Church of San Xoán

Portomarín, Spain

The Church of San Xoán (or Saint John) of Portomarín is an unusual Late Romanesque temple as it is designed to be both a church and a castle and so has architectural characteristics of both buildings. As a church it has one barrel vaulted nave, a semicircular apse and all the typical decorations of Romanesque churches; these include a carved portal with archivolts, rose windows and carved capitals. As a castle its perimeter is surrounded by merlons, it has four defense towers (one at each corner) while behind it lies an adarve, a defensive street. The north west tower currently has a stork's nest with two young (2011). The church was relocated to its current position from the valley in the 1960s when the river was flooded to form a reservoir.

It is situated on the principal route of the Way of St. James to Santiago de Compostela, where other Templar and Knight Hospitaller churches and castles were constructed as a result of the effort of the Hospital Orders to protect the way to the tomb of Santiago; others include the churches of Torres del Río, Eunate and the Castle of Ponferrada.

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Founded: 12th century
Category: Religious sites in Spain

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4.4/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Mark Auchincloss (2 years ago)
Also called San Juan Church it's Romanesque originating from 12/13th Century inspired by Portico de la Gloria. It was relocated (each stone is numbered which you can see if you look carefully) along with alot of the town during Franco era ds they could dam the valley of River Miño.
Phil Batten (3 years ago)
Beautiful church with a wonderful story.
KB Raif MD (3 years ago)
Impressive castle like looking church from the 1300’s. It’s amazing that they moved it stone by stone to the new Portomarín. If only the walls could talk.
KB Raif MD (3 years ago)
Impressive castle like looking church from the 1300’s. It’s amazing that they moved it stone by stone to the new Portomarín. If only the walls could talk.
Mike McBride (3 years ago)
Interesting church with a very interesting history as it was moved to enable the construction of a reservoir
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Broch of Gurness

The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village. Settlement here began sometime between 500 and 200 BC. At the centre of the settlement is a stone tower or broch, which once probably reached a height of around 10 metres. Its interior is divided into sections by upright slabs. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it. It is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.

The remains of the central tower are up to 3.6 metres high, and the stone walls are up to 4.1 metres thick. The tower was likely inhabited by the principal family or clan of the area but also served as a last resort for the village in case of an attack.

The broch continued to be inhabited while it began to collapse and the original structures were altered. The cistern was filled in and the interior was repartitioned. The ruin visible today reflects this secondary phase of the broch's use.

The site is surrounded by three ditches cut out of the rock with stone ramparts, encircling an area of around 45 metres diameter. The remains of numerous small stone dwellings with small yards and sheds can be found between the inner ditch and the tower. These were built after the tower, but were a part of the settlement's initial conception. A 'main street' connects the outer entrance to the broch. The settlement is the best-preserved of all broch villages.

Pieces of a Roman amphora dating to before 60 AD were found here, lending weight to the record that a 'King of Orkney' submitted to Emperor Claudius at Colchester in 43 AD.

At some point after 100 AD the broch was abandoned and the ditches filled in. It is thought that settlement at the broch continued into the 5th century AD, the period known as Pictish times. By that time the broch was not used anymore and some of its stones were reused to build smaller dwellings on top of the earlier buildings. Until about the 8th century, the site was just a single farmstead.

In the 9th century, a Norse woman was buried at the site in a stone-lined grave with two bronze brooches and a sickle and knife made from iron. Other finds suggest that Norse men were buried here too.