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Route of the Cistercian abbeys in Galicia

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  • Monastery of Santa María. Melón, Ourense © Grupo Vasco Gallega

    Monastery of Santa María. Melón, Ourense © Grupo Vasco Gallega

  • Monastery of Santa María de Oia. Pontevedra © Grupo Vasco Gallega

    Monastery of Santa María de Oia. Pontevedra © Grupo Vasco Gallega

  • Monastery of Santa María de Oia. Pontevedra © Turespaña

    Monastery of Santa María de Oia. Pontevedra © Turespaña

  • View of Oseira Monastery. Ourense © Turespaña

    View of Oseira Monastery. Ourense © Turespaña

  

Ora et labora

Did you know that at one time there were around 750 abbeys and one thousand monasteries belonging to the Cistercian order in Europe? From the Middle Ages on, these religious centres contributed to the development of art, thought and knowledge. Blending harmoniously with the beautiful natural surroundings in which they stand, the route of the Cistercian abbeys in Galicia explores the architectural heritage which is still conserved in this region of northern Spain.

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The Cistercian order was founded in 1098, under the principles of the Rule of Saint Benedict, which is summarised in the famous motto "ora et labora" (prayer and work). The order rapidly spread all over Europe, and built a series of architectural sites which were examples of the principles they preached. On the one hand the Cistercian community raised monumental buildings for the purpose of fulfilling their devotional obligations; and on the other, constructions which enabled them to farm and make use of the natural resources in their surroundings (storehouses, mills, wine cellars, forges…).

The legacy bequeathed to us today from those times can now be discovered by following the European Route of the Cistercian Abbeys. This itinerary includes almost 200 sites scattered throughout 11 countries, including Spain. The four Spanish monasteries on the route are all to be found in Galicia, and are set in natural scenery of outstanding beauty. Following this route makes a perfect pretext for a weekend away, as in addition to visiting the monuments themselves (you can even sleep in some of them), you'll be able to enjoy activities such as hiking or cycle-touring through the different areas.

Grandiose simplicity

The route begins 47 km outside the city of Santiago de Compostela, in the municipal district of Forcarei (Pontevedra). This is the location of the Aciveiro Monastery, founded in 1135 as proved by the inscription on the southern wall of its church. After refurbishments it now also functions as a hotel. A stroll around the site is a chance to appreciate the features of its two cloisters, for example, in addition to its vaults, its wrought iron balconies made in the monastery's own forges, and the monastery church.

The route continues to a point some 61 kilometres further on in the town of Oseira (Ourense), whose monastery is known by the name of the "El Escorial of Galicia". Did you know that it was the monks themselves who took on the task of restoring it?  The monastic site has accommodation available, and offers guided tours. And as a souvenir, what could be better than to take home some of their traditional home-made products such as chocolate, sweets, biscuits, liqueurs...?

With sea views

We continue our trip towards Melón Monastery (Ourense), 55 kilometres away. Part of the walls, the entrance, the cloisters and the church of the old monastery are still standing, and these elements are currently undergoing restoration. The complex can be visited at your own pace, although there are also free guided tours which are a chance to discover more about the history of this site, a powerful institution of its day. Before continuing on our route, we can stop for some light refreshments at the café open in one of the rooms in the monastery that has survived to the present day.

The last stop is 66 kilometres away from Melón: this is Oia Monastery, currently in the process of restoration. It is well worth visiting simply for the outstanding views it offers, and also ecause it is the only Cistercian monastery on the Iberian Peninsula that stands beside the sea. In fact, thanks to its strategic position, this site played a decisive role in the defence of the coast, as in 1624 the monks succeeded in repelling an attack by the Turkish fleet. In recognition of this deed, King Philip IV granted the monastery the title of "Royal".

These four monuments we describe here are not the only Cistercian monasteries to be found in Galicia. If you wish to explore the others, visit any tourist office and they will be happy to give you specific information on this topic.

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What to see on the route

Otras rutas de interés

What to do

Cycle touring

Cycle touring
Hiking

Hiking
Other

Other

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