1. The origins of the Camino... and the Galicia.


It is during the summer period when more visitors come to Galicia from all over the world traveling one of the routes that go to Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrims who arrive on foot, by bike or on horseback ... can obtain the Credential, a document that proves that they managed to finish it.

But many pilgrims are not satisfied with arriving there and seeing its extraordinary cathedral, they continue to the sea. Really, it is a pagan pilgrimage that goes back to times before Christianity, and consequently to the construction of the cathedral after the discovery of a "supposed" tomb of the Apostle Santiago.

The Galician Celtic societies pilgrimage to the sea to heal souls in life, before dying, or as a sacrifice to demonstrate repentance for some wrongdoing. One of those enclaves was Cape Fisterra (Finis Terrae), which the Romans called that because they believed that here was the end of the Earth.

These pilgrimages also happened in other Finisterres of the Celtic culture, such as those of Ireland or Britain, but there were also other sanctuary places where there were sacred stones (the famous "mecedoiras") that were later Christianized by building chapels near them.

These holy stones existed in territories of Atlantic Celtic culture such as Cornwall (The Logan Rock). And there are also many places of worship of this style in Galicia, one of the most famous is Mux├şa, and the sanctuary of A Virxe da Barca. Here many pilgrims finish their way today.


Catedral-Santiago-Galicia
Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela



2. The Celtic tribes and the Galician hillforts.


Legend has it that the Celtic God Breogan came from Ireland and founded Brigantia, (now Corunna) where a great Tower was built, which the Romans later rebuilt and renamed as Tower of Hercules.

However, there are Irish and Galician historians who defend the origin of Celts from the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula, mainly from Galicia, who previously came to Great Britain and Ireland and settled here. Thus affirming that Galicia is the cradle of Celtic culture.

Whatever the first movement of the peoples that made up this civilization, it is very likely that there were several comings and goings between the Atlantic territories, known today as Celtic countries, developing important maritime commercial relations.

Transportation was easier by sea than by land at that time, a fact that did not prevent the Galician Celts from trading with the Mediterranean, for example through the Phoenician navigators who also had settlements on the Galician coast.

And it is that these Celtic peoples were already migrant societies. They migrated from Central Europe and reached the Finisterres of Galicia, Brittany, Ireland ... places where the vestiges of their culture have lasted the longest: words, place names, legends, archaeological remains and customs, rites and celebrations, still enduring under the later Christian name.

In fact, from the language of the Galaicos Celts, there are many words and roots in current Galician language that bears similarities to other Celtic languages such as Gaelic. Only in the province of Pontevedra there are more than 50 place names related to Galaicos settlements, and the city of Lugo bears the name of the god Lugh, from Celtic mythology.


 
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The Galaicos were the majority tribe who inhabited this territory before the arrival of the Romans and that the Greeks had already baptized with that name (kalaikoi = "men of the mountains") and recognized as Celtic peoples similar to the Gauls, from Gaul (now France) and the Gaelics of Wales.

These Galaicos Celts lived in hillforts called "castros", whose remains are also abundant in the North of Portugal and Asturias. But only in Galicia there are about 3,000 hillforts inventoried, although only less than 1% are excavated forts that can be visited. This figure is important considering the not too extensive surface of the Galician territory.

All these constructions had the same typology, they were groups of walled circular stone houses on top of the hills, as a defensive function. Although they also existed on the coast. Like every city of our era, there were large and small hillforts, some of great extension such as those of Vigo or San Cibrao de Lás (Lánsbriga), and they were connected with other smaller ones, creating a spectacular network of hillforts throughout the territory.

They also kept an orderly style, with the houses surrounding a central enclosure, where they held meetings, offerings, etc... and continuing down the hill were the areas of orchards and pasture for animals. The coastal forts were also essential for the supply of fishery products and commercial ports. Galician Celtic society was a whole civilization.

However, the Galaicos were not the first peoples to settle in a land already inhabited by other tribes that left megalithic remains. One of those peoples was the Oestrimnios (inhabitants of the west) who possibly came from North Africa. As a curious fact, the Atlantic strip of the peninsula from Galicia to Portugal has genetic similarities with the DNA of North Africa.


Castro de Baro├▒a Galicia
Castro of Baro├▒a



3. Roman settlements and Christianization.


The Romans imposed the latin, and called "Gallaecia", for being the land of the Galaicos, to the peninsular territory that today includes Galicia, Asturias, the North of Portugal up to the Duero and part of Le├│n. Administratively dividing it into three legal "conventus": Lucus Augusti , Bracara Augusta and Asturica Augusta with their three capitals in Lugo, Braga and Astorga respectively.

Although it was not easy for the Romans to conquer the territory (legends such as that of the Limia River where they said that they lost their memory when crossing it, show it) the Galaicos finally succumbed to the Roman conquest in a drastic way, according to stories such as that of Mount Medulio, one of the last Celtic fortifications.

And although not all the Galician Celts disappeared and many were mixed with the Romans, others remained isolated, fleeing from Roman rule and increasing the legends of the "mouros" and the mouras (from the Latin "mortus"). The mouros were pagan beings that lived hidden in caves or under the ground. But in addition, there were other beings such as trasnos, dianhos, bruxas and meigas, which today are part of Galician mythology.

Thus the Romans settled for seven centuries in Gallaecia, where they exploited its gold and hot water resources and left a multitude of engineering works (walls, camps, villages, thermal baths, bridges, aqueducts, temples, mines ...) especially in the city de Lugo, which was for a time the capital of this Roman province. In this city the festival of cultural interest Arde Lucus is celebrated every year, where everyone disguises themselves as Roman or Celtic.

It is important to highlight that these Romans settled in many of the old forts occupied by the Galaicos and Romanized them, that is, they modified their constructions and increased the populations adapting them to their way of life according to their characteristic urban architecture. An important Roman emperor named Great Clement Maximus, was born in Gallaecia.


Muralla de Lugo
Roman wall Lugo


4. Germanic tribes. Swabian and Visigoth Settlements.


Centuries later, other tribes from Central Europe settled in these lands. The Germanic peoples, specifically the Swabians first and the Visigoths later. When the Swabians came to power in the 5th century, they founded the first medieval kingdom of Europe. It was the first kingdom to separate from the Roman Empire and the first to mint its own currency.

The Swabian kingdom encompassed the extent of Roman Gallaecia and part of Lusitania (the Scalabitanus conventus), although it came to have influence over more territories. They established the capital in Braga, converted to Christianity, created administrative divisions by parishes, strengthened ecclesiastical power and left artistic vestiges.

In this Suevo-Christian era, there was a society Galaico-Roman in which the history of Prisciliano was fundamental. A Galaico-Roman bishop with reformist ideas who was accused of heresy and executed by the Church before the arrival of the Suebi.

Priscillianism, then, was a current that continued to have hundreds of followers at the time of the Swabian rule in Gallaecia. So much so that after he was executed as a heretic, it is said that his remains were taken in a stone boat to their land of origin and once there they were buried and a hermitage was built on a field of stars, a story identical to that of of the discovery of the tomb of the Apostle Santiago.

In other words, there is the possibility that the remains of the Apostle are not buried in the Cathedral of Santiago, but those of Prisciliano. But that the Church, out of fear of the rise of Priscillianism, rewrote history by erasing its hits. Even so, there remained followers of Prisciliano after her death, and many made pilgrimages to her grave.

Meanwhile, in the diocese of Braga, St. Martin of Dumio had played a leading role in the Christianizing task of Galicia.  He can be considered the namesake of Saint Patrick in Ireland.

In addition, since the 4th century the bishopric of Breto├▒a was established in the north of Swabian kindong of Galicia (today Galicia and Asturias).. This territory was inhabited by Bretons (of Celtic origin) who escaped from the Germanic peoples (Angles and Saxons) that besieged Great Britain and Armorica (Britain).

In this bishopric of Breto├▒a, Bishop Maeloc had a prominent role, in a religious model of Celtic Christianity.

Reino Suevo Galicia
No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY 2.5
Limits of the Suevian Kingdom, of Roman Gallaecia and location of Breto├▒a


5. The power of the Church in the face of Muslim and Norman conquests.


The legend of the discovery of the Apostle's tomb in a "field of stars" (Campus Stellae = Compostela), coincidentally in the same place where Prisciliano was buried, strengthened Christianity and in turn diluted Priscillianism, substituting some pilgrimages for others more massive.

With this masterful move, the Compostela Church had enormous power in the Kingdom of Galicia reinforced by the construction of its Cathedral in the growth of Compostela, highlighting the time of its first Archbishop Diego Gelm├şrez. All this in a context in which Galicia was threatened by the arrival of a new civilization that came from North Africa, the Muslims.

The Muslims, also called "mouros" for not being Christians, brought a new religion and settled for centuries in the central and southern half of the Iberian Peninsula. In Galicia (or Jalikiah, as they called it) they barely settled, probably due to the most adverse geographical and climatic characteristics. However, the pacts of Galician nobles with Almanzor are famous and also their looting, such as the theft of the bells of the Cathedral of Santiago.

But territorially, the Diocese of Compostela served as one of the links of Christianity in the entire north of the peninsula and its growth was linked to the increase in pilgrimages through the ways of Santiago. On the other hand, the growth and increase of power in Santiago was subtracted from other cities such as Lugo or Braga, and with Braga there were important disputes and disagreements both in the clergy and in the nobility of both dioceses.

This would end up giving rise, years later, to the independence of southern Galicia in the 12th century, the county of Portugal (Portus Cale). Making the expansion of Portugal as a new kingdom towards the south during the reconquest, and the expansion of Castile, left Galicia cornered in the northwestern corner of the Peninsula.




Galicia had 5 episcopal cities in the Middle Ages that each had its cathedral (Santiago, Lugo, Ourense, Mondo├▒edo and Tui). Sometimes allied with the nobility and sometimes in dispute with it, the Church had to face the Norman raids between the 9th and 12th centuries.

Bishop Cresconio ordered the construction of defensive towers at various points on the Galician coast, highlighting the West Towers, in Catoria (built on other existing Roman ones), to protect the Ulla estuary, the widest in Galicia and which ended very close to Compostela. .

Some Normans (descendants of the Vikings) mixed with the population, but although some stayed, they did not establish a colony in Galicia. They looted and left, as they did elsewhere in Europe, including the Mediterranean.

It is curious the presence of a large number of blond people with light eyes in Galicia today, with respect to the rest of the Iberian Peninsula, standing out above all in coastal territories, wherever the Normans arrived... Also, in Brazil the word "galego" (galician) means: blond.

Ulf the Viking, also called "the Galician", was a important person in this part of the History of Galicia and an example of a Norman settled here, also making deals with the Galician nobility.


Castillo de Pambre
Castle of Pambre



6. The Irmandinhas Wars. From castles to country houses.


During the Middle Ages, the Church ended up winning the battle against the feudal lords. In Galicia the Irmandinhas Revolts were the first social revolutions in Europe against feudalism. Peasants, bourgeois, petty nobles and some ecclesiastics, rebelled against the excessive power of the lords and high ecclesiastics who forced them to pay high rents and taxes and demanded that the monarchy and the Church stop these abuses of power.

Thus, the monarchy that was established in Castile (previously in Le├│n and Asturias), managed to end the Galician nobility, executing nobles like Pardo de Cela or forcing others like Pedro Madruga who went to Portugal into exile.

The Catholic Monarchs definitely gave wide power to the Church in Galicia and replaced the Galician nobility with the Castilian. It was called "taming and castration of the Kingdom of Galicia", taking advantage of the social disorder of this territory.

The Irmandinhas Wars left more than a hundred fortresses, towers and castles destroyed, which is why few remain today and most of them are in ruins. And while the feudalism of the counts and lords of the Middle Ages was ending, during the Modern Age a new nobility was growing, the fidalgos, who occupied lands and built small pazos (palaces), today so representative of the country. Meanwhile, the power of the Church manifested itself in the expansion of churches and monasteries.

This is a brief summary of the summary of the often unknown, but exciting, History of Galicia. And all this in a small area of ​​extension, but historically populated with a high demographic density that has left us an immense and varied cultural heritage that also survives in its toponymy.

A historical and cultural nation that has had numerous settlements of diverse cultures, and relevant historical figures. So much so, that there is a theory that states that Christopher Columbus could have been born here... but we will leave that for another article.


Pazo de Oca Galicia
Pazo of Oca




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