Galicia refers to both an Autonomous Region of Spain, covered here, and the former region Galicia (Eastern Europe).
|Capital||Santiago de Compostela|
|Official languages||Galician and Castilian|
- % of Spain
29 574 km²
- Total (2003)
- % of Spain
2 737 370
|Statute of Autonomy||April 28, 1981|
|President||Manuel Fraga Iribarne (PPG)|
|Xunta de Galicia|
Historically, Galicia is heir to the Roman Gallaecia which included parts of what is today western Spain and northern Portugal. The official languages of the Autonomous Community are Galician, or galego (in Spanish gallego)and Castillian. Spanish or Castillian is often spoken as a first language by the urban young, while Galego is often the first language among the rural older population. Both languages have official status and are taught in schools. While not all the population speaks Galego (in A Coruña only 72%), most understand it (in Ourense 95%). According to the IGE census of 1991 less than 40% of Galicians could write their language. Portuguese derives from the early Galician-Portuguese idiom. Castillian influence, however, has made Gallego something of an intermediary language between Portuguese and Castillian.
Main cities include Vigo, A Coruña, Pontevedra, Lugo, Ferrol, Ourense, and Santiago de Compostela, the capital and seat of the archbishop, the endpoint of medieval Europe's most famous pilgrimage route. Since 1833, Galicia has been divided in four administrative provinces: A Coruña, Ourense, Pontevedra, and Lugo.
Geographically, the most important feature of Galicia is the presence of many fiordlike indentations on the western and northern coast, estuaries that were drowned with rising sea levels after the Ice Age These are called rias and are divided into the Rias Altas and the Rias Baixas. Most of the population lives near the Rias Baixas, where several large urban centers such as Vigo, Pontevedra, and A Coruña are located. The rias are important for fishing, especially shellfish, and make the coast of Galicia one of the most important fishing areas of the world. The spectacular landscape of the coast and the many beaches also attract great numbers of tourists.
Inland the region is less populated and suffers from migration to the coast and the major cities of Spain. The towns are few and far between (Ourense, Lugo, Verín, Monforte de Lemos, A Rua) and there are many small villages. The terrain is made up of several low mountain ranges crossed by many small rivers that are not navigable but have provided hydroelectric power from the many dams. In fact, Galicia has so many small rivers that it has been called the "land of the thousand rivers." The most important of the rivers are the Miño and the Sil, which has a spectacular canyon. The mountains in Galicia are not high but have served to isolate the rural population and discourage development in the interior. There is a ski resort in Manzaneda in Ourense Province. The highest mountain is Trevinca (2 000 m) near the eastern border with León.
Galicia is a land of economic contrast. While the western coast, with its major population centers, and its fishing and manufacturing industries is prosperous and increasing in population, the rural hinterland— the provinces of Ourense and Lugo— suffer from the defects of an aging, unskilled population, poor soils, and tiny inviable landholdings called minifundios.
Galicia's inhabitants are called galegos (Spanish "gallegos"). Galician immigration was so great to South American, especially Brazil and Argentina, that even today in Brazil anyone who is blond and light-skinned is called a "galego". In the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America, Spaniards are sometimes called gallegos, and jokes are made about them. In 19th century Madrid, the gallegos became a synonym for hardy, honest unskilled laborers; it was also used as a term of abuse, meaning country bumpkin.
The Celtic heritage of Galicia is often celebrated, and it is sometimes claimed that the last Galician Celtic speaker died in the 15th century. In fact, the name Galicia (Galiza) comes from the name of the ancient Celtic tribe that resided there, the Gallaeci.
Like many mountainous regions of Europe that are not easily accessible, Galicia has enjoyed many periods of cultural independence. The region was first entered by the Roman legions under Decius Junius Brutus in 137/136 BCE. (Livy lv., lvi., Epitome); but the province was only superficially Romanized in the time of Augustus. In the 5th century invasions, Galicia fell to the Suevi, in 411 CE, who loosely held it until it was annexed to the Visigothic dominions of Leovigild in 585. Moors very briefly occupied Galicia, until they were driven out in 739 by Alphonso I of Asturias. During the 9th and 10th centuries the counts of Galicia owed fluctuating obedience to their nominal suzerain, and Normans occasionally raided the coasts. 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 from that time Galicia remained an integral part of the kingdom of Castile and Leon.
The honorary title of count of Galicia has frequently been borne by younger sons of the Spanish sovereign.