Facing the rugged Cantabrian Sea (Mar Cantábrico, the Spanish name for the Bay of Biscay), with a seaboard of 320 km, the ancient kingdom is a country of green mountains, rising to 2600 meters.
The Principality's capital city is Oviedo, an old mining town, but the city with more inhabitants is the port of Gijón. Another important town is and the industrial center of Avilés. Asturias has a little more than a million inhabitants. The Asturian language is understood by around 60% of the population, and spoken by around 30%, with a strong movement towards learning it again for the last 35 years or so.
The folklore of the area shows its Celtic origins, and the traditional musical instrument is the Gaita, or bagpipe. The Museu del Pueblu d'Asturies, Museum of the People of Asturias in the town of Gijon, features a center of traditional music, and a Bagpipe Museum, the Museo de la Gaita. Not only is the gaita the national instrument of the region, but they have the best bagpipe museum in the world, with pipes from every country you could imagine, and beyond ! Most folks in Asturias do not speak English, so the museum notes are in Spanish, but this is this is a must-see for bagpipers and historians alike. The pipes are hung up behind glass, so you can really see how they would be played. Our own Hamish was fortunate to meet with the ethnomusicologist and curator of the museum......., who kindly supplied some CDs of traditional Asturien piping and traditional music for his radio program.
Bagpipes from around the world at the Museo de la Gaita, Gijon, Asturias
The area has seen human occupation since stone-age times, with a local culture known as the Asturiense developing during the Mesolithic period. The Celtic tribes had heavily settled the area by the 5th century B.C., the local tribes including the Luggones and the Pesicos, were known collectively as the Astures. They lived in 'Castros', circular fortified settlements of several buildings surrounded by a defensive ditch, normally situated on hilltops, the remains of which cover the landscape today, along with ancient dolmen, and more modern stone crosses and chapels.
Celtic hillfortress of Castro de Coano, Asturias
Only 5 km out of Navia is the ancient Celtic hill-fortress of Castro de Cuano, an amazing fortified complex of hundreds of ruined hut walls, courtyards, and even a pre-Roman sauna with a water heating system and drainage. Among the artifacts found here were bronze-age daggers, axeheads, pots, stone-carvings, an ancient board-game, brooches and a beautiful gold belt.
Asturias Gold Belt - reproduction
The Romans led by Augustus (29-19 BC), conquered the local tribes and occupied the region, starting several centuries of relative peace, until the Suebi invaded and ruled the land for 170 years, calling it Suevia. They were overrun by Visigoths, who occupied the land from the 6th century, who in turn had their larger Spanish kingdom invaded by the Moors in 711 A.D., and taken by Islamic warriors, who left Asturias largely untouched, never really assimilating the region as part of Islamic Spain. In 722, the Kingdom of Asturias was founded by Hispano-Visigothic nobleman Pelayo, and lasted until 925, when Fruela II of Asturias became ruler of the Kingdom of Le�n. The two local kingdoms of León and Castile merged in 1230, and the Principality of Asturias was established in 1388, part of the large Kingdom of Castile, later to become the Kingdom of Spain.
Coal mining started in Asturias after 1830, as well as emigration to the Americas, namely to Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico, Uruguay and Argentina.
The Revolution of Asturias in 1934 started with a miners strike, and saw a brief socialist republic defeated by the troops of General Franco, followed by a ferocious oppression, resulting in the people of Asturias staying loyal to the democratic republican government during the Spanish Civil War. When Franco and the Nationalist forces gained control of Spain, Asturias became known as the "Province of Oviedo" from 1936 until Franco's death in 1975, only regaining the name in 1977, after the return of democracy to Spain.
Tradition is now alive and well in Asturias. Every year in the medieval town of Avilés, there is Celtic music at Festival Intercéltico de Avilés y Comarca, a week-long festival of traditional music, food and drink, in the old town square, with music stages, local food booths, and Celtic marketplace surrounded by medieval buildings.
Festival Intercéltico de Avilés y Comarca, Asturias
On their 2010 visit the Maui Celtic boys were met by Joe Krolikowski, his wife Alicia Pais and kids, who are members of Esbardu (meaning baby bear), the band that organizes the festival. Joe took us through the market which had local cheeses, pastries, meats, olives, sweets, as well as jewelry, clothing, art, and even a stained-glass cutter working away !
Artisan cheese and meat booths in the Festival's Celtic Marketplace
First order of the day was a local cider, poured in the traditional way by Joe's son Daniel - from the bottle overhead into a low-held glass, then shared by the fine company. Hamish also met talented local Celtic artist Vítor González to see his brilliant work - amongst his great body of work, he designed the event poster, with Celtic mermaids playing harp, bodhran and bagpipes.
Left - Vítor González poster for the Festival Intercéltico de Avilés y Comarca
Right - Asturien piper Abel Tome and drummer Marcos Lorente of Esbardu
The Maui Celtic lads were only in Avilés for a couple of days, but the festival is on for a week. Music for the time the lads were there included local Asturias talent - many fine young pipers in competition on the gaita, local pipe band Esbardu, folklore group L'Esperteyu, and an amazing Asturian language singer.
Asturien folklore group L'Esperteyu
Visitors from neighboring Galicia included the magnificent Airiños de Fene Banda de Gaita with singers, dancers, pipers, drummers and more. Their performance started with a ladies singing group, and traditional dancing, followed by a quintet of pipers and drummers. A men's singing group followed, with more dancing, before the entire group of musicians and singers took to the stage for a grand finale.
Airiños de Fene Banda de Gaita (Galicia) - Festival Intercéltico de Avilés y Comarca
During another great night of Celtic music and Asturien bagpiping, with Joe's son Mark won a 1st place trophy in a competition, and afterwards played some Scottish tunes on his gaita. Many thanks to Joe, Alicia and Vitor for their hospitality in Avilés. A great festival in an historic town in a beautiful region - the Maui Celtic boys were sad to leave. Check out the Asturias and the Festival Intercéltico de Avilés y Comarca - you won't be sorry.
Festival Intercéltico de Avilés y Comarca - Hamish trying Mark's Asturien Bagpipes
The flag of the Principality of Asturias has a light blue background with a yellow cross. Below the cross are the Greek letters alpha and omega, coming from Christ's saying "I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end". The Cruz de la Victoria (Cross of Victory) pictured on the flag is kept in the Cathedral at Oviedo.
Flag of the Asturias