Pontevedra, a city with a long maritime and trading tradition, boasts one of the largest and most elegant historic quarters in the whole of Galicia. Situated on the edge of the estuary of the same name, the old town extends in a network of streets and squares and contains major civic and religious buildings.
Called Ad Duos Pontes by the
Romans, Pontevedra has over the centuries adopted a character
profoundly marked by the sea, as demonstrated by the shipyards,
fishing port and the city's intense commercial actvitity.
The original settlement emerged at the confluence of the river Lérez and the Pontevedra estuary as a walled enclosure of cobbled streets and small secluded squares, some of them arcaded. Situated at the centre of the historic quarter is the Plaza de España and the City Hall, an eclectic building constructed in the 19th century. Its main façade is defined by four pairs of columns and the frontons above the doors, as well as the balcony and the clock.
Extending opposite this building is the so-called Alameda, a wide avenue lined by grand civic buildings such as the Diputación (provincial government), the 19th-century façade of which contrasts with the medieval ruins of the convent of Santo Domingo. This 14th-century complex has National Monument status. One of the sites of the Provincial Museum, this enclave houses architectural elements of various origins, such as Romanesque and Gothic capitals, gravestones and sarcophagi.
Another place of interest in the old Pontevedra is the so-called Sanctuary of the Pilgrim (18th century), which preserves the image of the city's patron saint. The work of the Portuguese architect Antonio Souto, it has an almost circular ground plan and a Baroque façade with several 18th-century Neoclassical additions. Situated opposite this church is the traditional Plaza de la Ferrería, which is surrounded by important buildings such as the church and convent of San Francisco, constructed in the late pointed style between the 14th and 15th centuries. Based on a Latin-cross ground plan with a sanctuary and three apses, it contains several medieval sarcophagi.
The Provincial Museum of Pontevedra, one of the largest in Galicia, merits special consideration. Its collection is distributed amongst the ruins of St Dominic and another four buildings overlooking the Plaza de la Leña. The main exhibits are the large collection of medieval art and Spanish and European paintings from the 16th to the 18th centuries, and a selection of works of popular art by Galician artists.
A tour of Pontevedra takes in typical shopping streets named after specific guilds and granite squares such as the Plaza del Teucro, Plaza de Cinco Calles and the Plaza de la Verdura, finally arriving at the basilica of Santa María. Constructed during the 16th century by the guild of sailors, this grand Renaissance church displays great sophistication in its forms. Hence, the interior of the building boasts a nave and two lateral aisles covered by rib-vaults and a series of lateral chapels. The outstanding feature of the exterior is the main façade, the work of Cornelis de Holanda and Juan Nobre. All of this combines to produce one of the jewels of Galician art.