How can you not love a city with this friendly motto: “A Coruña, the city where nobody is an outsider.”
The city of A Coruña, which translates to ‘The Crown’, is located on a small peninsula in the northwestern tip of Spain. Long before the Romans arrived in the 1st century BCE, early inhabitants included a handful of Celtic tribes, including the Gallaecians and Celtiberians. We don’t often find records of Julius Caesar’s travels but it is reported that Julius Caesar arrived in A Coruña, around 62 BCE.
More than two thousand years later, the current population of this amicable city is nearly a quarter of a million residents. When we first heard that this city’s nickname is ‘A Cidade de Cristal’ (The Glass City), we hoped there may be a glass museum or beautiful glass pieces to discover. We learned instead that the nickname refers to the ‘galerias’ or balconies, that are enclosed in glass protecting the apartments from Galicia’s cool winters, allowing the balconies to be used all year.
At first glance the all white galerias appear quite similar to one another, but when you look closer, the subtle differences become evident. The size, style and color of the glass frames do vary. Some galerias have intricate details at the sill, while others are surrounded with ornate sculptured masonry and there are many beautiful designs to be found throughout the entire city. The rows of pretty white galerias do leave a lovely lasting impression.
María Mayor Fernández de Cámara y Pita (1565–1643), known as María Pita, became a heroine in the defense of A Coruña. There is a large statue of Maria Pita holding a flag that sits in the center of one of our favorite squates, the María Pita Square and she faces the magnificent copper topped City Hall building.
In 1589, during the Anglo-Spanish War, Francis Drake and the English Armada besieged A Coruña and the legend of María Pita began during that invasion. The story is that she grabbed her dead husband’s spear, killed the flag bearer of the British forces and rallied her fellow fighters with a shout: Quen teña honra, que me siga (“Those with honor, follow me!”). Reenergized the defenders then successfully drove back the English, who abandoned the siege and withdrew their ships.
King Philip II honored Pita by granting her the pension of a military officer.
Torre de Hércules
The 187 foot (57 meter) UNESCO World Heritage Tower of Hercules is an ancient lighthouse overlooking Spain’s north Atlantic coast. It may have been built or rebuilt by the Roman Emperor Trajan around 20 BCE and modeled after the Lighthouse of Alexandria that had been built 250 years earlier. The tower was completely restored and renovated between 1788-1791 and today the Tower of Hercules is the oldest operating lighthouse in the world.
Who doesn’t enjoy a good myth, legend or story? We tend to find many of them in our travels and this is the cool legend we found about the lighthouse.
There once was a tyrant of a giant named Geryon, King of Brigantium, (Brigantium became A Coruña) who forced his subjects to give him half of their property, including their children. The subjects finally asked Hercules for help and after 3 long days and nights of battle, Hercules defeated Geryon. After cutting off Geryon’s head, Hercules buried it in a raised burial mound that he crowned with a great torch, the same spot where the lighthouse currently stands. On A Coruña’s coat-of-arms to this day, there is a skull and crossbones beneath the lighthouse.
The Atlantic Ocean, especially in the winter, batters the coastline of the province of A Coruña relentlessly and with such ferocity that this coast has earned the name, Costa da Morte (Coast of Death) from the catastrophes and shipwrecks that have taken place along its cliffs. Lighthouses are vital in these extreme weather conditions for guiding sailors to safety.
Parque de Punta Herminia
Hercules Tower is surrounded by Point Herminia Park and there are 18 sculptures dotted throughout the park. Reminding us of one of our favorite childhood adventure books, Jason and the Argonauts, we found this sculpture of Hercules riding on the ship of the Argonauts.
As a nod to Galicia’s celtic roots, we also discovered the colorful nautical or compass rose on one jut-out of the park. Eight Celtic nations are represented on the rose, including Asturias, Brittany, Cornwall, Galicia, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Scotland and Wales.
Campo de la Rata
The strip of land, Campo de la Rata, next to the Tower of Hercules translates as Rat City and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In 2003 sculpture Manolo Paz (1957-) created a set of 12 monolithic stones, each with a window opening in its center and named it “Menhirs for Peace”. They are beautiful stones perched on the cliff overlooking the sea, but they are also permeated with sadness and loss. The menhirs represent the hundreds of republican lives brutally taken by Franco and his Nationalist forces during Spain’s Civil War.
Castelo de San Antón
In 1587 construction began on Castillo de San Antón. It was one of three castles that were built to defend the city from attacks from the sea. The fortress was built on, what was then, a small islet in the middle of the bay, where a small hermitage dedicated to San Antón had stood.
Despite being unfinished, the castle was used effectively to protect the city in 1589 when Francis Drake and the English Navy attacked. Construction was quickly completed the following year.
Arthur Wellesley, the future British Prime Minister of Duke of Wellington,In the Napoleonic Wars two generals lost their lives in the 1809, Battle of Elviña. Lieutenant General of the British Army Sir John Moore, died along with 1000 of his British and Spanish troops defending Castillo de San Antón and A Coruña. The French Brigadier General Ives Manigaul-Gaulois also died in battle along with 1500 of his Napoleonic troops. Sir John Moore’s tomb lies in the peaceful Jardín De San Carlos in A Coruña. Arthur Wellesley, the future British Prime Minister and 1st Duke of Wellington would step into the limelight leading the British and Spanish troops. He would also end the Napoleonic Wars when he defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium in 1815.
By the 18th century ships were built much taller which exposed the castle’s defenders, so in 1777 the height of the castle walls were raised and strengthened. By the late 18th century Castillo de San Antón was turned into a prison and in 1968 it opened as an Archaeological and Historical Museum.
Museo de Belas Artes
This Fine Arts Museum opened in A Coruña in 1922 and it carries numerous works of art from the Prado in Madrid. The museum focuses on showing Spanish and European paintings from the 16th to the 20th century and Galician paintings from the 19th century to present day. We were delighted with the variety of paintings and sculptures and the quality of the exhibition.
Monte de San Pedro
Monte de San Pedro, a former military fort, opened as a public park in 1999. Perched high on a hill overlooking the city and the Atlantic Ocean beyond, there are plenty of reasons to visit this park. We elected to hike up the winding trail to the top, alternatively there is a bubble shaped glass elevator that can take you up the hill to the park. The lift, however, doesn’t begin operating until 11:30am and the park gates open at 10am.
In 1932 during WWII, the hilltop was commandeered by the military and they installed huge 55 feet long (17 m) cannons to defend the coast.
Park visitors can tour the underground shelters and barracks, wander past the large cannon shells and the huge artillery guns. There are also extensive green spaces, including a play area, a picnic area with a barbecue, a maze, gardens, a restaurant, a large dome that covers a water reservoir and spectacular viewpoints everywhere. This former defensive mount has become one of the best viewpoints in A Coruña.
Touted as the longest city promenade in Europe at just over 8 miles (13km) it wraps around the city passing some of the best sites A Coruña has to offer.
Along the pathway, paying homage to the region’s signature dish, the beloved pulpo a la gallega, we found this giant mosaic sculpture of an octopus resting on a fence, with its back to the glorious views of the north atlantic ocean.
This 150 foot (46 m) tall obelisk located along the promenade was erected to mark the beginning of the 21st century. It is made of steel and rock crystals and the images in the crystals depict A Coruña’s historical events. At night it lights up and the effect makes the tower glow.
Zara – The very first Zara store opened in A Coruña in 1975 by Amancio Ortega Gaona and his wife. Today Zara stores are worldwide and this humble Spaniard is now a billionaire. He learned to make clothes at the age of 14 while working in a small local shop.
Pablo Picasso – At the age of 10, Pablo Picasso’s father José Ruiz y Blasco (1838-1913), a Spanish painter and art teacher, moved to A Coruña to become the master of the art school. As a child, Pablo took painting lessons from his artist father.
A Coruña is an intriguing mix of ancient and modern styles. It seemlessly blends pagan carnivals and Christian celebrations. The food is excellent, the atmosphere lively and the people are friendly and outgoing. They really do seem to live their motto that ‘no one is an outsider’ and we felt totally comfortable; it was a wonderful breath of fresh air.
Boa saúde from these Coruñés,
Ted + Julia