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What and where is Galicia (Galiza)?


Full regional map. Click to enlarge

Galicia (Galiza) 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, Galicia can rightfully claim the title of “first country in Europe”, after the Galician Kingdom was established in 410 CE. It was indeed a key actor in the shaping of Europe through different historical stages. The Galician 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 Galician territory; Galicians abroad could mount up to 1 million).

Surface: Administrative Galicia: 29,575 km² (actual autonomous region set up by Spain) Territories of Galician 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: Galician-Portuguese (48% monolinguals), Spanish (15% monolinguals).

Ethnic groups: Galician (87%); Spanish (10%); Other (3%).

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: 410 CE (establishment of the Galician Kingdom).

Physical geography: The territory is highly fragmented, with highlands in the east, central plateaus, ample estuaries and a myriad of rivers. Galicia 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 Galicia is divided into 53 comarcas or bisbarras (regions), 316 concelhos (municipalities), 3,781 paróquias (parishes). Galicia has more than 33,000 settlements. A number of territories with strong Galician influence remain outside administrative Galicia, in the Spanish regions of Asturias and León. Northern Portugal is also strongly akin to Galician culture.

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


Brief Chronology

300,000 BCE: First known human settlements in what today is Galicia (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 Galicia.

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, Galicia’s own Christian movement, strongly influenced by Celtic beliefs.

410 CE: Foundation of the Galician Swabian Kingdom by means of a treaty with Rome. Galicia becomes “the first country in Europe”. Period of territorial, cultural and economic growth.

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

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

711 CE: Muslim occupation of Iberia: The Visigoth Empire is dismantled. Re-establishment of the Galician Crown. Muslims never successfully conquer Galicia. 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). Galicia 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 Galician Dynasty.

1065-1072: Garcia II King of Galicia: 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 Galician-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. Galician culture will yet flourish but Galicia’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 Galicia and crowned king in the city of Corunna. 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 Galician 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 Galicia». Galicia 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 (Galician Government).

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

1833: Galicia 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 Galician 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 Galician patriotism with success.

1921: Failed attempt to proclaim a Republic of Galicia.

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

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

1936: Galician Statute of Autonomy: partial recovery of self-government within the framework of the Spanish II Republic. Debates on the prospect of a Galician 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 Galician 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: Galicia is devolved partial self-government and national status is implicitly recognised. However, Galicia is curtailed from international representation and lacks real sovereignty.

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

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

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

2005-2009: New Galician government opens the debate on the reform of the Galician 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) Galician Republic.

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


Trivia – What is Galicia famous for?

Art: the capital city of Compostela was declared by UNESCO as a world heritage site. Galician 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: Galicia 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 Galicia for every day of the year! And that might be true actually.

International projection: “Galicians are everywhere”. Thanks to millions of emigrants throughout history, and the outstanding expansion of the Galician commercial and fishing fleet, the name of Galicia 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 Galicia on the map. Galician rowing, roller hockey, triathlon, sailing, handball or cycling are also renowned.


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



Based on a previous cohesive and organised (Celtic) culture, Galicia 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<.

A (non-updated) pdf version of this document is available for download >here< (503kb).


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