1. A landscape of ríos (rivers), rías (sea lochs) and rúas (streets).

In the extreme north-west of the Iberian Peninsula, in the Southwest of Europe, is Galicia, a land of pilgrimages throughout history and one of the geographical Finisterres of the continent.

The pilgrims who arrive throughout the year walking from the flat lands of the Castilian plateau following the french Camino de Santiago, find when they arrive in Galicia with a totally different landscape, dominated by mountains, green forests and meadows watered by thousands of rivers and streams, and by a geology dominated by granite, which is observed in its streets and buildings. An Atlantic landscape that is very reminiscent of those of Britain, Ireland or Wales.

Due to its geographical location, there were many cultural and commercial exchanges here with peoples from the south of the continent, of Mediterranean culture. And also with the other Celtic cultures of northern Europe throughout the centuries, something that can be seen in their historical traditions, music or linguistic features. This fact was accentuated through the Camino de Santiago from the Middle Ages. Thus, the first impression is of a land in Latin Europe, with its own characteristics of Atlantic Europe.

Galicia preserves its own geographical and cultural reality that is different from the rest of the peninsular countries. At the same time, due to its location, it has many historical and socio-economic characteristics in common especially with the north of Portugal, with which it shares territory and linguistic area (Galician-Portuguese). And also with the north of the Spanish State, of which it is part today as Autonomy with the characteristic of being a recognized Historical Nation, both by the Spanish Constitution and by the League of Nations (as well as Catalonia or the Basque Country). In this way, Galicia is halfway between the Hispanic world and the Lusophony world.

A unique characteristic of Galicia is its climate, which is warmer and sunnier than in northern Europe, but colder and rainier than in the center and south of the Iberian Peninsula or the Mediterranean regions, being a climate influenced by the Atlantic Ocean. Thus, the cold and sad character of the Galicians that conditions the winter, becomes happy and festive during the summer, which is demonstrated by the number of festivals, street parties, and gastronomic festivals that flood their populations in summer. This is a very important factor since it gives life and dynamism to the rural environment, something that does not happen in other similar territories. In addition, in summer, the population increases due to the temporary return of migrant workers during their vacation period.

The administrative limits of Galicia are quite well defined geographically, although historically they were much more extensive and currently there are neighboring municipalities in Asturias, León and Zamora in which Galician is also spoken. But in general, it configures a geographic reality differentiated from the rest of Iberian Peninsula by the Galician Massif, where the eastern mountain ranges of Ancares, Courel and Eixo form a natural border from north to south.

In the south, although there are many geographical and cultural similarities between southern Galicia and northern Portugal, the administrative line that divides them is one of the oldest artificial borders in Europe (almost intact since the 12th century). And on both sides of the border defensive fortresses are preserved as a reminder of the battles that took place between both territories during the 17th century.

This border line is called  Raia, and and is divided into three parts: the lower course of the river Miño, the Mountains of Peneda-Gerês and the Raia Seca, which owes its name to the fact that there is no river that acts as a border. In the Raia Seca there are the municipalities of the Mixed Couto, which were once independent from both Galicia and Portugal.

Raia Seca extends from the Gerês to the León Mountains, and crosses the upper valley of the Támega river, which is the widest natural entry (or exit) route to Galicia from the south and from the interior. The other natural entry or exit routes require crossing the Miño and Eo rivers near the coast, crossing the mountain passes of the southeastern mountain ranges or the narrow and sinuous valleys of the Sil and Limia rivers, which has forced to carry out complex infrastructures of roads, highways or railways with numerous bridges and tunnels.

However, the Támega valley is wider and is the gateway to the inland Portuguese Camino de Santiago and the Portuguese Silver Route. The Támega is born in Galicia but has most of its route in Portugal, and divides the two areas of the Chaves-Verín Eurocity. The Portuguese Chaves and the Galician Verín are linked by a distance of 30 kms. and the street that joins them is called Avenue of Portugal in the part of Galicia, and Avenue of Galiza in the part of Portugal. There are also two other border Eurocities on either bank of the Minho River: Valença-Tui and Salvaterra-Monção.

The coast is also characteristic and representative of Galicia thanks to its sea lochs: the Rías. As soon as there are no Rías and the coast becomes rectilinear to the south, it warns us that Galicia is ending and Portugal begins. And the same happens to the north, when the Asturian flat coastline approaches. Also noteworthy are the areas of cliffs and beaches with very fine white sand, the result of erosion caused by the wind and the sea that hit the Galician coast with great force.

And is that Galicia is sea, its almost 1,500 km of coastline in a total area of just about 29,500 km. square footage means that most of the population lives by the sea and has always lived off its marine resources. The sixteen Rías that Galicia has along its entire coast favor the existence of natural ports and the appearance of an important aquaculture and fishing activity.

Also are abundant the rivers that run throughout the country, most of them short, narrow and not navigable due to the orography, but with a great energy value already used in the past with the construction of river mills. At present, there is an important use of water resources, both in hydroelectric reservoirs and in thermal waters, thanks to their geomorphology.

Thus, due to its climate and also its mountainous nature, the coastal and inland relief of Galicia provides great wind potential. However, the excessive installation of wind mills generates environmental problems in rural areas in addition to not having a direct impact on the territory, since a large part of the wind energy is exported and the companies that produce it are taxed outside. 

The energy transition towards the renewables sector is fundamental, but many times it becomes a business for large companies, and it does not affect the quality of life of the rural population as it should. Galicia also has a thermal power plant that plans to leave coal and switch to liquefied natural gas storage.

Since pre-Roman times, the territory had different mining deposits (gold, coal...) and today the granite quarries in the western part and slate in the eastern part stand out. Even in southern Galicia lithium mines are beginning to be exploited.

In the same way, there is a timber industry, which must also move towards a more sustainable model with the environment. In Galicia there is a large area of forest, and since with the emigration from the countryside to the city it has been abandoned or sold for intensive forest use, planting foreign species such as pines or eucalyptus (more abundant in the areas mountainous from the coast). These species, especially eucalyptus, are fast growing, but they consume a lot of water and are not very resistant to fire. In addition, they often spread near homes, which is a problem during the many abundant fire seasons in this territory.

For this reason, territorial planning is necessary, establishing areas suitable or not for the cultivation of pines and eucalyptus trees, and establishing facilities for the planting of native species more in line with the landscape of Galicia, or others that do not damage the soil and better resist the fire. In this way, it would be necessary to expand the uses of the forest, so that its economy does not depend solely on the paper industry, a sector of special importance in Galicia today.

Ribeira Sacra
Sil River Canyon (Ribeira Sacra)

2. Territorial model: scattered habitat and polycentrism.

We can distinguish three large areas of human settlements in Galicia, the coastal area (the most populated), the valleys of interior, and the mountain areas (the least populated).
Galicia has a polycentric city system that is made up of 7 urban areas with more than 50,000 inhabitants. The two main metropolitan areas are Coruña to the north and Vigo to the south. They are the two with the most industry and also the ones that host the two most important soccer teams (Deportivo vs. Celta).

Both are on the coast and have the main ports, and although each does not reach the 500,000 registered inhabitants, in reality the proximity to two other important areas forms urban conurbations as they expand.

Thus, Gran Coruña expands to the urban area of ​​Ferrol-Narón and Gran Vigo to the urban area of ​​Pontevedra, forming two conurbations that require greater planning in communications and the common use of infrastructure.

But the capital of Galicia is Santiago de Compostela, a city that does not reach the 100,000 registered inhabitants. And although it is the most touristy city, thanks to its famous cathedral, Compostela has historically been the political and religious center, and today is the administrative and university center, where the headquarters and parliament of the autonomous government are located.

These 5 urban areas are located on the so-called Atlantic Axis, the axis of greatest economic vitality in Galicia, and extends to the other two inland cities that also have around 100,000 inhabitants (Lugo and Ourense) and also to Porto (in Portugal) and Oviedo (in Asturias).

There are geographers who analyze the urban system in which they ensure that if Galicia had only one metropolitan area such as Porto in the north of Portugal or even Barcelona in Catalonia, which had all services centrally, the country would be more competitive and there would hardly be any localisms. But this does not have to be the case, since in other territories such as the Basque Country we have the same situation as in Galicia, with three smaller main cities and its economy is one of the most competitive in the Spanish State. Or in small countries like the Netherlands and its Amsterdam-Rotterdam-The Hague axis, each with its own specialized function. The difference is that communications between Galician cities are worse, largely due to its complex orography.

Decentralization is also good, but it must be promoted avoiding localization and promoting urban and specialized regional areas, all perfectly connected. In this way, Vigo and A Coruña have the main ports, fundamental for the Galician economy, both for imports, exports and arrival of cruise ships. Santiago de Compostela has the greatest infrastructure and university and administrative culture. And other urban and regional areas with industrial, agro-industrial or service specializations. Only in this way is the territory balanced between the city, the rural environment, the coast and the interior.

Galicia is characterized by its geography for having a dispersed habitat with many towns and villages, so not all of them have good connections or services. The administrative division consists of Provinces, Comarcas (counties), Concellos (town councils) and Parroquias (parish).

The parish always had an important role in Galician society. They were created in the time of the Swabians, and they group together a group of villages to which a parish priest, a pediatrician and a church belong. The habitat in Galicia is very dispersed due to its geography and there are many small villages in different locations throughout the territory. Some at the top of low mountains"outeiros", others in the middle of the slope, and others in valleys near the rivers. Their sizes also vary, some only have 3 or 4 houses, and the church is the center and link between several neighboring villages.

In each parish church there is an assigned parish priest (although nowadays a parish priest can direct several parishes due to a shortage of personnel ...) And the pediatrician is the representative chosen by his neighbors, such as a mayor but without a political party.

The village has always been the characteristic habitat model since the time of the Celtic forts as a population center. A very identitarian nucleus, where all its inhabitants know each other and are surprised when someone from outside appears, or they compete with the inhabitants of other neighboring villages. And always of religious tradition in which the priest or parish priest had a fundamental role.

But in Galicia, the number of municipalities is excessive, because due to aging and depopulation, many do not reach 1,000 inhabitants. There have been some mergers but the ideal would be for the counties to have fewer councils (municipalities) and consequently fewer mayors. In addition, the counties, which have their historical and geographical but not administrative weight, it would be good if they were in charge of offering services to their town councils and parishes functioning as associations to the detriment of the provincial councils.

On the other hand, the division into four provinces does not make much sense either, since the counties that compose them have very different geographical characteristics from each other within the same province or sometimes have greater similarities with those of the neighboring province. In this way, eliminating the provincial councils and bringing together small municipalities would be a much more efficient territorial management against corruption, which unfortunately are still present today.

Mapa de Galicia

Population density in Galicia

3. Industry and communications: weaknesses of the past and strengths of the present.

Galicia has three airports, it is already a historical debate if Galicia needs three small airports in the three most important cities or if a large one would be enough, especially considering how the international airport of Porto in the North of Portugal has become converted into the airport of the Galicians due to its greater offer of flights and international connections.

Be that as it may, the most logical thing today would be to take advantage of the three existing infrastructures and specialize them, since the airports of Vigo and A Coruña are linked to their two industrial and business centers and that of Santiago more to tourism. It is also essential to connect airports effectively between them and major cities by rail. The infrastructure of the old Santiago airport (near the new Rosalía de Castro) could be used as a commuter connection station with the "TAV" (High Speed Train).

The high-speed train, currently under construction, was designed to link the ports of A Coruña and Vigo with Madrid (and cities that remain on the way, such as Santiago). And although it considerably reduces the distances between the main cities, it does not stop in many county capitals and it is also expensive for daily trips. Nor is it currently connected to airports.

What Galicia needs is a commuter train that balances its territory, similar to that of other countries. That a cities with towns that are head of the region and above all that connect the interior with the Atlantic Axis. It is essential to structure the territory internally by rail and then unite it with the outside and not only with Madrid, but also with the North of Portugal and Asturias.

However, in Galicia the use of private road transport has been prioritized over public transport by rail. It has invested in good highways within the country and abroad, and of course, unfortunately always prioritizing the connection of the Atlantic Axis with Madrid rather than the logical connection between all urban areas and Galician comarcal headlands. In fact, the 7 main cities are not all connected to each other by highway and are sometimes payment highways, while the two highways arriving from Madrid are free.

The disadvantage is the dependence on the private vehicle that sometimes causes more trips by shared car than by train because the latter is more expensive and with worse schedules and connections. Something that is missing in Galicia is the introduction of the modern tram in its cities, which today is non-existent.

The industrialization of Galicia, as well as the improvement of infrastructures and communications both internally and abroad, came late. Until the industrial revolution, Galicia was highly populated and as an agricultural region it was rich but based on a self-consumption economy. Some products such as Ribeiro wine or linen were exported, but the market was always conditioned by Spanish and international protectionist policies, so many day laborers went to work in Castilla during the harvest season, to Andalusia during the olive harvest or to Portugal also during the grape harvest in the north or the harvest in the south. With a population that knew how to work in the fields or in fishing, the few bourgeoisie, which created industry, markets and banks, were mainly foreign. For example, the first canneries were installed by Catalans.

Galicia's industrial deficit promoted the great rural exodus between 1830 and 1930 to cities in the rest of the Iberian Peninsula (Madrid, Barcelona, ​​Bilbao and Lisbon), but especially to Latin America (Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Mexico, São Paulo, Caracas, etc...). Galicia has always been a land of emigrants like other European countries and regions such as Ireland, Northern Portugal and Northern Italy. But not a land of immigrants, with some recent exceptions such as the Cape Verdean population settled in areas of the Lugo Coast to work in fishing.

Its predominantly rural and non-industrial character meant that in Galicia there was never a truly working and demanding society. And in rural areas, small properties still predominate. Rural families had a large number of children who, when inheriting, had to divide the properties into smaller pieces. The only way not to share them was for the eldest son to keep all the assets in exchange for taking care of the older relatives in the household.

Therefore, it was normal for many young people to choose to emigrate, and most emigrants found better jobs in the service sector in cities outside of Galicia. It is estimated that between 1857 and 1960 only around 600,000 Galicians settled in Argentina, and in 2015  were registered 168,263 mainly in the city of Buenos Aires, known as the fifth Galician province for having the right to vote in Galician elections, which is usually relevant.

The Galicians opened associations and cultural centers in all Latin American cities of destination, the so-called Galician Centers, where they gathered to disseminate and claim the traditions of Galicia and provide political ideas for its economic progress and development. Many have opened important companies and institutions in destination countries, such as Galicia Bank in Argentina or Galicia Sport Club, a football team from Salvador da Bahia in Brazil. Galicia's path took the leap from the European world to the American world.

This migratory exodus intensified in the 1940s, after the Spanish Civil War, and lasted until the 1950s and 1960s to European countries such as Switzerland, Germany, France and Belgium. From the 80's and 90's, the return of capital from the diaspora begins. Many Galicians returned to their homeland and opened businesses mainly in the hotel business. It is common to see bars and restaurants with names like "Paris Bar" or "Zurich Restaurant", founded by Galicians who emigrated and earned money in these cities. And also galician villages where the so-called "Indian houses" were built since the beginning of the 20th century, imposing houses built by the Galicians who made great fortunes in the Americas.

That is why the Galician people today are not scared by emigration, because their ancestors already did, some returned and others stayed in their various destinations, working as cheap labor but on many occasions creating companies in those far away territories. Currently, there are still Galician immigrants from all over the world, while the population in Galicia decreases every year.

Emigration and the aging of the population mean that Galician society continues to be largely traditional in its customs, they are familiar, conservative, conformists and individualistic. However, it is traditionally a matriarchal society where women have always had a fundamental role both at home and outside of him, being a very important workforce in rural areas and since the beginning of the textile industry.

Ría de Vigo
Ría de Vigo, with the Rande Bridge in the background.

4. Not only tourism. Threats and opportunities for the future.

Today we find two important industrial poles, to the north is the textile with the most important Galician multinational: the Inditex Group. And to the south of the Autonomous Community is the industry related to the automotive industry, the French group PSA Citroen. Many related companies emerge from both industries and generate many jobs. But these are not the only sectors, others such as construction (aluminum, wood, mining ...) or food (wines, preserves, meat ...) produce important exports abroad.

It is important to diversify the industrial sector, so as not to depend only on large companies that can close in times of crisis. In this sense, the automotive sector is of great importance, as it provides many direct and indirect jobs. But its adaptation for the manufacture of electric and hybrid vehicles is also essential to comply with European environmental policy, which is committed to reducing the production of polluting vehicles in the coming years.

A great potential of Galicia is the Agroindustry. In addition to the excellent fish products from its estuaries, its varied gastronomic products are of a high quality such as milk, meat or its famous wines (designations of origin). Thanks to this, there are more and more companies producing artisan products (beers, ciders, oil, cheeses, chestnut derivatives ...) related to organic farming. This sector is essential to establish employment and population in rural areas as well as to stimulate its economy through activities that complement tourism, such as gastronomic tourism.

Tourism, as it happens globally, is booming, but in Galicia it is a relatively recent phenomenon. The commitment to promoting the Camino de Santiago at the beginning of the 90s, made Galicia known to the world. Nowadays, the debate is whether to bet on a greater capitalization of the Camino with the risks of tourism that this entails, or whether it should continue to preserve its "spiritual" essence.

Perhaps, the best thing is that the two options coexist, on the one hand a more expensive quality tourism, and another cheaper, always controlling the overcrowding by the administrations.

In addition to cultural, natural, or beach tourism, rural and thermal tourism stand out due to their extensive network of rural houses, hot springs and spas throughout the territory. During the last summers in high season, problems derived from mass tourism are already observed in the most touristy coastal areas and this is something that Galicia must know how to manage well, controlling the entry of tourists in the most crowded places, applying tourist taxes and raising prices of entry into monuments and natural spaces for proper maintenance.

One of the advantages of tourism, in addition to the economic ones, is that it encourages administrations to apply themselves to better care for the immense natural and cultural heritage that Galicia has and that has always been neglected despite its enormous value and wealth.

The same occurs with urban planning, which since the 60s of the twentieth century with the construction boom, since there is no type of organization and an exaggerated mania for building high-rise homes, sometimes for not having land and others for wanting to give an image of ostentation, a kind of ugliness was created in every city and town that today is relevant and sadly characteristic of this territory.

An example should be taken from other European countries in this regard, taking care and better ordering the territory of Galicia, the mountains, the coastal areas, the urban areas, but without depending exclusively on tourism. But by improving the quality of life of its inhabitants and that Galicia not only becomes a museum-territory, with a wonderful landscape where you can eat well and cheaply.

On the other hand, the rapprochement between Galicia and the North of Portugal is fundamental, where despite being one of the oldest borders in Europe, there was never a cultural division and there were always economic and social exchanges. In fact, there are more and more Galician companies that have their activity in Portugal, after the entry of both countries into the European Union. By facilitating the free movement of people and capital, the establishment of the Euroregion and border Eurocities that share services and infrastructures.

But in addition, the market of the Porto-Braga urban conurbation encompasses a significant amount of potential population of almost 2 million inhabitants and that by highway is only 1 hour and a half from the urban area of Vigo (the most populated in Galicia). This supposes an access to the services and economic and labor opportunities of both parts of the Miño river to the inhabitants of both territories to which they unite cultural and linguistic ties.

Here, the Galician language, the language of Galicia, takes on a double importance. First, as a mark of identity and enhancement of Galician products for peninsular and European trade, and second, for its approach to Portuguese, since both are varieties of the same linguistic system (Galician-Portuguese), being an opportunity to communicate with more than 500 million speakers in the field of Lusophony (or Galaicophony) worldwide.

This, together with the knowledge and use of Spanish, also an official language in Galicia and one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, gives this country a clear advantage to interact socially and economically not only with all the territories of the Iberian Peninsula and as link between Spain and Portugal, but also with Latin America.

But the most important future challenge for Galicia is undoubtedly the demographic challenge. Its population is one of the oldest in the world with the economic consequences that this entails, health expenses, an increase in retirement pensions ... Life expectancy is also one of the highest here, but very few children are born, which makes the vegetative balance is eternally negative and each year continues to decrease. This is added to the fact that brain drain to other regions and cities is still common and the abandonment of the rural environment that always characterized Galicia is also worrying. It is worrying that in many villages there are hardly any elderly people living and others are being uninhabited.

What should be the solution to this problem? Undoubtedly as in many other places, the immigration of young people, in a regulated and controlled way, helps to change the situation. Something that, for example, happens in Portugal when it attracts a population of Brazilian origin, to which they join cultural ties. At the moment, the migratory balance in recent years is positive in Galicia, and the foreign resident population of working age comes mainly from countries such as Portugal, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, Peru and Morocco, and also retirees from other European countries.

Finally, we must also bet on modernizing and improving the quality of employment, both in rural areas and in cities, betting on entrepreneurship, innovation, research and technology. And above all, avoid the flight of companies to cities like Madrid, because they have greater infrastructure and tax benefits.

This reduces employment in Galicia and is a reality that will unfortunately increase in the coming years due to the high-speed connection with Madrid, as it facilitates the relocation and work travel to large employment centers. In this sense, it is essential to give tax incentives to companies so that they decide to settle in Galicia.

Only in this way will it be avoided that every year so many Galicians have to emigrate and stay to live in their wonderful land.

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