Our friend shared this local phrase: While Vigo works, Pontevedra sleeps, Santiago prays and A Coruña plays.
The city of Vigo, population ~300,000, lies up an inlet off the Atlantic Ocean. It is in the province of Pontevedra which is part of the autonomous community of Galicia, Spain. Vigo’s microclimate is a surprising 4-5 degrees warmer than most other cities of Spain. The bustling Port of Vigo, the Citroën vehicle factory and the fishing industry are key contributors to the economic health of both Vigo and the region. This large sculpture of muscular fisherman pulling in the catch is called ‘Monument to Work’.
Castro de Vigo
Museums carry all sorts of artifacts from the peoples of Spain that predated the Roman occupation, but it is more rare to find buildings, let alone villages. We were delighted to learn more about the pre-Roman celtic culture and explore Castro de Vigo. The excavated remains we visited, where the first inhabitants of Vigo once lived, date back to the 3rd century BCE.
Castros or fortified villages have been found, dating from the 6th century BCE in north western Spain. The castro, consisting of several buildings, would be surrounded by one or more walls, sometimes a moat or protected by a tower to control access into the village.
The houses were either circular or oval, made from straw, mud or adobe clay. They were windowless and stand-alone, although built within a couple of feet of each other. The floors of the houses were compacted, dried mud and the roofs were made of branches covered with mud and a type of pole or tile was added on top for weight.
By the end of the 1st century BCE, coinciding with the Roman conquest and occupation, the houses began to be built using stone and were either square or rectangular.
Fortaleza del Castro
During the Middle Ages, the small village of Vigo was attacked several times by marauding Vikings. In 1585 and 1589 Francis Drake raided and temporarily occupied the city. But it wasn’t until 1665 that the hilltop, Fortress of O Castro, was built to protect Vigo from the continuous raids.
The Battle of Vigo Bay, also known as the Battle of Rande, was when a collaborating British and Dutch naval armada entered the Bay of Vigo in 1702 and attacked the Spanish ships that were returning from the Americas and rumoured to be laden with silver and gold. Much of the Spanish fleet was either destroyed or captured and the British did get some of the treasure. The majority of the wealth however was reportedly off-loaded and moved to Segovia before the battle began.
And a hundred years later the French army would also occupy the fort for a few weeks during the Napoleonic Wars.
Today the fortress is a peaceful city park and favorite local destination. The 360 degree views of the city below, Vigo Bay and the islands beyond are glorious.
Jules Verne in Vigo
In French novelist Jules Verne’s book, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, published in 1869, the Bay of Vigo and the legend of the Treasure of Rande was the setting used for one of his chapters. In the story, Captain Nemo and his famous submarine, the Nautilus, were able to salvage the gold from the Spanish galleons sunk by the British during the Battle of Vigo Bay in 1702.
Years later Jules Verne received a very warm welcome from the Vigoans during both his first visit to the city in 1878 and his second and final visit in 1884. The bestselling novel had brought international recognition to their city.
Our header photo above is our photo of the 2005 bronze sculpture of Jules Verne seated on the giant squid that in his story, attacked the Nautilus. We typically had fog first thing in the mornings during our stay but by midday the sun was out and it was in the mid 80’s F.
Vigo is referred to in another famous movie, Das Boot, set during World War II, when the German submarine U-96 stops in Vigo for supplies and torpedoes.
If you are curious to read more about this part of Spain, local author Domingo Villar, has published two murder mysteries, Water-Blue Eyes (2006) and Death on a Galician Shore (2011), that are set in and around Vigo.
Casa das Artes
This small art gallery opened in 1990 and has been used for temporary exhibitions since that time. The goal of this gallery is to showcase art in all its forms and manifestations. The gallery has a permanent photographic exhibition and a permanent collection of Luis Torras’ paintings but that part of the gallery was closed so we were able to visit only one tiny sculptural exhibition by a single artist and after leaving Vigo, realized we had not captured the artist’s name. We have seen this before where the artist’s name is posted at the beginning of the exhibition and then each piece will have only the title and date the art was made. Our apologies for missing it. This art museum did not list a website so we were unable to find either the name of the exhibition or the artist’s name. Spain’s online presence is generally weak and websites are not well maintained. For example often a website will show Open 10:30am-8:00pm but omit that they are closed for 2-3 hours midday.
The Museum of Contemporary Art, called MARCO, opened in 2002 and is dedicated to promoting emerging Galician artists. It offers educational and training programs and has a newspaper and media library.
We enjoyed the many paintings by spanish artist Manuel Colmeiro (1901-1999) and there were numerous pieces displayed in both this gallery as well as at the F. Fernández del Riego Art Gallery. The painting of the ladies and their loaves of bread below is by Colmeiro. Following the Spanish Civil War, he was another artist that was exiled, moving to Argentina and would not visit Spain again until 1950. He lived out his life in various European countries until his death.
Francisco Fernández del Riego Art Gallery
This art museum opened in 2011 with 160 paintings from the early 19th to the late 20th century. It may be small but we enjoyed our time perusing the three floors of art. Many pieces, but not all are by Galician artists. The museum is located in a 17th century building, one of the oldest in the Old Town.
On our first afternoon in Vigo we stopped for a gluten free midday meal at Cambalache Art Cafe. The food was good but the art on the walls was even better.
The Plaza Porta do Sol is one of the most popular meeting places in the city and known to all as “el Sireno”. The picasso-esque monument was created by sculptor Francisco Leiro in 1991. El Sireno is, understandably, a controversial half-fish and half-man aluminium sculpture that rests 36 feet (11 meters) above the plaza on two columns of black and green polished granite.
Our inspiration to visit specific cities, towns, regions or even countries can come from many sources. We have a friend in Valéncia who grew up in, and has talked to us about, Vigo so we added it to our wish list of destinations and we are so thankf we were able to visit the wonderful city.
Salud from these Vigoans,
Ted + Julia