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