EL BIERZO


Bierzo is in a sheltered mountain valley on the north-western boundary of the province of León, in the autonomous region of Castilla y León. The region's name is "El Bierzo" but the DO is simply "Bierzo", formed by a collection of small towns dominated by the city of Ponferrada which is the only major population centre. The area is sandwiched between the Cordillera Cantábrica and the Montes de Leon, its natural limits being the Sierras de Caurel and Ancares, the Agrilanos mountains and the Sierra de Fistedo, and is irrigated by the rivers Sil, Ancares and Burdia. The mountain ranges shelter it from the excesses of both continental and temperate climate and produce some of the most exciting landscapes (i.e. Las Médulas) in Continental Spain. From a wine production point of view the region pivots between the winemaking centre and historical towns of Villa Franca del Bierzo (to the west, dominating an area at one point contiguous with the DO Valdeorras in Galicia) and Cacabelos (to the east), the latter a neat and pretty town, albeit without the monumental architecture of Villa Franca. 

El Bierzo is a small border area which in Medieval times was the object of incessant territorial disputes. As nature has endowed it with particularly favourable conditions for wine growing, excellent red wines have been produced in the region since Benedictine monks settled there from Cluny in the XI century. Winemaking, as in many other northern areas of Spain, has historically been influenced by the passing pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, but unlike neighbouring wine producing zones its scarce population and relative high distance from the Court during the Middle Ages and later on, provoked its fame for high quality wines to fall into oblivion, until recently, when the high potential of the area seems to resurrect. Bierzo got its official recognition as a wine producing area in 1985, at a time when its wines tended to be made from a combination of locally-grown grapes and wines from elsewhere. Obviously, the "elsewhere" wines had to go, and when it achieved the full DO status in 1989, the winemakers had already discovered the virtues of modern equipment. Co-ops and private wineries are taking it very seriously indeed, as well they might: the local grapes lend themselves to some excellent quality wines, and with good winemaking techniques Bierzo could quite possibly become one of northern Spain's new generation of high-profile wine regions in the new XXI century.


Las Medulas, the Roman Empire's Largest Gold mines. In the 1st century AD the Roman Imperial authorities began to exploit the gold deposits of this region in north-west Spain, using a technique based on the utilization of hydraulic power. After two centuries of working the deposits, the Romans withdrew, leaving a devastated landscape. Since there was no subsequent industrial activity, the dramatic traces of this remarkable ancient technology are everywhere visible, in the form of sheer faces in the mountainsides and vast areas of tailings, now in use for agriculture. 



Ponferrada, the origin of this town is in fact the Bridge (Puente) Ferrada 11c. Later the castle of the Knights Templars also rose near the Sil between the 11c and 14c, probably in order to increase the safety of the Pilgrims' Way. The Clock Tower and the Town Hall are the final embellishments of a prosperous town of the Way.



Vilafranca del Bierzo, is the last stage on the pilgrimage route in El Bierzo before we reach Galicia. It is another settlement that developed from the pilgrimages, was inhabited by Franks and stood in the shelter of a Cluniac monastery. When sick pilgrims reached the (12c) Church of Santiago at the entrance of the borough, they were allowed to consider themselves entitled to jubilee, as the "Door of Forgiveness", framed by four pairs of columns on the northern entrance was endowed with the same spiritual grace as that of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela for those pilgrims who found it impossible to continue and is unique as being the only place along the Pilgrim's Route that offers this indulgence to the sick and infirm. The pilgrims set out again with the fortress on their left, down the street of El Agua -which still has a medieval atmosphere today- and left Villafranca by the bridge across the Burbia