The Monastery of San Clodio in Leiro is a multifaceted architectural experience as it explores interrelated topics of historical heritage, urban relevance, and architectural restoration. Defined as “one of the most important pieces of Galician monastic architecture” (Archdaily, 2018), it currently stands as a multifunctional hotel and spa. 

As with all restorative work, a special consideration for the building’s history, condition, and initial programmatic layout and concept stands exceptionally relevant for any contemporary additions. And so, this rehabilitation project was completed in 2013 by OLA Estudio, providing a newfound outlook on restoration while also doubling as an attractor point that can assist with the urban revitalization of a city.

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Exterior view of The San Clodio Monastery_©Archdaily

General Overview: Historical, Cultural, and Geographic Relevance

Located in the city of Leiro, The Monastery of San Clodio was the former epicentre for the wine-creation in the region of El Ribeiro. Generally speaking, the city of Leiro is located in the North-Western part of Spain, with a city population of 1,512 (City Population). The monastery has a strong presence in the area, with direct access from the local road to the city of San Clodio, surrounded by different agricultural spaces, as well as a variety of different zones, including a cemetery, residential spaces, restaurants, hotels, and bars. The agricultural relevance of the area is one that extends historically, with the monastery being renowned for its agricultural growth, notably for vine leaves.

Due to its historical relevance, the monastery, along with a nearby bridge, was declared a “National Historical Artistic Monument in 1931” (Turismo, 2018). The exact origin of its building and consecration is heavily debated, with different sources highlighting different origin dates. However, it is relevant to note that it was transformed into a Cistercian Monastery in the 12th century.

The impact on the surrounding urban fabric and, to a certain degree, its geographical influence is not to be undermined. Alongside the rehabilitated monastery is a surrounding 15th-century Medieval bridge with the same name, around a kilometre away, which runs across the River Avia, historically relevant in connecting the monastery to nearby settlements. The bridge is also relevant from a structural perspective, in which it is over 80 meters in length and comprised of three eye-catching arches strongly erected over the river. To add to this, the monastery is the most architecturally and historically relevant structure in the greater region, even extending past the vicinity of the city of Leiro. This is further coupled with OLA Estudio’s architectural imprint on the rehabilitated structure, in which numerous blog posts and reviews define it as an exceptionally successful spa that meets the top lists of European spas (Duran, 2020). This multilayered success pays homage to its past and history, in which the monastery was an impactful force within the region as a religious, cultural, and agricultural epicentre.

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OLA Estudio’s imprint on the monastery_©Archdaily

Architectural Condition

The Monastery of San Clodio is one of exceptional architectural substance, containing a myriad of elements from different periods and styles. The building is defined as both a Benedictine and Cistercian-style church, with the latter being particularly relevant through its programmatic layout, architectural features, and facade characteristics. The Cistercian-style church is comprised of three arches, with a central image of The Virgin Mary on the altarpiece.

Its variety in architectural characteristics is also in part because it was built over numerous centuries. Additives from the 16th and 17th centuries on the building itself include the monastic residence, as well as two cloisters, which can be currently accessed through the main reception. 

The sociocultural and historical relevance of the monastery, relative to the greater area, is one that is further manifested in its architectural qualities: “(…) the Caravaca Cross that can be seen on its façade has been the object of veneration by the inhabitants of the area for centuries as a symbol of protection for the vineyards against bad weather” (blog.turismo.gal).

Current Status

Initial overviews on the internet define the monastery as follows: “Refined hotel in a 12th-century monastery offering a rustic restaurant, a bar & chic spa”. In 2013, The Tourism Agency of Galicia decided to rehabilitate the space, in which the architectural design was provided by Spanish-based OLA Estudio. The firm’s ethos is general and practical, and its influence can be directly seen in the rehabilitative work of the monastery: “We are design and design must reach everyone. Good design adds value and should cost less, both financially and in terms of resource consumption” (OLA Estudio).

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A unique combination of past and present is manifested in this rehabilitation project_©Archdaily

And so, as per the initial intention of the architects, the aim was to minimize the new intervention and footprint on the building- a common school of thought in restorative practices. A compiled list of requirements that explore both architectural concepts, as well as restorative restrictions was established before any design work, which included the following:

“- Do not touch the existing masonry walls of 1.50m wide, remains of granite vaults, niches, and hollows.

– Act without altering the perimeter; insert pieces to house the uses.

– Recognize the ruin as a value and read the passage of time and the weight of the inherited architecture.

– Insert pieces to collect light.

– Insert an excavated stone plane for the pool.

– Emphasize the inherited atmosphere and take it to its new use” (Archdaily, 2018).

Through careful consideration of the existing building condition, as well as a recognized need to provide a successful rehabilitation, the firm essentially provided a new programmatic layout compatible with the monastery, comprising the following facilities: changing rooms, reception, massage rooms, relaxation rooms, Turkish bath, sauna and swimming pool (Archdaily, 2018). And so, the outcome becomes a gently inserted architecture that neither interjects nor interferes with the original architecture but rather simply amplifies the selected spaces. 

Central to the concept and theme is a heightened importance placed on light and materials, as well as the interrelation and juxtaposition between the two: “Different light (natural and artificial), different materials, different textures, different pavements, different colors and different scales at the service of silence and the senses” (Archdaily, 2018). This is captured through the dichotomy between the old architecture and the new interjection of materials of stone, wood, and concrete- based on program and location.

Six interior spaces in the monastery are compartmentalized, to be rehabilitated through a new program unique to each space. Each space materializes differently, with a special consideration for the aforementioned play on lights. To add to this, for both conceptual and structural considerations, the materials used become lighter as the height increases. Finally, even before OLA Estudio’s successful rehabilitation of the monastery, its cloisters were used for public banquets and events, proving that the historical space is one that is inherently attractive and usable.

Materials are phenomenologically selected according to program_©Archdaily

References:

ArchDaily. (2018). Refurbishment of the Lateral Building of the Monastery of San Clodio / OLAestudio. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/901005/refurbishment-of-the-lateral-building-of-the-monastery-of-san-clodio-olaestudio [Accessed 14 Jul. 2023].

blog.turismo.gal. (n.d.). Memories of other times in the bridge and the monastery of San Clodio – Tourism of Galicia. [online] Available at: https://blog.turismo.gal/history/memories-of-other-times-in-the-bridge-and-the-monastery-of-san-clodio/ [Accessed 14 Jul. 2023].

Duran, V. (2020). 17 Architecturally Amazing Spas in Europe. [online] Virginia Duran. Available at: https://virginia-duran.com/2020/02/05/17-architecturally-amazing-spas-in-europe/ [Accessed 14 Jul. 2023].

Spain.info. (n.d.). Monastery of San Clodio in Leiro. [online] Available at: https://www.spain.info/en/places-of-interest/monastery-san-clodio/ [Accessed 14 Jul. 2023].

Turismo, T.G. de (2018). MONASTERY SAN CLODIO DO RIBEIRO IN LEIRO OURENSE. [online] Turgalicia. Available at: https://www.turismo.gal/recurso/-/detalle/5175/san-clodio-do-ribeiro?langId=en_US&tp=8&ctre=33 [Accessed 14 Jul. 2023].

www.citypopulation.de. (n.d.). Leiro (Ourense, Galicia, Spain) – Population Statistics, Charts, Map, Location, Weather and Web Information. [online] Available at: https://www.citypopulation.de/en/spain/galicia/ourense/32040__leiro/ [Accessed 14 Jul. 2023].

Author

Elham Al Dweik is a Jordanian-Palestinian architect based in the United Arab Emirates. Alongside an architectural background, she maintains a keen interest in reading, writing, and literary reflection.