Ancient Gondomar Castle and its Historic Connections to Caesar, Columbus, and Drake
Near the Atlantic Ocean, on a small peninsula there is a castle known as Monterreal Castle, Gondomar Castle, or Ox Hill Fortress. Although it has been destroyed many times over the years, it remains one of the most historical places in the province of Pontevedra, Galicia, in Spain.
Baiona is a small town close to the city of Vigo. Amongst the many historical places, the gemstone is the castle. Bordered by the waves of the ocean, the castle is located in a strategic point in the territory of the Rias Baixas. In front of the peninsula there is another treasure of Galicia – the Cies Islands, which have been voted to become a UNESCO world heritage site.
The peninsula is known since the times of pre-Roman tribes, but it began to be a meaningful location when Julius Caesar arrived there in 61 BC. He saw the peninsula as a strategic place to build a camp. It is unknown how long the Romans stayed there, but the structures which they created became a base for the future castle. Julius Caesar and his army also created a base for the Roman colonization of Galicia, influencing many future main cities of the region.
Port of Baiona, Entrance to the castle. (CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Romans, Visigoths, and Muslims invaded the castle throughout the centuries, but the growing structure covered much of the archaeological evidence. In the 12th and 13th centuries, King Alfonso IX of Leon promoted important works in the castle. In 1331, the castle was attacked by the Portuguese fleet. The army under the command of Admiral Manuel Pessanha took the castle and created one of the most important residences of the western Iberian coast.
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Connections to Columbus and Drake
Baiona began to flourish in the 15th century. It was back in the hands of the Spanish, and King John II of Castile granted the city with special privileges. At this time, Baiona evolved from a small village into a town that formed around the castle. The settlement grew into a two hundred family community which mostly lived off of fishing.
The castle’s name was officially changed to Monterreal Castle in honor of the Catholic Monarchs, but in in the minds of people it continued to be Gondomar. It was remodeled in the Renaissance style by Diego Sarmiento de Acuña.
View of Baiona port from the castle. (CC BY-SA 3.0 )
On March 1, 1493, Baiona became the most important harbor of the Kingdom. The caravel La Pinta arrived to Baiona with information that the expedition led by Christopher Columbus had “discovered” New Spain.
During the reign of Philip II of Spain, Baiona suffered due to the campaign to fight against pirates, and a fleet led by Francis Drake. In 1589, Drake attacked and looted Baiona. During his stay, his residence was the castle on the peninsula – at least for a while. He was finally banished from the castle, but before it happened, he was something of a “poison” to Galicia.
After the works at the castle were completed, it spread over 18 hectares. It had four access gates and towers. The Tower of Puerta del Sol is located where there was once a ramp with a drawbridge. The Tower of the Prince is the oldest element of the castle, and could have been the base of the first fortification made by the Romans. It is confirmed that it was originally created in 977 AD and rebuilt by King Alfonso VI in 1027. It was also perhaps used as a prison for the Portuguese King Alfonso Henriques in 1173.
Castle Monterreal, Spain: Prince Tower. (CC BY-SA 2.1 ES )
The Tower Tenaza, which is located on the east of the fort, dominates the bay and was created to be used in defending the port. It was rebuilt in 1474 and used by Perdo Madruga to arrest the Bishop Diego de Muros of the cathedral in Tui. The last tower, known as the Sun Clock tower, was finished in 1510 then rebuilt in the 17th century.
Over the years, the castle was destroyed and half rebuilt, but many parts of the peninsula are covered with the ruins.
A Port of Pride
The 17th and 18th centuries were also times of constant siege. Baiona continued to be the main port in southern Galicia and Northern Portugal. It was also one of the best fortified maritime points. It was used during all of the wars and battles which happened in this area, such as the Napoleonic wars.
Castle Monterreal, Spain: appearance of the walls. (CC BY-SA 3.0 )
In 1872, after centuries of being a military fortress and a place where important people lived, the state announced the sale of the castle in a public auction. It became a public school and a place where a winery was made to create the famous cherry wine of Baiona. From 1943 on, the area of the castle was transformed. In 1966, it was restored and reclassified for the functions which it holds until now.
Nowadays, Gondomar (or Monterreal) Castle is a huge attraction in the region. In the harbor near the castle there is a replica of the famous ship La Pinta and in front of the castle there is a restaurant named Pedro Madruga.
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Monterreal Castle. (CC BY-SA 2.0 )
Galicians are proud of the history of their region. The only famous person connected with the castle whose name seems to be forgotten is Francis Drake. Galicians say that his fleet was stopped, but Galicia recovered after his attacks and many other destructive problems. This region of strong people who fight with the power of the ocean, cultivates the memory of their Roman roots, and is close to all the great stories which happened in this currently peaceful and calm part of Spain.
Featured image: Fortifications at Monterreal Castle. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Boga Moscoso, Ramón. Guía dos castelos medievais de Galicia, 2003
Soraluce Blond, José Ramón. Castillos y fortificaciones de Galicia. La arquitectura militar de los siglos XVI-XVIII, 1985
Soraluce Blond José Ramón. Guía da Arquitectura Galega, 1999.