From the top of the Casa da Neve, Celanova opens up to the eyes of the visitor as the tourist route with the greatest didactic capacity in Ourense, offering at the same time the placidity of an excellent geography with the teaching candidness of a history that teaches without being disturbed.
No more and no less than five thousand years are those that humanity has left captured in the indelible canvas of a land that inspires, above all, the capacity for calm and contemplation, for walking and literature, for stone and the word.
The Neolithic myth in the petroglyphs of Freixo The native claim of the Castro culture, in Castromao. The bloodless Roman colonization reproduced in the Tábula and that gives way to the walker on the Arnoia in Pontefreixo. The emptiness of the Swabian period. The commotion of the Middle Ages with its headquarters in the Mozarabic town of San Miguel, in the medieval village of Vilanova or in the secular silence of Milmanda. The slow and powerful evolution of monasticism founded by St. Rosendo (“I leave you a wonderfully built work”). The history and the legend intertwined in the Virgin of the Crystal (now disappeared). And the leap to modernity of the three cultures to which the poets ended up giving voice… All of this coexists today in a space that fits in a handkerchief and that cannot respond to any other name than “Onde o mundo se chama Celanova”.
If any municipality in the region is fully identified with the River Arnoia, it is undoubtedly Cartelle. The land is made up of fertile land and farmland, which are combined in harmony with transition forests between the native vegetation and the forest exploitation that distributes the economy among its people.
Cartelle is a place where it is worth getting lost in its innumerable “tracks”, which make you discover, without waiting, a beautiful Marian sanctuary full of devotion, such as As Marabillas; as you can see in the distance the powerful and evocative chivalrous promontory of what remains standing of the fortress of Sande or the family home of the pioneer of filmmaking in Galicia, Carlos Velo, in the very village that gives its name to the municipality.
Place that sounds like a bagpipe: The one that in Galicia and Latin America was played -with “Los Maravillas”, her brothers- by the elegant Auria, the first woman bagpiper of our land.
And that sounds like horse hoofs trotting firmly on the old cart tracks, to later find rest in the O Mundil equestrian complex, a sort of horse sanctuary as well.
Few places have their name so deeply rooted in the idiosyncrasy of their people. As it is well known, “merca” comes from “mercar”, or what is the same “to buy”. In other words, buying and selling, which is what the vast majority of its inhabitants (the dealers) have traditionally dedicated their “modus vivendi” to, throughout the fairs and markets of Galicia. Hence, it is not unreasonable to think that the emergence of its capital city came from the fair that on the 26th of each month was held at a crossroads.
But this is the penultimate story, because there were others before that and no less interesting than those of its neighbours. Stories that have left us such unique traces as one of their villages being called A Mosque, when, as far as we know, there has never been one there. Or yes. Who knows, the traveller!
Whether there has been a mosque or not, what we do know for sure – because it is still there to be seen – is the permanence of one of the most sober, and therefore spectacular, Romanesque churches that are preserved in Galicia: San Pedro de A Mezquita.
The spectacular hórreos (basketwork), which in this case are preserved in the capital of the municipality, testify that the traditional economy also has much to thank for the fertility of its land, bathed lengthwise by the river Arnoia, at the foot of which are drawn other landscapes and other locations, once lively and even stately, as Olás or Ponte Hermida.
Few people know that the municipality owes its name precisely to a large isolated granite “ball” that is in the town of the same name. It is a singular element, without a doubt, in the heart of a valley watered by the River Sorga, and of gentle hills that slowly rise until they generate what Méndez Ferrín calls the “hippopotamus loin” of San Cibrao de Monte Calvo.
This is a primitive place, with a small colony of dolmens with their central menhir, which announce the first human occupations -still nomadic- and which are placed before the small chapel dedicated to San Cibrao, which dominates the horizon towards the west, serving as a parapet for the rising of an equinoctial sun that takes us to the figure of Rosendo Guterres, the great maker of the region.
Lands of orchards and farms with ancestral reminiscences and emblazoned houses, used in San Munio de Veiga by the Hospitallers of Jerusalem and intimately related to the monastery of Celanova, both in the good times of the priories and enclosures of Santa Baia and Berredo – which the Portuguese Afonso Henriques wanted to conquer, as in the bad hours of the Civil War, in the curves of A Munia, a few hundred meters from Alto de O Forriolo, where even today echoes of some laments that nobody was able to tuck in, but death.
“Alá enriba está Bande/ coma unha estampa antiga/ dibuxada non aire./ Pendurada do vento,/Bande dás verdes corgas/ cinguidas de silencio (…)”
Perhaps there are no more beautiful words than those of the poet to describe, with a feather float, a municipality where the waters of the Limia River hide and reveal the vestiges of history at its economic whim.
A history that places us suddenly in the times of Vespasian and his “legio septima gémina”, who settled there to direct the construction of the Via Nova between the imperial cities of Braga and Astorga.
From a story that takes us back to the origins of the Christianization of Gallaecia, through San Torcuato, the disciple of the Apostle Santiago, whose relics found rest and comfort in Santa Comba de Bande, before landing, after a miracle, in Celanova.
But Bande has other waters, too, that invite to leisure and rest. The calm waters of the Prin invite you to fish and then to sleep in the reservoir. And the warm waters of O Baño, which helped to make Portoquintela, at the time, a focus of commercial life on the road. That is, until the waters drank it.
Land that was once a county and that knew how to defend its interests by making democratic agreements in open council – when this word did not even exist – under the protective shade of a “carballo”.
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Xosé Luís Méndez Ferrín used to say -and writing- that there is a magic triangle, or a “strange triangle”, in the middle of which a singular way of being and being in the world has historically developed, which he popularized as an “Araiana” idiosyncrasy and which geographically is identified with the vertices of Celanova, Montalegre and Arcos de Valdevez.
Well, uphill or downhill, the case is that this tourist destination that we have called “Terra de Celanova-Serra do Xurés”, perfectly attends to that social and human map in which the writer framed the stories of “Arraianos”, our bedside book.
Moreover, it is recommended that the traveller should read this book (either in Galician or in Spanish) before consciously entering the corners of our paths, because through its pages he will find, even before asking himself some questions, many of our answers.
Answers about how we were and how we are. How we have been trying to adapt to the environment or what all those who came before us have done and bequeathed to us. And always with that imperceptible line on the horizon that we call “line” and that omnipresent “living stone” that since the night of time accompanies us and gives us our own personality. So much, I would dare to assure you, that it is very possible that he has already thought about the return, before he even leaves.