The Galician nobility, owners of the destinies of the kingdom of Galicia (II): the Sotomayor, the Oca and the Counts of Maceda

By David Nogales Rincón, Professor of Medieval History at the Autonomous University of Madrid

The Galician nobility today rests quietly among the strong castles and beautiful tombs which petrified, saving it from oblivion, the memory of those who owned until the late nineteenth century the destinies of the kingdom of Galicia. From the mists of the first aristocratic family, still not very cohesive and with a weak genealogical conscience, would take shape in the late twelfth century and especially throughout the thirteenth century a first Galician nobility that, for the first time, was structured in lineages or houses, endowed with a strong genealogical identity, manifested in the introduction of some armouries or a common surname, and organized under the power of the firstborn male, who become head of the family group. What we know as the old nobility arose, giving birth to great lineages such as the Novoa, Valladares, Deza, Ulloa and especially the Castro, the flower of this first Galician aristocracy.

This old nobility was destined to disappear in the midst of a cataclysm that would affect the Crown of Castile in the third quarter of the 14th century, caused by the Black Death of 1348 and especially by the confrontation of the Castilian nobility with King Peter I the Cruel (1350-1369), captained by the Count of Trastámara, Don Enrique, who in 1369, after killing the legitimate king, reached the throne as Henry II of Castile (1369-1379). While old families, such as the Castro, Meira, Camba or Parada families, took a secondary place or disappeared, a group of new lineages were at the head of the Galician aristocracy. Some of them had an illustrious history, others came from the small local nobility and a few came from far away. All, however, had one thing in common: at some point they had decided to abandon the legitimate king to support, on their way to the throne, the Count of Trastámara.

Among the noble houses that would make up the new Galician nobility there were lineages such as the Osorio, the Moscoso, the Andrade, the Sotomayor, the Suevos, the Ulloa or the Monterrey, but also some lineages that were alien to the reality of Galicia, that would end up being integrated into its noble fabric, like the Sarmiento family, lords of Bureba and Villamayor (Burgos), in charge of neutralizing the supporters of the late King Don Pedro in the lands of the northwest of the peninsula, or the Enríquez family, related to the new dynasty. Not much later, especially in the early fifteenth century, these newcomers would join the smaller branches of some of the great lineages Castilian-Leonese, as the Pimentel, from Zamora, or Zuñiga, from Béjar (Salamanca).

If the old Galician nobility had taken shape in a world still dominated by the great monasteries and the Church, this new nobility that emerged during the second half of the 14th century was destined to become the owner of the kingdom of Galicia, thanks not only to the abundant lands and income donated by the new Trastámara dynasty, but also to its rapacity and violence. The power achieved by this nobility would become such, that at times the royal power had difficulty in exercising its control over Galicia.

Deeply transformed in the late 14th century, the Galician aristocracy still had to undergo some changes before entering the Modern Age. In the second half of the 15th century, new lineages flourished in the heat of the Galician monasteries and cathedrals, which would become, from the 16th century, the foundation of the small provincial nobility that would feed an imaginary for more than four centuries, almost more as a nostalgic memory than as a reality, would be reflected in the dramatic trilogy Comedias bárbaras (1907-1922) by Ramón María del Valle-Inclán or in The House of Ulloa (1886) by Emilia Pardo Bazán. At the same time, the high aristocracy left Galicia, attracted since the time of the Catholic Kings (1474-1504) by the royal court: a path that would lead this nobility to move from the ideal of the medieval knight to the refined Renaissance courtier, inhabitant of new horizons that, as would happen with the great Counts of Lemos, would change the landscapes of the Ribeira Sacra to get lost among the palaces and mirrors of Naples and Madrid.


This route covers some of the main fortresses and palaces of the Galician nobility linked to the Sotomayor and Oca lineages and the Counts of Maceda. We will begin the route in the castle of Doña Urraca (Salvaterra de Miño, Pontevedra), disputed between the lineages of Sotomayor and Sarmiento and converted during the war of succession by the throne of Castile -which between 1475-1479 confronted Isabel I and her niece Juana de Castilla, known as the Beltraneja- into the refuge of one of the most famous Galician nobles of the late Middle Ages, a supporter of the Beltraneja: the vehement and all-powerful Count of Camiña, Pedro Álvarez de Sotomayor († 1486), known as Pedro Madruga Leaving Salvaterra, we will advance towards the castle of Monterreal in Baiona (Pontevedra), which would be violently taken over by Pedro Madruga during the aforementioned war of succession, and then head towards the castle of Soutomayor (Soutomaior, Pontevedra), linked since the 12th century to the great lineage of the Sotomayor family, which would be rebuilt by Pedro Madruga after the Iranian revolt; Its border position with Portugal prevented it from being destroyed in 1518 as part of the pacification of the Galician nobility, initiated by the Catholic Monarchs with the aim of "taming that land of Galicia", as the chronicler Zurita would say. After leaving Soutomayor, we will go to the palace of the Counts of Maceda (Pontevedra), which takes us to the Galician nobility of the Renaissance. The 16th-century building, with Baroque and Neoclassical additions, is an example of the attraction that the city of Pontevedra had for the surrounding nobility from the 14th century and especially in the 17th and 18th centuries. We will finish the route in the Baroque palace of Oca (A Estrada, Pontevedra), built on top of the fortress constructed in the 15th century by Don Álvaro de Oca and his wife, Doña Constanza de Rivadeneira, and owned by the Oca lineage until 1477, when the Archbishop of Santiago took it from Don Suero de Oca in the context of the war of succession for the throne of Castile; After various vicissitudes, the fortress passed to the Gayoso family, who in the 18th century were responsible for building the current palace

Where does the route take place?

  • Castillo de doña Urraca. Salvaterra de Miño. Pontevedra
  • Castillo de Monterreal. Baiona. Pontevedra
  • Castillo de Soutomayor. Soutomaior. Pontevedra
  • Palacio de los Condes de Maceda
  • Palacio de Oca

This route links with

The Galician nobility, owners of the destinies of the kingdom of Galicia (I): the Counts of Lemos and Monterrey

By David Nogales Rincón, Professor of Medieval History at the Autonomous University of Madrid[...]

Know castles and palaces in this route

Dona Urraca Castle is perched on the Galician borough of Salvaterra de Miño and it is located in a privileged position, right on the border between Galicia and Portugal separated by the waters of the River Miño.

It is one of the most representative buildings of the whole region and part of the old medieval castle, which sheltered monarchs such as Dona Urraca, the Queen of Galicia in the late 11th and the early 12th centuries.

However, the modern appearance of the castle is the result of a Portuguese occupation in the 17th century, time when it is restructured by the French engineer Carlos Lessar.

This castle, of which today only a small part is preserved, was built in granite seal and ridge vaults made of brick and it is consists of two “L-shaped” plants.

In it, it is remarkable the “dressing room of Dona Urraca”, a small circular room that is in the lower floor, which was part of the only medieval tower that was preserved to date. This space has exceptional acoustics thanks to the thickness of its walls and vaulted shape.

In addition to that, it is also curious its “double-sided spiral staircase”, a unique example that communicates its two vaulted floors, as well as the “well” identified as an access point to a passageway that crossed the River Miño towards Portugal. According to a legend, it was used by Dona Urraca to escape to Portugal secretly.

The Castle, was declared, alongside the Fortress, as Cultural Heritage in 1949. Nowadays, the building houses the Wine Museum, inaugurated on the 25th of February 2019, being considered one of the largest spaces devoted to the dissemination on viticulture and enology in Spain.

Besides, it is one of the most interactive museums of our country. Thus, the museum is packed with panels, videos or games that do not leave people indifferent. Learning and having fun are both possible, at the same time, in the Wine Museum of Salvaterra de Miño.

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In the southern Rías Baixas region, protected from the open sea by a lovely bay, stands Monterreal Peninsula, where the Parador de Baiona awaits. The fortress offers up its walls for a stroll, or to relax and enjoy a beverage by the sea, and magical sunsets where the Cíes Islands in the distance beckon, inviting you to visit their cliffs, beaches and dunes, exploring their underwater depths and virgin trails.

Elegance is a key feature of every room of the Parador. The stately function rooms, spacious guest rooms with sea views and spectacular stone staircase that welcomes you at the entrance are just a few examples of the majesty of this medieval fortress. The Parador de Baiona offers perfect function rooms for your celebrations, with space for up to 400 people. An intimate ambiance, exquisite décor, well-kept gardens and an idyllic landscape make this a truly unique spot. 

If you enjoy hiking or love water sports, this is your Parador. The Baiona Royal Yacht Club is located inside the walled area of the town, offering the opportunity for sailing or nautical tourism. You won't want to leave Baiona without walking the Monte do Boi path and the Serra da Groba mountains, without seeing the sunset from Cape Silleiro or without visiting the Virgen da Roca viewpoint.

In Baiona you will find peace and quiet, as well as an urban environment. This is the ideal destination if you are looking for a lively atmosphere on summer nights; you can enjoy a drink at terrace cafés by the sea and many popular nightspots. The regional cuisine will be a pleasure for your senses. Try the fish and seafood, they are magnificent.

Baiona is also known as Villa de la Arribada (Port of Entry), as it was the first town in Europe to learn of the discovery of America. To the south, the Rías Baixas region offers you spectacular locations, including Oia Monastery, built atop the rocks by the sea, forever gazing out at the horizon and splashed by salt water.

The fishing village of A Guarda is only a few kilometers away. It is crowned by the Celtic fortified settlement of Santa Tecla, from which you can get a view of the spectacular mouth of the Miño River, where Galicia and Portugal meet. And if you have got this far, you might even feel like heading south to Portugal's Costa Verde region, where the beaches are endless and pine woods embrace the sea.


Protected from the open sea by the wall of this former fortress, from our outdoor pool you may contemplate the sun as it sets over the Cíes Islands or find peace and quiet away from the everyday hustle and bustle in our Sauna and Jacuzzi. A return to a luxurious lifestyle from the frenetic pace of modern life.

The Parador, once the residence of the counts of Maceda, is located in the old quarter of the magnificent city of Pontevedra. You will be welcomed by a stately carved stone staircase leading to comfortable guest rooms. The building is decorated with antiques and very valuable classic furniture. It combines regal, noble and stately styles with charming rural elements. The surrounding area invites you to visit coves and beaches, and to enjoy fine seafood and excellent wine.

You won't want to leave without taking a walk through the well-preserved old quarter of Pontevedra, most of which has been pedestrianized. Visit Santa María la Mayor Basilica, a jewel of Gothic architecture, and La Virgen Peregrina Church, a chapel with a scallop-shaped floor plan and beautiful night lighting. Other highlights include Pontevedra Museum, whose collection is held in five different locations: Santo Domingo Monastery, Sarmiento Palace, and the Castro Monteagudo, García Flórez and Fernández López buildings.

A few kilometers from the city, the Rías Baixas region opens onto the Atlantic. You can enjoy fantastic sunsets in spots such as A Toxa Island, urban beaches like Silgar Beach in Sanxenxo, or vast areas of golden sand like A Lanzada Beach.



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Typical festivities

  • Feria Franca

    Event:   Medieval festival

    Date:   First weekend in September

  • La Peregrina Festival

    Event:  Festival of the Virgin Peregrina, patron saint of Pontevedra province

    Date:   First two weekends in August

    Place:  Pontevedra

  • Rapa das Bestas (Capture of the Beasts)

    Event: Wild horse mane-cutting festival

    Date:  First Sunday in June

    Place: Sabucedo, 20 km


A short distance from Santiago de Compostela, on the Pontevedra border of the Ulla river valley, is Galicia’s most visited manor house, the palacio de Oca, also widely known as "The Generalife of the North" or the "Galician Versailles”. Comparing the stone and plant architecture of this monument with that of those abovementioned, widely known, allows us to highlight the uniqueness and importance of the most stately and best preserved of the Galician pazos (stately homes). Although built far from the Court, this comparison (despite been hyperbolic) reminds us aptly that its design evokes that of the Barroco court gardens. 

According to the words used in 1945 by historian and academic Javier Sánchez Cantón in an effort to protect these gardens, the most outstanding aspect of this ensemble is the inextricable link between water, stone and vegetation which make this monument a masterpiece of architecture, engineering and gardening. 

The early fort home was built by order of Álvaro de Oca in the middle of the 15th century and was lost shortly afterwards to the Miter of Compostela in the fights between the Galician nobility and the archbishop of Santiago. In 1564, it passed to King Felipe II who sold it to María de Neyra and thus it was passed down from generation to generation until the XVIII Duchess of Medinaceli who in 1978 donated it to the Casa Ducal de Medinaceli Foundation after its formation