Galicia, Spain - Encyclopedia

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GALICIA (the ancient Gallaecia or Callaecia, KaAAaucia or KaXaucia), a captaincy-general, and formerly a kingdom, countship and province, in the north-western angle of Spain; bounded on the N. by the Bay of Biscay, E. by Leon and Asturias, S. by Portugal, and W. by the Atlantic Ocean. Pop. (1 goo) 1,980,515; area, 11,254 sq. m. In 1833 Galicia was divided for administrative purposes into the provinces of Corunna, Lugo, Orense and Pontevedra.

Galicia is traversed by mountain ranges, sometimes regarded as a continuation of the Cantabrian chain; and its surface is further broken in the east by the westernmost ridges of that system, which, running in a south-westerly direction, rise above the basin of the Mino. The high land north of the headwaters of the Mino forms the sole connecting link between the Cantabrians properly so-called and the mountains of central and western Galicia. The average elevation of the province is considerable, and the maximum height (6593 ft.) is reached in the Pena Trevinca on the eastern border of Orense.

The principal river is the Mino (Portuguese Minho; Lat. Minius; so named, it is said, from the minium or vermilion found in its bed). Rising near Mondonedo, within 25 m. of the northern coast, the Mino enters the Atlantic near the port of Guardia, after a course of 170 m. S. and S.W. Its lower reaches are navigable by small vessels. Of its numerous affluents the most important is the Sil, which rises among the lofty mountains between Leon and Asturias. Among other rivers having a westerly direction may be mentioned the Tambre, the Ulla and the Lerez or Ler, which falls into the Atlantic by estuaries or rigs called respectively Ria de Muros y Noya, Ria de Arosa and Ria de Pontevedra. The rivers of the northern versant, such as the Nera, are, like those of Asturias, for the most part short, rapid and subject to violent floods.

The coast-line of Galicia, extending to about 240 m., is everywhere bold and deeply indented, presenting a large number of secure harbours, and in this respect forming a marked contrast to the neighbouring province. The Eo, which bounds Galicia on the east, has a deep estuary, the Rivadeo or Ribadeo, which offers a safe and commodious anchorage. Vivero Bay and the Ria del Barquero y Vares are of a similar character; while the harbour of Ferrol ranks among the best in Europe, and is the chief naval station on the northern coast of Spain. On the opposite side of Betanzos Bay (the p yas Acµl i v or Portus Magnus of the ancients) is the great port of Corunna or Coruna. The principal port on the western coast is that formed by the deep and sheltered bay of Vigo, but there are also good roadsteads at Corcubion under Cape Finisterre, at Marin and at Carril.

The climate of the Galician coast is mild and equable, but the interior, owing to the great elevation (the town of Lugo is 1500 ft. above sea-level), has a wide range of temperature. The rainfall is exceptionally large, and snow lies on some of the loftier elevations for a considerable portion of the year. The soil is on the whole fertile, and the produce very varied. A considerable quantity of timber is grown on the high lands, and the rich valley pastures support large herds of cattle, while the abundance of oaks and chestnuts favours the rearing of swine. In the lowland districts good crops of maize, wheat, barley, oats and rye, as well as of turnips and potatoes, are obtained. The fruit also is of excellent quality and in great variety, although the culture of the vine is limited to some of the warmer valleys in the southern districts. The dehesas or moorlands abound in game, and fish are plentiful in all the streams. The mineral resources of the province, which are considerable, were known to some extent to the ancients. Strabo (c. 63 B.C. - A.D. 21) speaks of its gold and tin, and Pliny (A.D. 23-79) mentions the gemma Gallaica, a precious stone. Galicia is also remarkable for the number of its sulphur and other warm springs, the most important of which are those at Lugo, and those from which Orense is said to take its name (Aquae urentes). Ethnologically the Galicians (Gallegos) are allied to the Portuguese, whom they resemble in dialect, in appearance and in habits more than the other inhabitants of the peninsula. The men are well known all over Spain and Portugal as hardy, honest and industrious, but for the most part somewhat unskilled, labourers; indeed the word Gallego has come to be almost a synonym in Madrid for a "hewer of wood and drawer of water." It is also used as a term of abuse, meaning "boor." Agriculture engages the greater part of the resident population, both male and female; other industries, except the fisheries, are little developed. The largest town in Galicia is Corunna (pop. 1900, 43,971) Santiago de Compostela is the ancient capital and an archiepiscopal see; Lugo, Tuy, Mondonedo and Orense are bishoprics.

Gallaecia, the country of the Galacci, Callaici or Gallaici, seems to have been very imperfectly known to the earlier geographers. According to Eratosthenes (276-196 B.C.) the entire population of the peninsula were at one time called Galatae. The region properly called by their name, bounded on the south by the Douro and on the east by the Navia, was first entered by the Roman legions under Decius Junius Brutus in 137-136 B.C. (Livy lv., lvi., Epit.); but the final subjugation cannot be placed earlier than the time of Augustus (31 B.C. - A.D. 14). On the partition of Spain, which followed the successful invasions of the Suevi, Alans and Vandals, Gallaecia fell to the lot of the first named (A.D. 411). After an independent subsistence of nearly 200 years, the Suevian kingdom was annexed to the Visigothic dominions under Leovigild in 585. In 734 it was occupied by the Moors, who in turn were driven out by Alphonso I. of Asturias, in 739. During the 9th and 10th centuries it was the subject of dispute between more than one count of Galicia and the suzerain, and its coasts were repeatedly ravaged by the Normans. When Ferdinand I. divided his kingdom among his sons in 1063, Galicia was the portion allotted to Garcia, the youngest of the three. In 1072 it was forcibly reannexed by Garcia's brother Alphonso VI. of Castile and thenceforward it remained an integral part of the kingdom of Castile or of Leon. The honorary title of count of Galicia has frequently been borne by younger sons of the Spanish sovereign.

See Annette B. Meakin, Galicia, the Switzerland of Spain (London, 1909).

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