The Plazas of Ponferrada

Ponferrada is about one-third the size of León and has about one-tenth as many bars and also about one-tenth as many tourists. We walked all over old town Leon and crossed perhaps twenty plazas but in Ponferrada we only visited two and we crossed them every day. Here’s a breakdown of our daily walk:

Parque del Gil y Carrasco (also known as El Plantio). This entrance is across the street from our hotel.

Click on any photo to see a larger version of that photo.

From our hotel we walked down Calle Gral. Vives past the park El Plantio (larger than any park we saw in León) to a large roundabout called La Carrasca and we continued on Calle Ancha until we hit the first of the two plazas — Plaza Ayuntamiento.

La Carrasca. This monument is a tribute to the 19th century poet and writer Enrique Gil y Carrasco. It was installed in the center of the Plaza Virgen de la Encina about a hundred years ago and then moved to Park Gil y Carrasco in 1926. About twenty years ago it was moved again to the roundabout where Calle Gral. Vives and Calle Ancha meet. Gil y Carrasco’s most popular work was an historical novel called El Senor de Bembiibre (Lord of Bembibre). The statue represent Beatriz, one of the main characters in the novel that took place during the times of the Knights Templar. Gil y Carrasco was born and raised in El Bierzo and lived for a time in Ponferrada. During our three-day stay we came across a street, a park, a high school and a roundabout monument dedicated to him.

Plaza Ayuntamiento consists of the town hall, a high school (IES Gil y Carrasco), a couple of hotels,  a few stores and a few restaurants with outdoor seating. My sisters were staying at one of the hotels – Hotel Aroi Bierzo Plaza – and we visited them one evening. They only stayed two days and went on to Sarria for one night while we stayed in Ponferrada for one more night.

The Barquilero (waffle maker) stands outside the Hotel Aroi Bierzo Plaza.

This statue is a tribute to a character named Pepe Cortes, a popular barquilero from Parada del Sil. Barquillos are waffles made of unleavened dough and sweetened with sugar and honey. Barquilleros were popular street peddlers during the 19th and 20th centuries. There are still some wandering around the streets of Madrid.

Calle del Reloj with its clock tower connects the two plazas. The torre del reloj was built over the gate of the only portion still standing of the medieval wall that once surrounded the city.

A few pilgrims greet each other in front of the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de la Encina.

The old town hall (see photo here) is the dominant building on the Plaza Ayuntamiento. A church holds that record on the Plaza Virgen de la Encina. The Basilica de Nuestra Senora de la Encina was built in the 16th century in the Renaissance style. The baroque steeple was added in the 17th century.

The interior of the basilica. The image of the Virgen de la Encina that resides behind the altar dates from the 16th century.

The story of the Virgin of the Live Oak (Virgen de la Encina) , sculpture by Venancio Blanco.

Here’s the story: Saint Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, discovered the True Cross in Jerusalem in the year 326 when she was 80 years old. Then in the year 450  Saint Toribio, soon to become bishop of Astorga,  ended his work in Jerusalem and brought a huge portion (25 inches) of the cross  home along with other relics and a statue of mother and child representing Mary and her baby Jesus. 500 years later a monk named Saint Genadio hid the statue in an oak tree near Ponferrada in fear that it would be desecrated or stolen by a Muslim army advancing on El Bierzo. 400 years after this a Templar knight out looking for wood in the building of the Templar Castle split an old oak tree and discovered a niche containing the Byzantine statue. Every September 8th Ponferrada  celebrates this event, known as the Day of the Encina, with Fiestas de la Encina. The Virgen de la Encina is nowadays considered the patron of the El Bierzo region.

The northernmost tower of the Knights Templar Castle looms behind the plaza. The Castle’s entrance is down the road nearly three blocks away.

My wife shopped at this souvenir shop while I walked around the plaza taking pictures.

Hostal, cafe and museum on Calle Gil y Carrasco which ends at Plaza Virgen de la Encina.

Pilgrims walking the Camino Frances enter the plaza by walking up Calle Gil y Carrasco from Avenida del Castillo. We walked down this street and stopped for a beverage at one of the many cafes on the left side. On the right side stands the Castle of the Knights Templar which will be the subject of my next few postings.

Cafes on Calle Gil y Carrasco offer lunch by the Castle wall.

At the end of each day we walked back through the two plazas to our hotel which was about a mile away.

 

 

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About crowcanyonjournal

I am a family man with interests in family history, photography, history and travel.
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