I actually stayed in Molinaseca, and only came into Ponferrada in the morning. I arrived at the castle but I was there way too early for the castle to be open. But it is still quite an impressive sight. Its set up on a hill in quite a defensive position. The castle is built over the forts of Romans and Visigoths. The current one is based around the Knights Templar who, in a decree in 1178, were made protectors of the town and pilgrims. The castle has been altered many times since especially in the 15th and 19th centuries. Looking from the outside the huge stone walls look imposing. The entrance is up a steep slope which turns ninety degrees at the top to reduce the ability to use a battering ram on the entrance gates.
One of the few things open was the Basilica de Santa Maria de la Encina. Again another vast church, with this one dating to the 16th century. The story behind it is that in the 5th century San Toribio went to Jerusalem on pilgrimage, and returning he brought many relics and statues. During unrest with the Moors, these relics and other treasures were hidden for safe-keeping, however, one was not recovered and was presumed lost, a statue of Mary. Then when the Templars had set up in Ponferrada, a woodsman was cutting trees in the forest saw a strange light, and he goes to find the source. He traces the light to a hollow in an encina, a holm oak tree, and looking inside he finds a statue of Mary. He brings it to the Templars. This is the story lying behind this church.
This town was called by the Romans Interamnium Flavium referring to the fact that the town is built at the confluence of two rivers, but it was much later that it became Ponsferrada which translated means iron bridge. The rivers proved a difficulty to cross for the medieval pilgrims and so the local Bishop ordered a bridge built in the late 11th century. However the bridge seems to have been unusual as it seemed important enough to comment that it incorporated iron into its construction, though how much iron is open to interpretation, whether it had an iron hand rail or was reinforced.The bridge has of course been replaced since but still crosses the river.