We were staying in Tui and this was our second-last day in Spain. It was also a misty start to the day as we headed for Ribadavia on the Mino River. This old town has its roots in Celtic and Roman times and it is a fascinating place to visit.
King Garcia I established Ribadavia as the capital of the Kingdom of Galicia in the 11C. By 12C the town was flourishing thanks to the expansion of the wine trade, and the establishment of the wealthy Monasteries of San Clodio Melón and Oseira.
Sarmiento Castle in Ribadavia
The Counts of Ribadavia built their Castle at a small hill at the top of the town in the 15C. Sarmiento Castle looms over the small town below.
The Jewish Community
A Jewish community started developing in the 11C, drawn to the town by the trade opportunities. They settled just inside the walls, underneath the castle, and contributed strongly to the prosperity of Ribadavia. The community included skilled professionals as well as experts in the wine trade. It was the Jewish community which developed and improved farming methods. As a result Ribeiro wines were exported to Italy, the Low Countries, Germany, and England. The Plaza de Magdalena is in the heart of the Jewish Quarter and the Porta Nova of the 12C leads directly into the area.
However, despite their contribution to the region’s economy, the Reyes Catolicos ordered the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492. Some converted to Christianity, or continued practising in private, while others crossed the nearby border into Portugal.
In the early 17C Xerónimo Bautista de Mena, a resident of Ribadavia, reported practicing Jewish families to The House of the Inquisition. The Inquisition took punitive action, with public executions, burnings and forcible takeover of assets. The coats of arms on the House of the Inquisition represent the local families which took on the responsibility of ‘cleansing’ the community. Bautista de Mena was murdered in 1607.
Centre of the town
The Sarmiento Pazo overlooks the main square and currently houses the Tourist Office and the Jewish Museum.
There are as usual many churches and convents in the town. Ribadavia is on one of the many caminos to Santiago, and of course we sometimes forget the immense power and control wielded by the Church in centuries past.
The Romanesque Church of Santiago
The Church of St James, Santiago, dates from the 12C, and is now a small museum but it was closed when we visited.
Convent and Church of St Dominic
The Convent of St Dominic (San Domingo) was established outside the walls of the town in the 13C, the second Dominican Convent in Galicia. Sadly, it was firmly closed on our visit. Apparently the Palace of King Garcia I once stood on this site.
The Church of Nostra Senora del Portal is alongside the Convent of St Dominic, and was built between the 16C and 18C. The church is built on the site of a hermitage dedicated to Santa Maria de Valparaiso, the Patron Saint of Ribadavia.
Church of San Xoan
The Knights of St John of Jerusalem established the Church of San Xoan which dates from the 12C. They also built a hospital to care for pilgrims undertaking the camino from Braga to Santiago.
Convent and Church of San Francisco
Opposite the town, across the River Avia, is the Convent and Church of San Francisco, which we did not visit.
But life in Mediaeval times was hard and just outside the walls of Ribadavia we found The Chapel of St Lazarus of the 12C. This belonged to a leper hospital managed by the Monastery of Melon.
The rivers in Ribadavia
Finally, we made our way out of the town to look at the meeting of the Avia and Minho Rivers. It was peaceful down on the river, and very beautiful indeed.
Ribadavia on the Mino River is a fascinating town with a long and varied history. Do visit, but spend more time there than the few hours which we had. [This is a re-edit of an article first published in 2014]