaired at the expense of King Fernando III el Santo (the Holy).
Until the construction of the Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) in 1816, the Ponte Vella was the only bridge that could be used by carriages.
Thermal Areas in Ourense
Visitors to Ourense should take the plunge and feel the true essence of the city, the feature that led to the city’s original settlement: its thermal waters. The A Chavasqueira-Outariz hot spring offers an unbeatable opportunity to enjoy all the advantages of the hot medicinal waters that flow from the different springs around the city.
A total of four thermal areas may be enjoyed along a three-kilometre way. The first is A Chavasqueira, with pools of hot mineral and medicinal waters (at 41ºC), for public use, with an Asian-style private area for relaxation at the Termas da Chavasqueira. Five hundred metres further on is the thermal spring of O Tinteiro, with excellent qualities for sufferers of skin problems, at 43ºC. Continuing along the pathway renovated by the local council, two kilometres further on from O Tinteiro, is the Burgo do Muíño das Veigas, with waters at between 65ºC and 72ºC, and four public thermal pools. The route ends in Outariz, with four pools similar to those at A Chavasqueira, with water at 61ºC, recommended for sufferers of bone diseases.
The route passes through a great natural setting, along the recovered banks of the Miño River. The pools are open all year round, and feature a combination of public open-air baths and more private areas.
One of the most well-known places in Ourense is its Main Square, where the springs of As Burgas are located. These mineral spring waters emerge at a temperature of 67ºC, and became the location of the first human settlements in the area. We then head up Barreira Street and arrive in the Praza Maior Square, centre of the old city, which includes the Town Hall and Archaeological Museum (also known as the Pazo do Bispo).
The area abounds with a truly medieval atmosphere, in which we seem to step back in time. If we walk up the staircase to one side, we find the church of Igrexa de Santa María Nai, which contains sixth-century columns - remains of the ancient Suevi Cathedral that stood here when Ourense was capital of the Germanic Kingdom.
Crossing Magdalena Square, observing its beautiful roadside cross and the Wheat Square (Plaza del Trigo) where wheat was once sold, we find ourselves surrounded by archways and stately mansions, and the 'Fonte Nova' (New Fountain) in the middle. We continue into the Damas Square, which was once the orangery of the cathedral.
Archaeological Museum of Ourense
The location of the museum is the Episcopal Pazo, at the heart of the old town. The pazo was declared a historical artistic site in 1931. The complex has a Romanesque center, and the collection is permanently exhibited under the title "Escolma de Escultura" (Sculpture Anthology) in the exhibition hall of San Francisco.
The museum preserves important collections that hold remarkable archaeological and historical value, including the representative series of the Palaeolithic and Megalithic world, Castro, Gallaecian-Roman and Roman pieces (paying special attention to epigraphy). The museum also holds a pre-Roman and Medieval archaeological collection along with a fine arts section, including Renaissance and Baroque sculptures, 17th and 18th century paintings, late 19th century paintings, almost all the work of the Ourense painter Ramón Parada Juster, and decorative arts. The Archaeological Museum of Ourense is owned by the state and managed by Xunta de Galicia.
More information about the museum can be found here: https://museos.xunta.gal/en/arqueoloxico-ourense
St. Martin’s Cathedral
The Cathedral, dating from the transition between the Romanesque and Gothic styles of architecture, fortress-like in appearance, is a journey of more than eight centuries of constructions and modifications. It is certainly worth making a visit, especially to the Main Chapel, the chapel of Santo Cristo, the Dome, Pórtico do Paraíso (influenced by the portal of the cathedral in Santiago by Mestre Mateo), and the Cloister (known as the Claustra Nova), which contains the cathedral museum. A visit to the cathedral, with its interplay of light and darkness, numerous chapels and ever-changing styles, surrounds us with a truly magical atmosphere.
A tour of its exterior is a real trip back in time for the attentive eye. The chevet, initially with three apses - of which only one is preserved - transports us back to the 12th century. The southern wall, with access to Wheat Square (Plaza del Trigo, mentioned above), recalls the power historically held by the bishop in Ourense. The western wall, where King David plucks his harp, had no access stairway until the 20th century. And the northern wall, on Lepanto street, evokes the changes suffered by the city during the 15th century. The top stands out for its spectacular height - a beautiful late Gothic dome, built in the 16th century.
On the western wall, from St. Martin’s Square, you can see the Bell Tower, more than 40 metres high. The visit to the tower is included in the tour of the temple: crowned by the eight bells of the Cathedral, from its highest point you can see magnificent views of Ourense. The majesty of the tower breaks the symmetry of this gate, since in its right corner remains the never-built St. Martin’s Tower.
Inside, with austere and elegant lines, the atmosphere of serenity and seclusion invites you to walk around the ambulatory and its various chapels, stopping in its Romanesque Christ and the treasures of the Cathedral Museum. We should also stop to admire the colours of the Gate of Paradise, the majesty of the Main Chapel and the ornamentation of the Chapel of the Holy Christ.
Access to the Cathedral is through the southern gate, in Wheat Square. During mass, it can also be accessed through the northern gate (Lepanto Street).
Cathedral’s Northern Gate
The northern gate, originally Romanesque, has Gothic additions from different sources. In the tympanum, under the cross, the Virgin is holding the body of a descended Christ. To the left of the scene is the oft-repeated miracle of St. Martin sharing his cloak and to the right the pilgrim apostle St James. The portico is flanked by two towers that give a certain aspect of strength to the cathedral, perhaps evoking its destruction in 1471 by Rodrigo Alonso Pimentel, Count of Benavente, in an attack on the city, then under the protection of the Count of Lemos.
Walking in Ourense in the Nature
On top of all the historical and cultural places you can find in the city, Ourense Province is situated in a beautiful region, a valley criss-crossed by rivers and surrounded by hills. Ourense has natural landscapes of great beauty that are worth exploring, starting with its rivers. Walking the banks of the Miño River leads to the discovery of a world of small animals and riverside forests to get lost in, extending through paths alongside its many tributaries - kilometres and kilometres of nature.
If you ascend the slopes of its green belt to the areas of Cudeiro, Vilar, Palmés or Seixalbo, you will not only enjoy breathtaking views of the city of bridges, you will also find rural villages that still retain their traditional architecture. In their ancient paths, camouflaged among the vegetation of the Ourense Forest (halfway between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean forest), hiking and cycling routes are waiting for you - an ideal entrance to green Ourense, a great unknown.