In northwest Spain, above Portugal’s northern border, sits one of the three autonomies (in addition to the Basque Country and Catalonia) with the status of “Historical Nationality” in the Spanish Constitution.
The name, Galicia, name comes from “Gallaecia”, a Celtic people who had settled the region north of the Douro River, during the last millennium BC. The Greek philosopher, Strabo, described them as the most difficult foes the Romans had faced, with woman bearing arms along side men. And it wasn’t until the brutal Cantabrian Wars (26-19 BC), did Galicia become fully part of the Roman Empire, along with Asturias and Cantabria.
Now, Galicia makes up part of “Green Spain” with these and other autonomies. The area’s topography is hilly in the interior and its local nickname is, “o país dos mil ríos” (country of a thousands rivers). “Las Rías Altas” (High rivers) cut through the sloping landscape, reaching the estuaries in the larger “Rías Baixas” (Low rivers.) Cliffs and coves form much of the coast, off which are archipiélagos or small island chains.
The main cities and provinces of the region are:
- A Coruña, the capital of the province of the same name. It is home of the Roman Tower of Hercules and glazed window balconies known as “galerías”. The city’s principal festival, the María Pita Festival, lasts from the end of July to mid September. During this time you can find free concerts at the beach and throughout the city, the Medieval fair in the Old Town, the International Folklore Festival…
- Lugo is the only city in the world to still be entirely surrounded by Roman walls. Saint Froilan Festival, from 4–12 October, is dedicated to the city’s patron saint. The tradition is to eat “polbo á feira” in Galician (“pulpo a la gallega” in Spanish; Galician octopus in English) near Rosalía de Castro park as you listen to the percussion of the local music.
- The province of Ourense is in the higher elevations; its capital of the same name is comprised of a medieval, 19th Century and modern quarter. On the last Saturday in August, in the city of Ribadavia relives the medieval Jewish atmosphere of the village.
- Pontevedra is where much of Galician wine is produced in “Las Rías Baixas”. An ancient town and medieval port, its has been described as a “definitive old Galician town”. Sights include the pilgrim chapel in “La Praza da Peregrina”, the historic “Zona Monumental” (old city), the “La Praza de Leña”, the market, and “La Alameda”, a promenade along “la ria”.
- Vigo sits on a bay of the same name in this region and is the most populous city. There are four beaches close by and the ruins from the time of the Celts. “La Semana Grande” (Big Week) is at the start of August, with seven days of festivities and activities.
- Santiago de Compostela is the capital of Galicia. Pilgrims have been visiting the Cathedral (said to be built on St James’s remains), after completing El Camino de Santiago (Way of Saint James). The ritual dates back to the 9th Century and is still popular today. Before there was a Christ, the city still had a spiritual importance to the local Celts, for Santiago de Compostela was said to be where the souls of the dead gathered to follow the sun across the sea. Those unworthy of going to the Land of the Dead haunted Galicia as “La Santa Compaña” or “Estadea”.
The locals are known as Gallego(s). They are bilingual, speaking Castilian Spanish and Galician (Gallego), which shares many similarities with Portuguese. The fertile land and close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean makes Galicia the source of much of the seafood and fish eaten in Spain. Any restaurant bearing the autonomy’s name outside of the region tend to be of the high-end and pricey variety. What do people pay such good money for? “Pulpo a feira“, “empanada gallega“, “rape“…
A rather long video with our friends from Asturias, this time making a pilgrimage to Galicia with Gwyneth Paltrow.
For the other autonomies