Strolling among gardens: discover the route of the camellias (3rd part)

3) The Pazo de Oca

After visiting the Pazo de Rivadulla, we can continue towards Orense to see the Pazo de Oca.

Here the camellias reach their maximum expression in terms of size and beauty. Some of them reach eight meters high and are escorted by authentic labyrinths of myrtles and roses. Thanks to its profuse ornamentation and the artistic perfection of its plant architecture, some experts call the Pazo de Oca the “Galician Versailles”.

The facade of the pazo dates from the 18th century and is crowned by a medieval tower. Towards the back we see a baroque chapel connected through a corridor of arches.

Its gardens, surrounded by high stone walls, recreate different environments. We have on the one hand the French garden, the work of François Viet, gardener of the Campo del Moro in Madrid, who recreated a plant maze inspired by a drawing of the pavement of the Cathedral of Canterbury.

Leaving behind the courtyard and the greenhouse, we can enter the Era. In 1929, part of the old stables that closed the courtyard were demolished to open a new perspective towards the Ulla Valley. The characteristic stone granary of the region stands out and, at the end of the path, the Portal, decorated with the arms of Sotomayor, Moscoso, Parga and Mariñas.

Next, we visit the gardens of the palace. They are among the best examples of gardening in Galicia, product and reinterpretation of the French landscape tradition. They are bounded by box hedges and are home to tree species and plantations of great botanical interest such as camellias, azaleas, palms and rhododendrons.

To the northeast is one of the few areas not affected by the landscape reforms introduced by François de Vié in the last third of the 19th century. Here we find a grove dating from the 18th century with a very old washhouse, covered by a wooden roof.

One of the most important axes of the garden is the Avenue of the Lime Trees, a product of the landscaping reforms that were carried out in 1866. It is a path of magic and mystery. The lime trees and boxwood hedges are aligned to form a plant walkway that connects the ponds with the forest. This idea of integrating the garden with nature was very present in the French landscaping of the time.

Another singular space is its orchards, where ornamental plantations such as camellias coexist with commercial crops: kiwis, vineyards or apple trees.

The lands of the pazo are irrigated by two streams that flow in two branches. The first flows into a meadow on the edge of the pazo, and the second forms two large ponds called “de las virtudes” and “de las vanidades”. Both ponds are divided by an arched bridge.

Andrés Gayoso, who was lord of the Pazo de Oca in the 18th century, gave a conceptual meaning to the construction of the ponds. He had two stone boats built, one for war and the other for fishing, and a statue called “the Lord of the Serpent” as an intermediary between the two worlds: the upper pond, of calm waters, known as the “pond of virtues” and the lower pond, of turbulent waters that we know as the “pond of vanities”.

Work began in the second decade of the eighteenth century and lasted at least fifteen years. The old mill pond, which already existed, was replaced by these two ponds separated by a dike, and the primitive water mill was moved to the head of the current “pond of the virtues”. The boxwood plantations that surround its perimeter date from this period (this means that they are at least 300 years old).

The hypothesis that the ponds are a symbolic representation of hell and paradise seems evident. The former is represented in the war boat below, adorned with heraldic monsters, while paradise is identified with the fishing boat. In the Bible Peter appears as a fisherman while Jesus is his guide to the truth. The fish are a symbol of deep truth (they are hidden under water), just like the truths of the Gospel that a Christian needs to nourish his soul. This metaphor in stone is intended to capture a similar idea.

However, some interpretations continue to be doubtful, as is the case with the mysterious “Knight of the Serpent” in whose representation the Marquis took special care. According to some historians it refers to the founder of the Neira lineage, while for others it has a Christian meaning of victory over evil. It is not venturesome to think that the pools contain a genealogical-religious discourse yet to be deciphered.

We cannot leave without first admiring the giant sequoia listed in the Catalogue of Monumental Trees of Galicia, and the three stone fountains, close to the orchards, which will undoubtedly capture our attention: the Fuente de la Mona (known as such because of the heraldic beast that adorns it), the Fuente de la Trucha (a baroque fountain with neoclassical elements built in 1776) and the Fuente del Monumento (built in 1733 by the same stonemason who worked on the boats of the ponds).

According to historian and academic Javier Sánchez Cantón: “In Pazo de Oca there is continuity without cuts and a suspended mood, chained by beauty. It is not known where the work of the gardening architect ends and where the work of the farmer ends, inserted one in the other, and both immersed in the most prodigal Nature in forms and colors that can be found”.

Water, stone and vegetation come together here in a masterpiece of architecture, engineering and gardening.

After the visit, we recommend you enjoy the rich gastronomy of the region and especially the famous wines and spirits of Ulla.

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