Squares and gardens of Ourense
One of Ourense's strongest features are its beautiful and varied squares and these are scattered throughout the medieval district. Some of these plazas are nothing more than small ornamental areas connecting walkways whilst housing a cruciero (stone cross) or water fountain. But others are larger tiled areas creating level platforms surrounded by buildings and used for civic activities including fairs and festivals.
Xardins Bispo Cesareo
The first plaza, or landscaped garden, most visitors to the monumental district of Ourense
will see is the "Xardins Bispo Cesareo" (below). This is a stunning little square with an ornate water fountain at its center and plenty of trees to create an appealing dappled lighting effect, at least on a sunny day. This square is at the entrance to the medieval area and aptly sets the tone for what is to follow. The "Xardins Bispo Cesareo" are directly off one of the city's main roads, the "rua do Progreso". To reach the old town of Ourense you enter this square and walk up the incline.
The "Prazo Maior" (below) is the largest and most important of Ourense's original medieval squares and is perhaps the single most impressive part of this city. The square is very much at the geographical and cultural heart of Ourense and is enclosed by a myriad of stunning buildings, all of which look down upon it.
It is in the "Prazo Maior" that you will find the "Palacio Episcopal", the city's oldest working building. This medieval structure also holds the town hall and although now showing off a plain, but typically baroque facade, was originally started in the twelfth century and occupies the site of the city's first Roman settlement. Today it is a museum and contains archaeological artifacts and works of art.
Although it is the oldest building on the "Maior" square, the "Palacio
Episcopal" is far from being the most impressive. In actual fact it is probably the least! This plaza is overlooked by a series of highly decorative and detailed granite stone buildings (see right), many with balconies, arches, galerias and intricate masonry, making every one of its four elevations a visual feast. The overriding hue of the square is the light brown of the masonry, but the white window frames and galeries and red tiled roofs give the whole square a bright and airy feel.
Visitors enter the "Maior" square by climbing a series of steps (or a ramp) at one of its four corners and by climbing still further you can reach the church of which is first glimpsed through an old stone arch. This square is also the center point for many of the city's festival celebrations and is normally busy and active (see left).
Heading downwards from the "Maior" plaza takes you to another of the city's notable buildings, the "Palacio de Oca-Valladares". This building is gothic renaissance in design and was built in the middle of the 16th century. It is considered to be of significant architectural importance in Galicia and is emblazoned with Galician heraldry on its original grand facade. It backs on to the "Xardins Bispo Cesareo" previously described.
Two more much smaller squares that really act to link parts of the old quarter together are
the "Praza del Trigo" and the "Praza Damas". Both these squares lay close to Ourense's cathedral and are almost certainly passed by all of the town's tourists as they explore the area. One of these squares has a cross and the other (if I remember correctly) has a drinking fountain. The picture to the left is, I hope, of the Praza del Trigo.
Moving outside the main medieval quarter, a square that catches the eye is the "Praza Padre Feijoo". Most of Ourense's holiday makers will find this square because it is set right next to the town's main tourist office. It has a bust of its namesake (photo right), a small enclosed garden and very close by are two further statues, one of the mythical character "Pan" and the other of a lady in traditional attire. A very impressive building also sits right next to this square.
Finally, although not a square as such, there is a great balcony (mirador) viewing point that sits above the old town in the direction of the "Claustro de San Fransisco" monastery. You can see this monastery if you look up from the town below and it is a 15 minute walk (up a fairly steep hill) to reach the viewing point. Once there the view across the roof tops is well worth the effort. There is also a walk you can take that runs through a small park area by the side of the river Barbana (really a stream) in the lower part of town. This park has picnic areas and seating