The small Compostela
To reach Villafranca del Bierzo you have to follow a fence about two kilometres and continue to gradually venture into the past. This is a village of just 4,000 inhabitants that seems straight out of the Middle Ages, full of green walks and vertical relief.
On your arrival, the first thing you see is the castle, known as the Palace of the Marquises of Villafranca, which to date is still inhabited. Among the vineyards,
this dilapidated building from the sixteenth century, a residence occupied by these nobles until the seventeenth century, and later used as a prison. It is perhaps one of the most representative monuments of the character of a place that seems to resist change over time.
Villafranca del Bierzo marks the gateway to Galicia on the path of St James. In its church, which bears the name of the famous apostle, is the portal of Forgiveness, a branch of the Compostela cathedral. In this 12th century Romanesque church, called the 'Pearl of the Bierzo' tradition says that pilgrims arriving ill or disabled received the same spiritual benefits as they deserved on their arrival at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
That's why this charming village is known as the 'small Compostela'. The similarities to the capital of Galicia are not merely religious. The pilgrim has left behind the dry Castilian climate and enters the typical green of Bierzo. And walking through the narrow cobbled streets of Villafranca they feel that they do so through a miniature of Santiago.
In the centre is calle del Agua, the main village street with stately mansions that recall a glorious past. Here, the traditional path of pilgrims, loom palaces like Torquemada, convents like San Jose and mansions such as that of the Alvarez de Toledo family.
For the weary walker, Villafranca, besides its monumental aspect to delight the eye, offers a perfect setting for relaxation and tranquillity. Set in a green and wooded landscape, away from the centre, are its river pools perfect for cooling down if the pilgrim is visiting the village in the summer.
The 'small Compostela' is one of the most welcoming stops on the Path of St James. An ideal place for resting body and spirit.
Photos: Consejo Provincial de Turismo de León. www.tursileon.com
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