Portomarín, village above and below the water

The village of Portomarín is located at the Rio Miño, in the forestal environment of the city of the Lugo, Galicias Roman city. Portomarín is also on the track of the Camino Francés. You’ll pass the village on your way to Santiago. Portomarín is a lovely small village with a remarkable history and some nice sights. This village is worth for taking a break when walking your camino.

Portomarín, the old and new bridge crossing the Rio Miño

Village moved brick for brick to build a reservoir

The current location of Portomarín isn’t is historical location. Where the village once was, it isn’t anymore. The village is moved entirely. It’s a remarkable history. What happened?

About a century ago Portomarín was a small village at the Rio Miño with an old Roman bridge crossing the river. In the 1960’s the government decided to dam the Rio Miño and build a reservoir. For your information, Spain is the European country with most reservoirs. And it was decided Portomarín should get a reservoirs as well. The river got dammed, so that water remained. But where did the water remain? Exactly on the place where the old village was build. The village would completely flooded. To prevent this the people made a dramatic decision, the village would be moved entirely to a saver piece of land a little further and higher.

Imaging the costs of moving an entire village? It seems the government want the reservoir hard. To sacrifice a whole village is a dramatic choice. Off course, all residents could move in time to new homes. But Portomarín also contained some historical buildings. Note this all happened during the Franco regime. But even how cruel they were, they did care about the historical buildings.

The solution to save the historical buildings was to deconstruct and construct them again brick by brick. Best known example of this is the church of San Xoán, it’s one of Galicias most important Roman buildings. Moving and rebuilding the village created the new Portomarín. The village that today is passed by many pilgrims. Will they see something of the old Portomarín?

Church of San Xoán in Portomarín

Experience the old, flooded Portomarín

Not all buildings are replaced and rebuild. Many regular houses and buildings remained and got flooded by the water to be never seen again. Well, that’s what people thought. Nowadays you are still able to see some sights of the old village, when you’re lucky and at the right place and time.

In autumn, after a dry summer, the water level of the reservoir is decreased and some remainings of the old village come to the surface. A special sight. You can see rests of houses, horreos and older constructions. In extreme dry times it’s even possible to have a small walk through the village. To make it a touristic attraction, information boards have even been placed that explain what you see.

Main sights of Portomarín

When in Portomarín, whether as a regulor tourist, visitor or during your camino, what to see?

  1. Church of San Xoán
    The church of San Xoán is one of the most important Roman buildings of Galicia. The building originally dates back to the middle ages, but is rebuild completely in the 1960’s when the reservoir of Portomarín was made. The rebuild is done brick by brick. You can still see the numbering of the stones!
  2. Stairwell
    At the riverside of the village is a remarkable stairwell. The stairs lead to Capela das Neves. A chapel at the riverside. The stairwell is build with stones from the old village. Once at the top you will find the chapel, but also an impressive sight of the dammed river.
  3. The old and new bridge over the Rio Miño
    Portomarín used to be known for it’s old Roman bridge crossing the Rio Miño. When damming the river this old characteristic bridge got flooded. For this reason there was build a new, bigger and higher bridge. When the water level is low the old bridge also comes to the surface again, as can be seen in the picture above. A beautiful sight!

To conclude, Portomarín is a lovely village with an interesting history. Worth thinking about and having a pause when crossing on your camino!

Have a look at other interesting destinations in Galicia.