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What and where is Galiza (Galicia)?


Full regional map. Click to enlarge

Galiza (Galicia) may be a place you’ve never heard about, most certainly because it is – at present – a stateless nation within the framework of the Spanish State.
It is an autonomous territory with its own Parliament, Government and so on, but nobody gets to know you unless you have your own shade of colour in a world map or your own national football team amidst the FIFA rankings (works better than the UN for that sort of publicity actually). It doesn’t help either having been a backward, rural country, colonised and forced into isolation for the last few centuries. If you don’t make noise nobody will really pay any notice to you, unlike the Basques, the Scots or the Catalans.
One could say we’re old news. Maybe.

Funnily enough, Galiza can rightfully claim the title of “first country in Europe”, after the Galizan Kingdom was established in 409 CE. It was indeed a key actor in the shaping of Europe through different historical stages. The Galizan national personality is an indisputable fact surviving all odds. If only for that the world should know a wee bit more about us.

Thus, the best way to let yourself be known is to talk about yourself, I guess, so please allow me to take a moment and briefly show you this unique land of vibrant culture, folklore and traditions, transmitted from antiquity, and with so much potential for the future.

Find below three sections I’ve compiled, starting with some basic facts and figures, followed by a summarised chronology and, lastly, some fun facts. Feel free to ask, read about and explore our little Atlantic European corner. You’re in for some surprises!


Facts and figures

Local name: Galiza.

Other names: Galicia (English, Spanish), Galice (French), Galicien (German). Not to be confused with the Polish-Ukrainian region of Galicja!

Population: 2,767,524 (in official Galizan territory; Galizans abroad are estimated at 1 million).

Surface: Administrative Galiza: 29,575 km² (actual autonomous region set up by Spain) Territories of Galizan culture: 35,692 km² (approx. the size of Belgium or Taiwan).

Capital: Santiago de Compostela.

Location: North-West corner of the Iberian Peninsula (Southern Atlantic Europe), right above Portugal (map).

Currency: Euro (€).

Languages: Galizan-Portuguese (48% monolinguals), Spanish (15% monolinguals).

Main cities: Vigo (300,000), Corunha (250,000), Ourense (105,000), Compostela, (100,000), Lugo (98,000), Ponte Vedra (83,000), Ferrol (70,000).

National holiday: 25th July.

National symbols: Flag, coat of arms and national anthem.

Date of formation: 409 CE (establishment of the Galizan Kingdom).

Physical geography: The territory is highly fragmented, with highlands in the east, central plateaus, ample estuaries and a myriad of rivers. Galiza has a climate of transition, from Oceanic to Mediterranean. Pockets of Continental climate are present inland. Weather is in general humid with moderate temperatures.

Territory: Administrative Galiza is divided into 53 comarcas or bisbarras (regions), 316 concelhos (municipalities), 3,781 paróquias (parishes). Galiza has more than 33,000 settlements. A number of territories with strong Galizan influence remain outside administrative Galiza, in the Spanish regions of Asturias and León. Northern Portugal is also strongly akin to Galizan culture.

International disputes: Full devolution/independence from Spain. Controversies over eastern territories of Galizan culture in Spanish territory (outside administrative Galiza).


Brief Chronology

300,000 BCE: First known human settlements in what today is Galiza (estimate).

8000-2000 BCE: Megalithic Culture. Maritime contacts with Atlantic Europe.

2000-700 BCE: Bronze Age. Sea-trade with Atlantic Europe and the Mediterranean.

1000 BCE: Evidences of proper Celtic culture. Iron Age.

9thC BCE – 1stC CE: Castro Culture: A Celtic civilisation based in Galiza.

19 BCE: Military establishment of the Roman Empire. Introduction of Latin language and Roman law. Weak level of Romanisation. Gallaecia province.

2ndC CE: Introduction of Christianity (mixes with Celtic religion).

4th – 5thC CE: Priscilianism, Galiza’s own Christian movement, strongly influenced by Celtic beliefs.

409 CE: Foundation of the Galizan Suevi Kingdom by means of a treaty with Rome. Galiza becomes “the first country in Europe”. Period of territorial, cultural and economic growth.

5thC CE: Mass Celtic migration to Northern Galiza (coming from Britain).

585-711 CE: End of Suevi Dynasty. Visigoth rule (Viceroys).

711 CE: Muslim occupation of Iberia: The Visigoth Empire is dismantled. Re-establishment of the Galizan Crown. Muslims never successfully conquer Galiza. Still, they attack and temporarily occupy the southern part of the Kingdom.

813 CE: “Discovery” of the remains of St James the Apostle: ancient pilgrimage route is Christianised and reactivated (Way of St. James). Galiza progressively becomes the dominant force among Iberian Christian kingdoms and gains European relevance. Growing stability.

846-1008 CE: Waves of Viking invasions, all repelled.

1037: Vermudo III dies: end of the direct succession of the Galizan Dynasty.

1065-1072: Garcia II King of Galiza: attempts to restructure and revitalise the Kingdom.

1072-1110: Political instability: dynastic wars.

1093: Compostela Age: cultural splendour that lasts for more than a century, influencing the whole European continent.

1121: Independence of the county of Portugal (current Northern Portugal). The Kingdom splits in two halves, but the common culture continues to develop.

1175: First known document written in Galizan-Portuguese language in its entirety.

1188: The Decreta legionenses, or first attempt at establishing a parliamentary system in Europe, introducing key individual rights.

1230: Afonso VIII dies: Castile (core of future Spain) arises as a new force in Iberia. Galizan culture will yet flourish but Galiza’s political influence gradually diminishes.

1366-1387: Attempts made in the search of an union/alliance with Portugal. In 1369, Fernando I of Portugal is welcomed in Galiza and crowned king in the city of Corunha. However, his inability to defend the new territory was made evident by 1371.

1431-1469: Revoltas Irmandinhas: major popular uprisings against nobility because of abusive taxes and restrictions. These revolts – in this form and at this scale – were the first of their kind in Europe.

1474: Dynastic conflicts in Castile: sectors of Galizan nobility seek to recover former supremacy and an alliance with Portugal.

1483: Political and military conflict with Castile. End of armed resistance to Castilian forces.

1486: Spanish ‘Catholic Monarchs’ (merge of the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon) initiate their policy of «taming and castration of the Kingdom of Galiza». Galiza becomes a colony.

Late 15thC to 18thC: ‘The Dark Centuries’: Cultural, political, administrative and economic activity is controlled by Castile (Spain). Rurality and isolation: backwardness. Emigration.

1st half 19thC: Mass emigration to South America.

1808-1813: War of Independence against France (Napoleonic occupation). Spanish troops retreat. Autonomy. Establishment of the Xunta (Galizan Government).

1812: Xunta proclaims Galiza’s self-rule, but soon Galiza is reoccupied by Spain.

1833: Galiza formally loses its condition of Kingdom: Spain moves towards the creation of a centralised nation-state, imitating the French model.

1840-1846: Provincialism: reactivation of the Galizan self-consciousness.

1846: Military uprising: claim for self-rule. The Martyrs of Carral.

2nd half 19thC: Regionalism and Federalism. Intense cultural and language revival: the Rexurdimento movement (‘Renaissance’).

1st half 20thC: Emigration to the Americas. Xeración Nós (‘Generation Us’): intellectuals incite Galizan patriotism with success.

1931: Short-lived proclamation of the Republic of Galiza. Spain quells it eventually.

1933: Galiza joins the League of Nations (predecessor of the UN) as a stateless nation. Intense campaigning for international recognition.

1936: Galizan Statute of Autonomy: partial recovery of self-government within the framework of the Spanish II Republic. Debates on the prospect of a Galizan Free State following the Irish example.

1936-1939: Spanish Civil War: victory of Spanish nationalists led by General Franco. The Republic is put to an end. Executions. Political refugees. Exile.

1939-1975: Francoist Dictatorship («Long Night of Stone»): Autonomy is revoked. Brutal cultural, political and ideological repression until the late 1950s.

1960s: Partial relaxation of the Francoist régime: gradual reactivation of the Galizan cultural and political resistance. Emigration towards Western Europe and Spain.

1975: Franco dies: restoration of Spanish monarchy and beginning of a new political regime.

1981: New Statute of Autonomy is passed: Galiza is devolved partial self-government and national status is implicitly recognised. However, Galiza is curtailed from international representation and lacks real sovereignty.

1990s: Increased Spanish nationalism and centralism: fears over Galiza’s autonomy. Emigration resumes.

2002: Major environmental catastrophe caused by a coastal oil-spill. Mass activation of civil society and grassroots political movements.

2004: Galizan culture is considered «endangered» by UNESCO.

2005-2009: New Galizan government opens the debate on the reform of the Galizan laws and search for greater autonomy, to no avail.

2013: Civic movements and organisations claiming for full sovereignty and independence from Spain become more visible and active.

2014: Thousands take the streets demanding the establishment of a (independent) Galizan Republic.

Present day (as of 2018): Galizan autonomy is monitored and controlled by Spain. Galizan culture is threatened and statistics show a decrease in the use of Galizan language. Emigration and impoverishment are, again, a sad economic and social reality for the Galizan People despite the potential of the country. It can be argued that Galiza is a post-modern European colony.


Trivia – What is Galiza famous for?

Art: the capital city of Compostela was declared by UNESCO as a world heritage site. Galizan fine arts and craftsmanship have traditionally been among the best in the world.

Cuisine: with specialities such as empada (pie), caldo (broth), filhoas (crepes), alvarinho and ribeiro wines, queijos (cheese), etc.

Landscape: with famed breath-taking scenery. You’ll have to come and see that for yourself!

Literature: Galiza has produced fine literature influencing its European counterparts since the 13thC, from Medieval Cantigas to modern authors such as Rosalia de Castro, Castelao, Pedraio, Novoneira, Cunqueiro, Avilés de Taramancos, Celso Emilio Ferreiro, and many others.

Music and dance: from traditional melodies to rock. Someone once said: “We’re at the end of the world, but we make the best music in the universe”. Some also say that there is a party in Galiza for every day of the year! And that might be true actually.

International projection: “Galizans are everywhere”. Thanks to millions of emigrants throughout history, and the outstanding expansion of the Galizan commercial and fishing fleet, the name of Galiza has been spread all over the globe. The significance of the Way of Saint James (pilgrimage route) has also been crucial in the making of Europe. As Goethe put it “Europe was built on the pilgrimages to Compostela”.

Sports: football clubs such as Deportivo and Celta Vigo have helped to locate Galiza on the map. Galizan rowing, roller hockey, triathlon, sailing, handball or cycling are also renowned.


DID YOU KNOW?Galiza is argued to be the first ever Celtic land The Galizan Diaspora has been labelled as “the greatest Diaspora in times of peace”Galiza is the cradle of Portuguese languageGaliza is considered to be “the first country in the history of Europe”There’s a Galizan living in almost every country of the planetIrish people are of Galizan origin, according to the legends and recent discoveriesBuenos Aires (Argentina) was the “biggest Galizan city” and it was even called the “fifth province”Galiza was considered to be “the end of the World “Galiza is often called “The Land of the Witches” … Table football was invented by a GalizanGaliza and North Portugal formed the first “Euroregion” within the EU, and they submitted a joint candidature to the UNESCO Galiza is also called “The Land of the One Thousand Rivers” The current version of the Galizan flag derives from a conflict with Russia’s Tsarist navy! … Galiza’s national instrument is the bagpipe



Based on a previous cohesive and organised (Celtic) culture, Galiza becomes an administrative jurisdiction at the turn of the 1stC CE within the Roman Empire. From year 410 CE until today, it is a well-established politically reality, with ups and downs and moving borders, but always maintaining a core national territory and objective distinguishable characteristics. The 19thC map above depicts the political divisions in Europe in year 486 CE.


This is a revision of a bilingual text initially written for the Irish Centre for Galician Studies (University College Cork, Ireland) in 2007, which was also republished at (now extinct). More texts and works available >here<.



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