What to see in Villafranca del Bierzo is in half a day, because some of the most important monuments can not be visited. But in your region there are great attractions for a three-day getaway. Going down the freeway towards the west you can visit the Templar population of Ponferrada. Nature lovers will enjoy the unusual place of Las Médulas, where you can make multiple hiking trails for a whole day. Take into account that Villafranca is the most comfortable option for excursions in the Ancares leoneses, an isolated and fascinating place.
There are several castros in the surroundings that could give origin to the town, like the Castro of the Ventosa. Then came the primitive Celtic city of Bergidum, then transferred to Cacabelos with the name of Bergidum Flavium as the capital of the Convent Jurídico de Astorga. In the zone of Villafranca they situate the Roman city of Carcesa to which they acceded the pre-Roman roads XIX and XX mentioned in the Itinerary of Antonino.
Towards the year 791 the king Bermudo I of Asturias, faced next to the Burbia to the Muslims that returned of Galicia, suffering such defeat that decided to yield the crown to its nephew Alfonso II the Casto.
After discovering the body of the Apostle Santiago, in 813, the pilgrimage to Compostela began and Villafranca stood out as the last resting place for pilgrims before entering the narrow and difficult valley of the Valcarce River. A legend attributes its foundation to cowboys of Tineo and Luarca who would come here looking for a lost white cow.
In a stele of the Way of Santiago, dated in 1070, the most probable medieval origin is necessary. At that time there was a settlement of frank pilgrims that would explain its toponym, since Villa francorum would derive Villafranca.
A community of Cluniac monks, the “black monks”, brought by Alfonso VI to attend to the pilgrims, founded Santa Maria de Cluniaco or Cruñego; With them they brought with them the cultivation of the vine. There were several hospitals in charge of the Jacobean pilgrims: Hospital of Santiago, Leprosaria of San Lázaro, Hospital of San Roque, Hospital of San Juan and Hospital of the Charity of Sancti Spiritus.
Before ending the twelfth century, King Alfonso VII granted the lordship to his sister, Dona Sancha. Given its strategic position on the way to Galicia and the prosperity of the flow of pilgrims, its property aroused numerous disputes between kings, nobles and the archbishopric of Santiago, under whose tutelage he remained for some time.
In 1486, the Catholic Monarchs transformed the Señorío into Marquesado, granting it to Luis Pimentel and Pacheco, son of the influential Count of Benavente. This milestone marked the beginning of a long period of splendor, which was reflected in numerous foundations and constructions, since the Marquis had the important position of Viceroy of Naples, obtaining that the Cluniac Monastery reached the category of colegiata. Dependent in exclusive of Rome, the town had an abbot, with twenty-four canons, of which sixty parishes depended; An important religious and economic power that propitiated that in the peaceful seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it became a prominent commercial, artistic and cultural center.
To visit Villafranca del Bierzo, take the entrance on the N VI road to the Castle-Palace. It is a palatial construction of the sixteenth century with massive lateral turrets. Part of the building is inhabited by the composer’s family of Generation 51, Cristobal Halffter and is not open to the public.
A steep street leads, in front of the castle, to the Church of Santiago, an important 12th-century Romanesque temple within the Jacobean route. Its Gate of Forgiveness, framed by four archivolts on fine columns with capitals, pilgrims who are unable to continue the route to the end can achieve the same spiritual benefits as if they arrived in Compostela. The door opens in Holy Year fulfilled a series of requirements.
The Plaza Mayor marks the beginning of the town center and from it is observed on a raised site the Church of the desamortizado and desparecido Convent of San Francisco that is thought could found the saint of Assisi. The church is a 13th-century Romanesque building with a gothic head of the XV and has a Mudejar coffered ceiling from the 15th century. The City Hall building dates back to the mid 19th century and houses a theater built in 1905.
The Street of Water crosses almost from end to end the primitive urban nucleus. Its main buildings are Renaissance and Baroque. Palaces and houses with balconies and rejerías look that way. Of all these constructions stands the Palace of Torquemada; Of baroque style, is topped by airy pavilions. The contiguous Moorish House, number 31, dates from the fifteenth century. In front, the Mansion of the Álvarez de Toledo can be identified by its double blazon.
Later, in the San José Convent of the 17th century, the tomb of number 15 reports on the birthplace of the romantic novelist Enrique Gil and Carrasco. In number 6 several stone slabs recall verses of local poets.
In the New Rúa is the Convent of the Announced. It was built in the 17th century on an old pilgrim hospital. It keeps a collection of 30 pictures of hermits from the beginning of the 17th century, by the Flemish painter Paul Bril. Also in his church the body of St. Lawrence of Briondis, doctor of the Church, is guarded in a gothic sepulcher. It is conserved a cypress of more than 400 years cataloged as monumental tree of Spain.
On the Water Street you arrive at the Colegiata de Santa María, unfinished, it is built on the old abbey of Cluniaco in 1544 by a disciple of Gil de Hontañón. The present church is the result of the reconstruction ordered by the second Marquis of Villafranca, Pedro de Toledo, who was viceroy of Naples. Its stylistic features are Gothic-late, Herrerian and Plateresque. The altarpiece of the Greater Altar is Neoclassical and is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin. The choir of the second half of the S. XVIII, between baroque and rococo, stands out for the Abbey Chair with the theme of “Good Shepherd” and on it the monumental coat of arms of the Marquis. Steps are taken in the Collegiate Church of Holy Week; The most outstanding are Ecce Homo, Jesus in Borriquilla, Jesus tied to the Column and The Christ of Mercy. Behind the collegiate church stretches with French garden structure La Alameda.
In the center of the town is San Nicolás del Real, it is noteworthy for its large dimensions, its severe appearance of Renaissance traces and its baroque decoration. This house was founded as a Jesuit school in the early seventeenth century and currently houses the Museum of Natural and Ethnographic Sciences for whose visit it is necessary to contact the Tourist Office. The Museum gathers several collections of taxidermy, malacological, mineralogical and instruments related to the distillation of liquor.
4 km southwards, by the turning to the left of the N VI road you will reach Corullón, a small town that preserves a 15th century castle and Romanesque churches (San Miguel and San Sebastián). The viewpoint to which the village is reached surpasses the whole valley.