Galicia is one of the seventeen autonomous regions of Spain. Bordering Portugal and with a coastline on both the Atlantic Ocean and the Cantabrian Sea, the area forms the northwestern tip of the Iberian Peninsula. The region is particularly known for the pilgrimage route to the capital Santiago de Compostela, the dramatic coastline and the beloved Galician cuisine. What many people know very little about, however, is the history of Galicia. From Celts to Romans and from the Middle Ages to the present day, this is the story of Galicia through the ages.
First inhabitants of Galicia
Excavations have shown archaeologists that Galicia has been inhabited since the last Ice Age. Animal remains and stone objects dating back to the time of Neanderthals have been found in the Eirós Cave. The first large-scale culture to leave traces in the landscape was a megalithic culture that spread along the Western European coast. The Galician landscape was rich in tin and gold, which is why people in this area traded bronze and gold objects thousands of years ago.
From the Iron Age to about two thousand years ago, the Castro culture flourished in the area then called Gallaeci. These people lived in castros, ring-shaped fortresses usually built on hills and cliffs. Remains of these structures can still be seen along the coast of Galicia. The Castro culture was known as a Celtic culture in the early Roman times.
Pallozas, built using circle or oval stone walls and slanted roofs composed of stalks of rye, were also pre-Roman homes though to be used by the Celts. However, the residents of the mountain high village of O Cebreiro continued to live in Pallozas all the way up until the 1960s. You can visit a museum there today and there are also still a number of Pallozas around the village.
From the second century BC. Roman troops entered the region, but the area was not officially part of the Roman Empire until around the year 25 BC.
Galician Middle Ages
When the Roman Empire was falling apart in the early Middle Ages, different tribes took over. The first medieval kingdom in Europe to be founded by the Suebi was in Galicia in 411, when the Roman Empire was still in existence. More than a century later, this kingdom fell to the Visgoths.
In the eighth century, a large part of the Iberian Peninsula came into the possession of the Muslim Moors. However, Galicia was never completely conquered. The area later became part of the Christian Kingdom of Asturias.
From the ninth century, Santiago de Compostela began to take on a symbolic meaning for Christians with it’s links to Saint James. Around this time, the Camino de Santiago or Way of Saint James also became one of the most important pilgrimage routes in Europe. The region then became part of the Crown of Castile, a union of kingdoms that covered much of today’s Spain.
From the late fifteenth century, the Galician language was increasingly replaced by Spanish. During this time, the Spanish Empire also began to expand across the world. The region became embroiled in wars that Spain waged against the French, the British and the Dutch. When Napoleon’s French troops invaded Galicia in 1809, they were driven out by resistance fighters after only a few months.
In 1936, a statute of independence was adopted in Galicia. A month later, however, the Spanish Civil War broke out, followed by the creation of Franco’s regime. General Franco, himself a Galician from Ferrol, ruled as dictator from the civil war until his death in 1975. After Franco’s death, as part of the transition to democracy, Galicia regained its status as an autonomous region within Spain. The first elections for the Galician Board of Governors were held in 1981.