Celtic Nations

Galicia is a Celtic region of north-west Spain, with its own regional parliament, the Galician Council, or 'Xunta de Galicia". It is bordered on the east by the other Celtic region of Asturias, and to the south by the country of Portugal.

This Atlantic corner of North-west Spain, known as "the land of the 1000 rivers", has a mountainous inland area, and a rugged coastline of cliffs, lagoons, beautiful beaches and small islands. The landscape is dotted with ancient dolmen, hill forts, and stone crosses and chapels.

Map of Galicia

The native name for the land is Galiza, and the people are Galegos. An ancient Celtic mother goddess named Cailleach, who's name in Latin was 'Calaicia', is probably where the name Galicia originated, with the Romans calling the land Gallaecia, and the people the Gallaeci.

The Galician language is one of the four official languages of Spain, spoken by most of the inhabitants of the region. The folklore of the area shows its Celtic origins, and the traditional musical instrument is the 'Gaita', or bagpipe.


The Region's capital city is Santiago de Compostela, and it's four provinces are A Coruna, Lugo, Ourense and Pontevedra, with a population of almost 3 million.

The ancient people of Galiza left a stone legacy of thousands of Dolmen (three standing stones with a huge slab across the top, forming burial chambers), or 'Mamoas'. The Celtic tribes had heavily settled the area by the 5th century B.C., and lived in 'Castroes', circular fortified settlements of several buildings surrounded by a defensive ditch, normally situated on hilltops.

Celtic ruins of Castro de Santa Tegra, southern Galicia, looking south

Hamish Burgess at the Castro de Santa Tegra, La Guarda, southern Galicia, Spain

South of the capital of Vigo - a big city with an old medieval town center - are the out-of-the-way Celtic ruins of Castro de Santa Tegra (Santa Tecla), high on Mount Santa Tegra, overlooking the surf of the Atlantic Ocean. An ancient Celtic settlement of hundreds of round stone-walled dwellings, dating from at least the 2nd to 1st centuries BC, the ruins have spectacular views - south over the Rio Miño, and across to what is now Portugal, and to the north along the Galician coast and the town of A Guarda.

Celtic ruins of Castro de Santa Tegra, southern Galicia, looking north

Celtic ruins of Castro de Santa Tegra, southern Galicia, in north-west Spain

Re-discovered in 1913, with the last excavation in 1988, only part of the ruins have been uncovered, showing houses, stores, workshops, yards and granaries, and even rainwater ditches and tanks. The population may have been 3000-5000 people of the Grovii tribe, and it is thought this was an important center controlling maritme traffic along the coast and up-river, dying off after the arrival of the Romans, with their new roads and settlements on lower land.

Also up the mountain is an old Christian pilgrimage road, lined with huge crosses and rest areas, with many stairs leading to the old hermitage of Santa Tegra, with it's courtyard and outbuildings. At the summit there is a good museum, cafe, and many stalls selling local Galician souvenirs !

Hermitage of Santa Tegra

Legend has it that the ancient Galicians sailed from the north-west coast of their land, to settle in Ireland. According to the archaic text Lebor Gabala Erenn, the Book of Invasions of Ireland, the descendants of Gaedheal Glas, the father of all Gaels, settled here, one of the Chiefs being Breoghan, son of Brath. Breoghan founded Brigantia (La Coruna), and built a tower by the ocean. The tale goes that on a clear evening, one of his ten sons, Ithe, saw a far-off island, told his brothers, and set sail the next day with his own son Lugaid and more, only to be killed by local noblemen of the island. Ithe's brother Bile retuned with a force to Ireland to avenge his death, and settled after their victory. Bile's son called Mil gave his name to the Milesians, conquerors of Ireland and fathers of the Gaelic race. Mile, the founder of that race, was married to Scota ( who may have given her name to the later Irish settlers of Scotland), and their son, Breoghan, became Galicia's ancient hero.

Breoghan is said to have built the oldest lighthouse in the Atlantic world at Brigantia - the end of the known Celtic world to the ancients in Europe, Finisterra, or Land's End - later rebuilt by the Romans, and today called A Coruna or La Coruna.

L - Gaelic chief Breoghan who's sons sailed to Ireland from Brigantia (La Coruna)
R - Chuck Wall by the oldest working lighthouse in Europe at La Coruna

Celtic Chief Breoghan statue and Lighthouse at La Coruna, Galicia, SpainLighthouse at La Coruna, Galicia, Spain

The popular coastal resort and surf spot is home to the oldest continuously working lighthouse in Europe. Originally built by the Romans, who occupied Brigantia, you can still see the ancient foundations they built under the 17th century existing lighthouse. The view of the surrounding coastline from the top is spectacular, not to mention the huge tiled compass rose with images representing the Celtic nations, plus one local legend. The nations are named in their own native languages.

Celtic Nations compass rose, La Coruna, Galicia, Spain

Celtic compass rose, La Coruna, Galicia, Spain

The Romans occupied Galicia for its rich mining, and left town walls and bridges that remain to this day.

The Swabians ruled the land for 170 years, calling it Suevia, until overrun by Visigoths, who in 711 A.D. had their larger Spanish kingdom invaded and taken by Islamic warriors, who left Galiza largely untouched.

Long after the arrival of the Christian Church, the discovery, in the Middle Ages, of the tomb of the Apostle Santiago (St.James), started the pilgrimages of thousands to the cathedral of the new town of Santiago de Compostela, and resulted in the famous 'Way of Santiago', or 'Way of St.James', with its numerous monasteries, churches, and chapels.

Hostal de los Reyes Católicos (left) - (right) Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela

Hostal de los Reyes Católicos, Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, Galicia, Spain

The city is home to the Hostal de los Reyes Católicos, a fabulous 15th century building, originally a hospital, across the Praza do Obradoiro from the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

Pedro Perez, gaitiero Gallego (Galician piper) of Santiago de CompostelaThe Camiño de Santiago has been a pilrimage route since the 10th century, with Christian travellers heading from all over Europe to pay homage to St.James the Apostle, who brought the new religion to the Celts of the Iberian Peninsula. His relics were rediscovered here in 814, the first church being buit in 829, and the existing cathedral started in 1075 and finished in 1122.

The old pilgrimage road is now one for hikers and cyclists, who happily arrive in the main square, the Praza do Obradoiro, at the end of their long journey. There can often be heard the sound of the Galician bagpipe, the gaita galega, played by gaiteros in traditional costume.

Right - Galician piper gaitero Pedro Perez

The country was ruled by the King of Galiza and Leon, a neighbouring region, until Ferdinand 3rd, King of Castille absorbed it into his expanding kingdom.

Several hundred years later the Galician culture and language was only alive in the poorer people of the land, until a 19th century revival, which intensified into the next century. Various Nationalist parties arose in the 1920s-30s, and the Spanish parliament approved the Autonomy Statute for Galicia in 1937, but it did not come into force because of the Spanish Civil War, and Galicia finally became an Autonomous Community in 1981.

The Celtic music tradition is alive and well in Galicia - our own Hamish recorded a great interview with famous local musician Carlos Nuñez for his radio show, talking about Carlos' career, Celtic history, Galicia and her music, the gaita (bagpipes).

Hamish & Carlos Nuñez, amazing Galicican bagpiper and flute player

Hamish Burgess and Carlos Nunez, Santiago de Compostela, July 2010

his new themed album Alborada Do Brasil, with a Brazilian/Galician musical journey discovered by Carlos while personally researching his great-grandfather, a piper who had emigrated to Brazil, leaving behind a legacy of bagpiping. Carlos' enthusiasm - for Galicia, music, all things Celtic, and life itself - is fabulous, and infectious !

Galician Civil FlagThe modern Galician civil flag dates from the 19th century, and is a white field with a diagonal blue band. Originally it was a copy of the naval flag of the Galician port of A Coruña - a blue diagonal St.Andrew's cross over a white field, as the saint is popular in Galicia. It was modified in 1891 due to confusion with the flag of the Imperial Russian Navy, and one of the arms of the cross was dropped.

Galician FlagThe State flag of Galicia dates from the Franco era, with the background of the civil flag, and a coat of arms in the centre. The arms consist of a blue shield topped by a crown, with a yellow goblet surrounded by seven white crosses. This comes from the old flag of the Kingdom of Galicia before the creation of the modern flag in the 19th century, with the goblet being the Holy Grail, by legend kept at Finisterre, Galicia, before being removed to the British Isles. The Apostle St.James relics are buried in the fabulous 10th century Cathedral in Santiago de Compostello, one of seven Galician cities represented by the crosses on the shield, and is said to have brought the Chalice from the Last Supper to 'the land's end' of Galicia.



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