The Fortaleza de Monterrei is a castle situated high on a hill overlooking a beautiful valley close to Verin. It is approximately 70km south of the city of Ourense and close to the border with Portugal.
The Fortaleza de Monterrei was home to the noble families of Ulloa, Zuniga, Viedma, Fonseca, Acevedo and the Dukes of Alba. It has been of strategic military importance since the middle ages due to its position so close to the Portuguese border.
The valley in which the castle is situated was first populated in the 10th century. The castle itself was built by Alfonso Henriquez (the grandson of King Alfonso VI) in the 12th century, but it was not until the 14th century that it gained any significant importance through Pedro I, El Cruel.
The castle has changed significantly over the years with various buildings, in differing styles, being added over the centuries. The Torre de las Damas was added in the 14th century. Between the 15th and 17th centuries the Counts of Monterrei added the renaissance palace, the Torre del Homenaje, the Pilgrims hospital and the gothic church, Santa Maria.
In recent times further fortications were added under Felipe IV’s military engineers, Juan de Villarroel and Carlos de Grunemberg, including the Franciscan and Jesuit convents.
The military aspects of the castle were offset by the important cultural life that was built around it. It is said that some of the first Galician language books were printed there and that the area was noted for its teachings of grammar, arts and religious study.
The Fortaleza de Monterrei is considered to be one of the largest single collections of fortified buildings in the whole of Galicia. On one extended hill there are 3 walled enclosures as well as the two towers, el Torre de las Damas and el Torre del Homenaje. One of the entrances has a drawbridge. The parade ground can be accessed through a doorway in the walls. The battlements, the small windows and a 14 metre dungeon complete the castle’s fortifications.
The most outstanding part of the castle is without doubt el Torre del Homenaje which was constructed during the 15th century during the reign of the Reyes Catholicos, Ferdinand and Isabella, by Don Sancho Sanches de Ulloa (the first Count of Monterrei). Entered through the drawbridge, the tower is not only substantial in height, measuring 22.5 metres, but also in the thickness of its walls. In contrast el Torre de las Damas is much smaller. Built in the 14th century it houses a hall of columns topped with various stone coats of arms.
The Palace of the Counts was built in the renaissance style during the 16th and 17th centuries and has some stunning arched galleries.
In the grounds is the parroquial church of Santa Maria built in the 14th and 15th centuries in the gothic style. It has a single aisle covered in wood and a rectangular apse and ribbed vault. It contains a beautiful gothic stone alter piece and a beautiful side door consisting of 3 highly decorated archivolts and a tympanum presided over by a figure of Christ.
The castle is in excellent condition, but is under continual restoration. Because of its historical importance and value, the Fortaleza de Monterrei was bought by the Spanish Government and is now one of the regions many Paradors.
Also be aware that the castle is closed on a Monday and a Tuesday.
Where is Foraleza de Monterrei and how to get there
The castle is easy to get to because of its proximity to some major routes leading to Ourense and Sanabria. If you travel from Ourense you have the choice of two routes, the quick route or the slow route and you can always stop off to visit towns and villages on the way.
The fast route is via the A52 motorway that passes close to Ourense and can be accessed via the N525. The motorway will take you to Verin from where you take the road heading towards Mixos.
Alternatively, you can take the N525 all the way from Ourense, but be aware that even though this is classified as a primary regional road it is not a dual carriageway and you are passing through towns and villages. Traffic may be slow, but this will be the most scenic route.