Location and history
The town of Ponferrada dates back to the Middle Ages when it developed as a settlement around the road to Santiago.
At the end of the 11th Century, the bishop Osmundo from Astorga orders to build a bridge over the river Sil so that the pilgrims could cross it easily on their way to Compostela.
We are talking about the "Pons-Ferrata " which will be the source of a primitive center of population, "Puebla de San Pedro"; the village was named "Saint Peter" after the Roman church that was built on the way out of the bridge in the 12th century.
This primitive village joins the small settlement that the King of León, Fernando III, sets up at the other side of the river bank on a rocky hill surrounded by a wall. This enclosure will be expanded over the next centuries becoming the fortress of the Templar monks and the residence of other feudal lords and it will finally consolidate the town of Ponferrada.
Around the year 1178 and during the reign of the King and Queen of León, the Templars se settle along the Road to Santiago. A few years later we will know about their presence in our land.
Ponferrada was donated to the Templars by the King Alfonso IX in order to protect those pilgrims who came to Compostela against all the abuses that they suffered all over this area.
According to the chronicles the provincial Master Guido de Guimaraes was the leader of the first Templars who came to this place and Fray Helías became the first commander of Ponferrada. People attribute all kinds of heroic deeds to them through tradition, even the discovery of the statue of the Virgen de la Encina (the Virgin of the Holm Oak), the saint patron of El Bierzo, that was found inside the hole of a holm oak around the year 1200.
After the dissolution of the Order of Temple, the town, an important landmark on the way from Castilla to Galicia, will be ruled by different families that expand the fortress and widen its limits: Castros and Osorios, mainly the Count of Lemos, Pedro Álvarez Osorio.
Ponferrada develops as a large city during the period that ranges from the 16th to the 18th century, a period when the most important and remarkable buildings are built. At the beginning of the 20th century, the discovery and further exploitation of the mineral resources, iron and coal as well as the power station of ENDESA change the agrarian course of the city for a fast economic growth turning Ponferrada into the capital of the region.
The fact of having become a geographic center of the area is the reason why Ponferrada is the ideal departure point to know the scenery and history of a magic land: El Bierzo.