A Tower for Power Reduced to Ruins: The Forgotten Story of Torre San Sadurniño
Tower ruins hidden in a bay near the waters of the Atlantic Ocean are one of the greatest treasures of a small community in Cambados, Galicia, Spain. The stones remember battles with Vikings and other aggressive warriors from history. Now, they remind those who visit of Galician bravery.
A Tower for Protection
Cambados is a small town in the Pontevedra District. It is famous for producing the most delicious white wine of Spanish Galicia, called Albariño. Moreover, it was a home to several incredibly talented writers and artists. But the site also witnessed fights that would make your blood run cold. It was a place where many ships arrived to plunder the town. However, the tower was a powerful weapon against those enemies. Torre de Sadurniño was also a lighthouse that helped friendly ships travel safely to the harbor.
The tower is located on the Ria de Arousa, where the land around it protects it somewhat from the dangerous waves of the Atlantic Ocean. However, the tower’s position also allowed enemies to easily attack it as well.
The Torre de San Sadurniño. (Contando Estrelas / CC BY SA 2.0)
Lighthouses and towers to protect towns from sea attacks have always been very important parts of Galician urbanizations. They were not only very useful constructions, but symbols of social prestige too. Even now, people like to see them as monuments portraying the greatness of the Galician people and their historical strength in warfare. The most famous of these towers is the Torre de Hercules, which has been located in A Coruna since ancient times. It was built by the orders of Gaius Julius Caesar, who arrived in Galicia in 61 BC.
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Torre de Hercules. (EDMAR LASTRA CASTILLEJOS/CC BY SA 3.0)
The Legendary Tower
The Torre de San Sadurniño was built during the 8th or 9th century AD, but it is possible that it was created on the site of an even older construction. Researchers who examined the site suggest the first tower was built by Romans or Phoenicians. Both ancient civilizations existed in Galicia, however the Roman impact was stronger.
Countless battles were fought using the tower. Local stories discuss many Viking sieges and attempts to rob the town. The arrivals of Nordic tribes created a huge problem during the early medieval period, and some researchers suggest that the tower was created to protect the settlement from these raids. It was also a way to inform other villages and towns, from Cambados to Santiago de Compostela, about imminent attacks. The tower was visible from Catoira, which was a strategic site for Santiago’s defense and protection. Through the centuries, it was used against the Normans, barbarians, and many others.
The Torre de San Sadurniño. (Contando Estrelas/CC BY SA 2.0)
The tower was rebuilt during the 12th century when it was owned by the archbishop of Santiago de Compostela, Diego Gelmirez. The archbishop had to purchase it, or he’d have lost the strategic point that protected his lands. He decided that the old tower needed some fixing up, and it was fortified with modern technology. It had a purpose for other people at that time too. They created a system of harbor infrastructure around the tower which allowed them to generate some wealth through trade in Cambados.
Romanesque Medieval Miniature of Didacus Gelmirici (Diego Gelmirez), from the illuminated manuscript of the Tumbo de Toxosoutos (Galicia), 13th century. (Public Domain)
Falling into Ruins
During the 15th century, the Kingdom of Galicia faced rebellion by the peasantry, and the tower was destroyed during the battles of the Irmandiño Revolts (Irmandiño Wars), between 1466 and 1470. Some records suggest the tower was destroyed specifically in 1467.
It was purchased a few years later by the brother of a famous Galician rebel, Pedro Madruga. He rebuilt the tower. Over the centuries, the tower was visited by many important people, like bishops and political rulers.
With time, the tower was rebuilt and it even had a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It became a popular place to stay and enjoy the magnificent landscape of the bay. In 1755, there was a massive earthquake that damaged the whole western coast of the Iberic Peninsula, and the tower was damaged once again. No one decided to repair it after that.
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During the 18th century, it belonged to the family Chariño – Soutomaior, who also owned the remarkable medieval castle near Vigo now known as Castle Soutomaior. The possession of the remains of Torre San Sadurniño still held some prestige until the end of the 19th century. Later, the tower became publicly-owned, and it is now one of the most characteristic monuments in Cambados.
Castle Soutomaior. (Xoan Anton/CC BY SA 2.0)
Galicians say that there were still some pillars of the chapel visible in the ruins of the tower during the 20th century. However, the remains of the construction were in very bad shape, so they collapsed. Nowadays, only a small piece of the old monumental tower is still visible beside the Ria de Arousa.
Archaeological excavations have never been completed in this area. Although archaeologists would like to explore the site, they lack the funding to do it. For now, they are focused on at least protecting the existing part of the Torre de San Sadurniño.
The Torre de San Sadurniño. (Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez/CC BY SA 3.0)
Top Image: The Torre de San Sadurniño as it stands today. Source: Touristown
Ramon Boga Moscoso, Guía dos castelos medievais de Galicia, 2003.
Torre San Sadurniño, available at:
Los vikingos y la Torre de San Sadurniño by Victor Viana, available at:
Torre San Sadurniño, available at: