Galicia was the last region I walked through in Spain and was a beautiful place. Here is a brief history of the area.
Galicia is an autonomous community known for its many rivers, delicious seafood, beautiful coastal spots, and its gorgeous, lush, green mountainous area. Galicia is located in the northwestern region of Spain, is bordered by Portugal in the south and by Asturias, a celtic region, in the east. This region is very diverse geographically, having mountains inland, gorgeous cliffside beaches, islands, lagoons, and is known for the beautiful fishing villages that surround the area. Galicia’s beautiful geography has attracted the attention of many and Galicia is often referred to as the “land of one thousand rivers.”
Some people believe that the ancient Galicians traveled by boat to Ireland, where they spread their Celtic roots, various legends go along with this belief as well. By 5th century B.C., individuals of the Celtic decent made up a large portion of Galicia’s population. There are various remnants of the Celtic villages that were once spread across this area, the Celtic ruins of Castro de Santa Tegra, are a good example of these Celtic remnants. Galicia was colonized in the 6th century by the Visigoths, 500 years after this colonization, Muslims took over the land for a short period of time. The economy of Galicia began to fall after the Spanish Civil War causing many citizens to emigrate. Because of Galicia’s past economic problems, Galicia has been viewed in the past as one of Spain’s poorest regions. Nowadays the economy survives off of its abundant, agricultural land and seafood. Many of the residents of this region speak the Galician language, Gallego, which was not recognized as an official literary language until the mid-1800s. This Romance language has Latin roots, from which it is said to have evolved from. This language that has been described as being similar to the Portuguese language, separates the Galicians from the other Spaniards.
There are a few major cities in this region, but many villages that are spread throughout Galicia are extremely rural which definitely has an impact on the culture of the region. Galicians are known for their delicious white wine and seafood rich diet. There are various festivals that are celebrated by the Galician people, most of them being religious or Celtic festivals. One well known celebration is the festival in honor of Saint James, which I actually attended this year, on July 25 in Santiago de Compostela. Galicia’s celebrations are typically in honor of various patron saints, are filled with excitement, fresh seafood, and often have firework shows. So, one may clearly see that the Galician people, who have deep Celtic and religious roots, display their heritage throughout their culture.
Santiago de Compostela, the capital of Galicia, is the end to the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage and one of the most famous cities in the region. The name Santiago de Compostela is believed by many to come from the Latin words campus stellae, which means “field of stars.” When Pelayo, a hermit, claimed to have seen a vision of bright lights in a forest in 815, the area where the vision occurred was dug into. In the ground where the vision occurred, a Roman-era tomb was unearthed, this was said to contain the body of Saint James the apostle. A church was soon built where the tomb was found, as was commanded by Theodomir, the bishop of a village near to the excavation site. A city soon began to form and grow around this monumental site and church, that city being Santiago de Compostela.
Many people would travel to see the site and by the 11th and 12th centuries over 500,000 pilgrims would journey to see the said relics of Saint James every year. Pope Calixtus II gave Santiago various city privileges in 1122 and offered indulgences to any individuals who would walk the Camino de Santiago, this began to attract even more pilgrims to the site. The city’s population grew as a result of various new constructed buildings including the grand cathedral. Various surrounding leaders throughout Galicia helped build many roads, bridges, hospitals, and places of lodging for the Camino’s travelers. These structures increased not only the population in Santiago, but also the number of pilgrims who journeyed to the cathedral. The Camino de Santiago was and still is viewed as a spiritual journey by many, one that helps an individual grow closer to God. Some pilgrims today travel solely for cultural and historical purposes. Nonetheless, this monumental path, The Way of Saint James, remains as one of the most well traveled religious pilgrimages in the world and will continue to attract thousands of pilgrims in the future, whatever their motives may be.
The locals throughout this region are quite different than in the others I traveled through. The smaller mountain villages I traveled through seemed to be completely empty with hardly anyone outside, other than at the bars. Sometimes I would pass old men throughout Galicia, ones that were sitting on benches staring off into the sky. I often wondered what the lives of those older locals would be like in such a small village. When in the more mid size cities like Sarria and Palas De Rei, the locals seem less interested and encouraging towards pilgrims. Understandably so, as there are notably more pilgrims in this region. This is because if a pilgrim walks the last 100 kilometers they will get credentials, since the last 100 kilometers of the Camino begins in Sarria, a city in Galicia, there were far more people on the trail during the end of my journey.
This region is quite different geographically than the other regions I have traveled through. Galicia reminds me of Navarra in that the area is mountainous, filled with rolling hills and scarcely has any completely flat regions. When walking from Triacastela to Barbadelo, I was happily surprised to find that Galicia has various beautiful streams and waterfalls, which I have not yet seen on the Camino. This region was colder and more rainy than the other regions, especially Navarra and La Roja, who both had warmer weather and less rain. I have come upon far more small farming towns throughout the region than in any other. Also, unlike the other regions that all seemed to be filled with grazing sheep, most farms in Galicia seem to have cows and chickens. Most of the large cities that I stayed at in Galicia seem to be more commercialized and less personal than the previous areas we traveled through. The food in this region was different as well, gazpacho was more difficult to find in restaurants, and I found that the pilgrim menus were filled with more seafood, as this region is so close to the sea. I enjoyed traveling through Galicia and I cannot wait to return to this gorgeous region again someday. Stay true, live justly, and always travel on. Peace and love.