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 Atlantic Celtic culture, such as those of Ireland or Britain, but there were also other sanctuary places where there were sacred stones (the famous "mecedoiras").

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 Muxía and the sanctuary of A Virxe da Barca. Here many pilgrims finish their way today.

Many of these ancient Celtic sanctuaries were later Christianized, with chapels being built in those places, as is the case in Muxía. The same happened with many cruisers ("cruceiros"), which before being Christianized did not have the cross, but already existed to mark crossroads.

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

2. The Celtic tribes and the Galician hillforts.

During the Ice Ages in Europe, Galicia remained as a climatic refuge, which facilitated the settlements of sedentary populations that practiced agriculture and livestock, and of groups of nomadic hunters and gatherers. For this reason, there are abundant archaeological remains from the megalithic era, such as dolmens.

These populations that lived along the entire Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula (Galicia and Portugal), according to the Romans, were the Oestrimnios (inhabitants of the Extreme West). It is possible that a part of the Oestrimnios had come from North Africa and that they were related to the Mauri (Mouros), a Berber people whose name meant in their language: "inhabitants of the land." The Romans named the entire North African coast Mauretania.

According to Roman mythology, Oestrimnia was invaded by a tribe of Saefes (a Celtic people who had the serpent as a sacred animal), which was called Ophiusa (the Country of Serpents). It is assumed that the Saefes were the first Celtic settlers who arrived in Galicia entering through the North of the Iberian Peninsula. The Celtic peoples were migrant societies of Indo-European origin (like many of the current languages ​​of Europe) and they were expanding in several waves throughout the continent.

According to Celtic mythology, King Breogham came to Galicia from ancient Scythia through the Mediterranean, crossing the "Columns of Breogham" (or "Columns of Hercules" according to Greeks and Romans) and founded Brigantia (now Coruña). There he ordered the construction of a great tower from which his son Ith could see a land in the distance that he wanted to invade and that his descendants managed to conquer. That land turned out to be Ireland. The Tower of Breogham was destroyed and later rebuilt as a lighthouse tower by the Romans, and renamed in the Middle Ages with the name of Tower of Hercules and that today can be seen in the city of A Coruña.

There are Irish and Galician historians who defend that Galicia is the cradle of the Atlantic Celtic culture. Since these Celtic peoples first settled in the northwest of the Iberian Peninsula later reached the Finisterres of Ireland, Wales, Scotland or Britain... places where the vestiges of their culture have lasted longer: words, place names, legends, remains archaeological, customs and celebrations still enduring under the later Christian denomination.

In fact, from the language of Galician Celts there are many words and roots in the 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 gallaeci settlements, and the city of Lugo bears the name of the god Lugh (the Sun god from Celtic mythology).

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The Greek geographers named the Galicians after the territory in which they lived: kallaikoi: which means "inhabitants of the mountains". A name similar to that of other Celtic peoples also named by Greeks and Romans such as the Gauls, the Galatians or the Gaels, who kept common cultural characteristics.

The Galician Celts, unlike the oestrimnios, lived on top of the mountains in fortified settlements called "castros" (hillforts). These constructions had the same typology, they were groups of walled circular stone houses. Being peoples that worked stone, when encountering mountains rich in granite outcrops, they settled there.

These hillforts are also abundant in the North of Portugal and Asturias. But only in Galicia there are about 3,000 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.

As with our current cities, there were large and small hillforts. Some were of great extension like that of Vigo or that of San Cibrao de Lás (Lánsbriga or Lámbrica), and were connected with other smaller ones, creating a spectacular network of forts throughout the territory. They also kept an orderly style, with the houses surrounding a central enclosure, the croa where meetings, offerings, etc... were made and continuing down the hill were the areas of orchards and pasture for animals.

During the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, the mining hillforts also had special relevance, since Galicia had important reserves of tin and iron. In addition, the coastal hillforts were fundamental for the supply of fishery products and also for trade with other Atlantic and Mediterranean peoples, such as the Phoenicians, who also built ports on the Galician coast. At that time, maritime transport was easier and less time consuming than land transport. Galician Celtic society was a whole civilization.

Castro de Baroña Galicia
Castro of Baroña

3. The Roman conquest and Christianization.

The Romans introduced the christianity, imposed the latin, and called "Gallaecia", for being the land of the gallaeci (galaicos), to the peninsular territory that today includes Galicia, Asturias, the North of Portugal up to the Duero and part of León. 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". Mouros and mouras 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 Romans or Galaicos.

It is important to highlight that these Romans settled in many of the hillforts 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. However, the Romanization in Galicia was not as evident as in other areas of Hispania.

An important Roman emperor named Great Clement Maximus, was born in Gallaecia.

Muralla de Lugo
Roman wall Lugo

4. Germanic tribes: the Swabian Kingdom of Galicia.

Centuries later, other tribes from Central Europe settled in these lands. The Germanic peoples, specifically the Swabians first and the Visigoths later. 

The Swabians were a people of Celtic culture, originally from the historical region of Swabia (in southwestern Germany), a territory geographically very similar to Galician, so they adapted quickly. And when the Swabians came to power in the 5th century, they founded in Galicia 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 Swabian-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 Swabian.

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 6th century the bishopric of Bretoña 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 Bretoña, 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 Swabian Kingdom, of Roman Gallaecia and location of Bretoña

Finally, the Swabian Kingdom of Galicia was incorporated into the Visigothic Kingdom of Hispania in the 7th century, but it continued to preserve its ecclesiastical and administrative entities. The Visigoths were an East Germanic people from the steppes of present-day Romania and Ukraine, who with the collapse of the Roman Empire conquered the entire Iberian Peninsula, a geographical territory similar to theirs. The Gothic king Witiza established his residence in the town of Tui.

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

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 Gelmírez. 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, again called "mouros" because of their North African origin (Mauretania), 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.

Faced with the territorial power of the Church in the Kingdom of Galicia, the nobility and the monarchy gradually moved their headquarters to Asturias, León and Castile, while incorporating territories through conquests and dynastic unions. And on the contrary, the kingdoms were divided to distribute them among their heirs.

A relevant event was the distribution of Fernando I to three of his sons, from the kingdoms of Galicia, León and Castile. After a subsequent war between the brother kings, Alfonso VI King of Castile, conquered León and Galicia. And this one, shortly before his death, married two Burgundian counts (Raimundo and Enrique) with two of his daughters (Teresa and Urraca). Raimundo and Urraca were proclaimed Counts of Galicia, and Enrique and Teresa Counts of Portugal.
Both marriages had as heirs two kings with the same name, that of their grandfather. Alfonso Raimúndez (son of Raimundo), born in Caldas de Reis and pupil of Gelmírez, he was crowned became as King of Galicia in the cathedral of Compostela (and later also of León and Castile as Alfonso VII).

And while Alfonso Henriques (son of Enrique) proclaimed the independence of the county of Portugal in the 12th century. After a new war and the consent of the Pope, he became the first king of Portugal and both the expansion of the new kingdom towards the south during the reconquest, and the expansion of Castile, left Galicia cornered in the northwestern corner of the Peninsula.

Kingdom of Galicia at the death of Carlomagno (814)

Galicia had 5 episcopal cities in the Middle Ages that each had its cathedral (Santiago, Lugo, Ourense, Mondoñedo 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, and settled in colonies near the coast of Galicia, which they called Jakobsland (Land of Santiago). But most of them did it temporarily, looted and left, as they did in other parts of 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, due to Celtic, Swabian and Norman heritage... Also, in Brazil the word "galego" (galician) means: blond and white skinned person.

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 León and Asturias), managed to end the Galician nobility, executing nobles like Pardo de Cela or requisitioning properties from others like Pedro Madruga or João da Nova, 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, also naming non-Galician "viceroys" who had administrative power. 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 less powerful 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.

Galicia, throughout its history, has never been isolated from European cultural currents, arrived especially through the Camino de Santiago. In this way, its capital Compostela became an important cultural and religious center during the Kingdom of Galicia. However, political power was in the hands of the Portuguese and Castilian monarchies, which were expanding and conforming the two great Iberian States and later Overseas Empires.

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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