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The land of the 1000 rivers, as Galicia is known, certainly lives up to its name. They cross the whole region from the mountainous interior all the way up to the coast, where they form the characteristic “rias”, with their mix of fresh and salt water.
One of the outcomes is a coast of great contrasts, which takes in magnificent beaches, pretty fishing villages and dangerous cliffs, such as the Costa de La Muerte – the coast of death, no less! Inland there are some impressive towns to be found, not least the world heritage city of Santiago de Compostela, as well as romantic villages and lush green landscapes.
It is a region proud of its Celtic heritage and culture as well as its unique language – Galego, which is more similar to Portuguese than Spanish. But then, in many ways, Galicia has always been a singular region.
Gastronomy The gastronomy of Galicia is varied, and there is no one single dish that typifies its cuisine. The same product can be cooked in a multitude of ways, each having its own distinctive flavour. It can be generally characterised, however, by a generous combination of simplicity and use of natural products. The seafood of Galicia is considered to be amongst the best in the world, because of the rich plankton around its shore, so visitors are recommended to try it at the first opportunity.
Other interesting dishes include the pote (potage made with ham bones, haricot beans and, depending on the chef, turnip tops), the caldeiradas (similar to bouillabaisse, but served in two parts: first the broth and only then, the fish), pulpo (octopus), dairy products and pastries. As for a tipple, the famous Alvariño green wine is certainly recommended, particularly with the delicious seafood.
History Galicia goes back to the megalithic era, and evidence of this period can still be found today. In fact, much of Galicia’s cultural personality dates back to this age. Another society to really leave its mark were the Celts. Many cultural references in Galicia have a celtic root and, consequently, it is easy to find numerous similarities with other celtic nations such as Scotland or Ireland.
The Romans also left numerous legacies, not least architectural, including the walls of Lugo, the bridge of Ourense, and the Tower of Hercules, whilst the Middle Ages were marked by the discovery of the tomb of the Apostle Santiago (Saint James).
Thousands of pilgrims made their way to the cathedral of the newly founded town Santiago de Compostela, and so was born the world-famous Way of Santiago (also known as Way of Saint James or Camino Jacobeo), which is flanked with numerous churches, monasteries and chapels of high historical-artistical value. Since 1981, Galicia has been an autonomous region.
Handicrafts Galicia has maintained the popular handicrafts techniques in many areas, including basket weaving, pottery, ceramics, woodwork and silverware. Galician basket-weaving, for example, involves the use of a wide range of materials: from objects made with strips of chestnut wood or wicker rods to delicate straw braiding and which are then used on the famous Noya hats or the primitive corozas.
Pottery, along with basket weaving, also takes pride of place with Buño, Niñodaguia, Bonxe and Dodró being just some of the major production centres. Buño produces varnished pieces with the earthy or green tones and which are easily found in any village fair. Perhaps the best-known works, however, are the large bowls for the queimada, the typical Galician drink. As for woodwork, there is an enormous variety of dishware and the magnificent zuecos or wooden shoes, which are used in the small towns during the rainy season. Visitors should also take time to see the making of Camariñas lace, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful areas of traditional Galician weaving. The Compostela silverware might be a bit more expensive but it is certainly worth the price.
Ourense - Fiestas Some of the best festivities are held in Laza, probably oldest and most famous pilgrimages in Galicia. Here festivities take in the religious and the secular. The San Watila, in Pungin or the holidays at Puebla de Trives, in the middle of September, are considered a transition towards the secular, even though they have religious names such as the Fiestas del Cristo and La Dolorosa.
Others play out the history of "Mouros y Cristiás" (Moors and Christians) and are somewhat reminiscent of those in the Mediterranean - with their skirmishes and speeches - as in the case of Rairiz de Veiga on the 24th of September.
Festivities in the capital are notable for their humour. On the 3rd of May, for example, there is a competition of satirical ballads known as "Os Maios". On the same day, in Laza, there is the cutting of the “best tree” and the “kidnapping” of a young girl, chosen previously to play the role of Eve in a religious play.
Monuments Ourense is probably Celtic in origin and some archaeological samples of the period are preserved in the Provincial Museum. Part of this building contains an original Roman construction, next to the sewers of Cervantes Street, of the same era, and the so-called Puente Viejo or old Roman Bridge, one of the oldest in Europe. The old city centre has been declared a National Artistic and Historical Monument and it incorporates the principal monuments of Ourense, the Romanesque Cathedral, as well as the Plaza Mayor built in the second half of the XII Century.
Pontevedra - Fiestas Some of the most representative fiestas, which often take in a mix of the religious and secular include: "Fiesta del Corpus Christi", held on the 1st of June in Puentareas.
A week prior to the fiesta, the town is divided into two "teams", in preparation for the “flower carpet” contest. The "Rapa das Bestas", from June 18 to 20, takes place in San Lorenzo de Sabrucedo and has three phases.
Firstly, the “Baixa das Bestas", bringing the wild mares down from the hill to the herd.
Secondly,"0 Curro o a Rapa" – trimming the mares and selecting those for sale.
Thirdly, "A Solta" - returning the remainder to the mountains for a further year.
The "Fiestas de San Benitino de Lerez" held on July 11, in Pontevedra include a pilgrimage along river, the playing of “gaitas” (pipes) and singing of Galician songs. Traditional dresses are also much in evidence. Other festivities include the Roméria popular on the 11th of June, which has been declared of National Interest to Tourism.
Monuments The capital of the province, Pontevedra, is located at the head of its “ria” and has a notable architectural heritage. Monuments of interest include the Santa Maria Basilica with its harmonious combination of the late Gothic, Manueline and Plateresque styles. Work was begun during the late 15th and early 16th centuries and paid for by the powerful Seamen's Guild.
The Church of San Bartolomé, which formerly belonged to the Society of Jesus is generally believed to be the first example of Baroque architecture to be introduced into Galicia. Not far from Pontevedra is the Monastery of Lérez, which has important remains from the 16th and 18th centuries. Meanwhile, the Monastery of Tenorio, in the town of Cotobad (Cotobade), has interesting 16th century cloisters.
Lugo - Fiestas Most of the fiestas, fairs and pilgrimages take place between April and September, many of which are notable for their sporting events. These include the canoe race in Foz on the 10th of August and the horse races in Vivero (Viveiro) on the first Sunday in July, celebrating “A rapa das bestas” (trimming of the manes and branding of colts).
Both these festivities have been officially declared of Interest to Tourists. St. Luke's Day, in Mondoñedo, on the 18th of October, provides a good range of handicrafts, whilst the last Sunday in August the Naseiro romería in Vivero provides the visitor with the chance to taste the local cuisine. There is also Xira de Santa Cruz, on the first Sunday in August, in Ribadeo. Many other interesting fiestas are held throughout the year so visitors are liable to encounter one without having to try too hard.
Monuments The beautiful city of Lugo is dominated by its city walls. These run for some two kilometres, with a wall top sentry path affording excellent views of the city, and the Miño river valley. Santa María Cathedral (St. Mary's), the construction of which began in 1129, takes in various styles - from Romanesque at the base to Gothic Style on high. The 15th century parish church of San Pedro (St. Peter's), houses a valuable paleographic collection.
Situated some 16 kilometres from Lugo is Santa Equally de Bóveda, an underground site of great archaeological importance. Here, impressive murals representing the local fauna can be found and which are thought to evidence Pompeian influences. The actual structure is believed to have been a Roman nymphaeum converted to Christian worship.
La Coruna - Fiestas La Coruña has more festivities than towns and villages, evidence that every locale holds numerous fiestas during the year. The major fiesta period, however, is in the summer. Muros, Corcubión and Camariñas have waterborne processions held in honour of the Virgen del Carmen, with Laxe, Malpica and Rianxo providing further venues for similar displays of devotion to the Virgin Mary.
There are traditional sea battles at Muros, the sardine festival at Sada, the sinking and subsequent symbolic rescue of a boat and its crew in the Laxe ría, and the "abalar a pedra", the rocking and tipping of a stone boat opposite the Muxía sanctuary. August also takes in excursions, known as "Jira de Os Caneiros", which depart from Betanzos and go up the Mandeo to mark the feast of San Roque. Religious festivals of note include the pilgrimages to San Andrés de Teixido and the procession of Las Mortajas (the Shrouds). Monuments La Coruña lays claim to the oldest lighthouse in the world - the Tower of Hercules, originally built in the 1st century during the time of the Emperor Trojan, it has been repeatedly modernised and the lighthouse is still in working order.
In fact, it is the only Roman lighthouse still in working order and has been declared a National Heritage. Other monuments of note include the Collegiate of Santa María del Campo, an old church in the Romanic-Gothic style and also designated a monument of National Importance. The 16th century Castle of San Antón is a fully restored fortress. It is located on a small island and artificially connected to the mainland.
The present castle dates back to 1779 and traditionally protected the entrance to the harbour. The Archaeological Museum is housed here. Another monument of National importance is the San Jorge church in the Galician baroque style. It also houses an interesting statue of St. Agustin.
Activities A visit to the World Heritage city of Santiago de Compostela is a must. This beautiful and friendly city possesses one of the finest buildings in Iberia, the Cathedral of St. James. A wonder around the city, taking in the monuments and ”tapa bars” is an excellent way to while away the day.
The Route of Santiago, which finishes here, is in fact, the longest-established “tourism” route in Europe and many people make all, or part of it, on foot or bicycle. This is a great way to get to know the land. Galicia is also a good excellent base from which to enter northern Portugal.
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