GALICIA - THE PORTICO OF GLORY


INTRODUCTION:

Galicia looks out over the Atlantic Ocean and the Bay of Biscay with over two thousand years of history behind it. To explore these lands in the north-west of Spain means a chance to live the adventure of a lifetime, full of tradition, lush landscapes and unique cities. In Galicia, the frontiers between sea and land cancel each other out. Both blend together along the 1,300 kilometres of coastline, 772 beaches, and five large rias (long sea lakes that stretch inland) where, tradition has it, the right hand of the Creator shaped the dramatic coastline that now defines part of this land. A traveller coming to Galicia soon discovers that, in this territory situated in the north-west of the Iberian Peninsula, over two thousand years of history have endured. Local history offers every visitor its enigmatic castros (Celtic dwellings) with their peculiar citadels; and in them, perhaps, discover the Celts, ancient occupants of an evocative granite world (the castros at Baroña -Porto do Son-, Viladonga -Castro do Rei- or Santa Tegra -A Guarda- are the best-preserved). The traveller can also see Gallaecia, the Roman Galicia. The great Roman Wall in Lugo is still standing, a unique fortified enclosure with a circular structure and a perimeter of 2,200 metres lasting since the 3rd century. Something different is immediately noticeable here. Clear connections with the Celtic peoples are to be seen in this fertile land. Galicia is also the land of a thousand rivers. Water runs into many of them off the mountains of Os Ancares, O Courel or Peña Trevinca (with altitudes over 1,800 metres). The father Miño crosses Galicia from north-east to south-west, to flow placidly out to sea at the Portuguese frontier. The river channels are as varied as the landscape: from the remarkable Sil Canyons (whose river is the Miño's main tributary, and which can be comfortably travelled by catamaran) and the Ribeira Sacra, an area of uneven contours, ideal for vine growing. The way out of Galicia by sea is through its rias. Altas (high) or Baixas (low) which nestle into the landscape making an incomparable backdrop for water tourism, with five blue flag ports in 1997 (A Coruña, Porto do Son, Ribadeo, Baiona and Vilagarcía de Arousa).


The obligatory finishing touch to a trip to Galicia is its Gastronomy. More than eighty types of sea-fish and over half a dozen river varieties can be found in its restaurants and taverns. There are also nearly fifty different kinds of shellfish, fifteen meats (or more, if we count game), one and a half dozen different vegetables and pulses, and a wide range of delicious cheeses, fruit and desserts. The local wines are the perfect accompaniment to all this. The Ribeiro, Rías Baixas, Valdeorras, Monterrei or Ribeira Sacra varieties top the list in a wide range of exquisite wines. In fact, the list would only end depending on the inclination of the diner.


The cities are both monumental and welcoming. Santiago de Compostela (the administrative capital) is the medieval centre. It has been declared Cultural Heritage of Mankind, and is the finishing point of the Christian pilgrims' roads to the tomb of the Apostle St. James. A Coruña is the city of light and modern beauty, just as Ferrol, a traditional naval and military base, represents Neo-Classicism. We have referred to the Rías Baixas, which have two main centres of population: Vigo, looking out over the placid waters of the Atlantic, offering some of the best shellfish (such as oysters), and Pontevedra, the end point of a long tongue of sea that stretches inland and merges with the waters of the River Lérez. Pontevedra is striking for its historical quarter, one of the most interesting in the whole of Spain.Lugo and Ourense are the two main cities to visit inland. The former, as we have mentioned, is a living testament to its Roman past. Both are crossed by the mighty Miño which, as it passes, leaves behind autochthonous forests with centuries-old oaks and chestnuts, which have been an inspiration on countless occasions for artists all over the world. Ourense is interesting for its Roman bridge and the entrance portico to the Cathedral, known as the Portico of El Paraíso, by the Master-Sculptor Mateo.

The land of Galicia leads us, in short, to the sea. And there, Fisterra, the finis terrae where the Romans & Celts located the end of their known world. From there a whole PORTICO OF GLORY opens up to the visitor.