La Coruña, in Galicia, Spain is a wonderful town to explore, prior to embarking on your Camino de Santiago. The town contains the airport of the region if you are planning to fly from Madrid to do your Camino Inglés. For me, it was an interesting place to nurse my jet lag for a day, prior to taking a bus to Ferrol where I actually started my pilgrimage on the Camino Inglés.
May your days be many and your troubles be few. May all God's blessings descend upon you. May peace be within you, may your heart be strong. May you find what you're seeking wherever you roam. ~ Irish Blessing
My introduction to Galicia, Spain was La Coruña. I had no idea that Galicia was a very Celtic place, and it was at first disorienting to me!
Galicia, is indeed a world apart from the rest of the country. The language, Gallego, a mixture of Spanish and Portuguese was also strange to me! In fact, this town is also called "A Coruña," which is its name in Gallego.
You will find that almost all place names in Galicia have two names- one in Spanish and one in Gallego! Pilgrim, beware!
A Coruña is a northwestern Spanish seaport, along with Ferrol, where the Camino Inglés begins. This is where the medieval pilgrims disembarked from the boats to start their trek to Santiago de Compostela. You have a choice to start either in La Coruña or Ferrol. Ferrol is the route that is sufficiently long to get your Compostela, where the route from La Coruña is not.
On our day of arrival, my Camino partner and I arrived in A Coruña early in the afternoon. We were able to check into our hotel, the Hostal Linar and dump our backpacks. This lovely little family-run hostal was right in the thick of things, which is good or bad, depending on your view point of the Spanish celebration culture!
The good aspect of being in the center of town is that you are close to all the attractions. We took a quick refreshing rest and then off we went to see some of them. Even though my jag lag was slowing me down, I was excited to see as much of the town as we could in the day and a half that we had available.
La Coruña's main downtown is on a lovely little peninsula which in the usual European fashion contains a lot of history. We started our tour by walking from the hostal to the waterfront along the Avenida da Marina.
This avenue is part of a promenade that circles the peninsula. You can walk, drive or take the tram that runs along it. We chose to walk and the distances are a bit substantial! It was a good warm up for the Camino de Santiago!
The first thing that strikes your attention is the glass houses, known as "galerias" in the region. The galerias are actually balconies that are enclosed in glass so they are usable year round. You can see them everywhere in the city and they add an interesting appearance to the buildings. The town of La Coruña is known as the glass city, because of this feature.
As you continue your walk north on the Avenida you come to the headland of the peninsula and on it, guarding the harbor is the 16th century castle, the Castillo de San Anton. This castle served to protect the harbor, especially during the attempted British assault of Francis Drake in 1589.
The Castle itself now harbors an archeological museum with various artifacts from the region. Some of them are interesting, but we didn't spend much time here.
You must purchase a ticket to go beyond the castle gate, that is shown in the photo below. The admission price is worth it, if not for the museum, then for the lovely views of the harbor and town that you can see.
Here is the upper ramparts of the Castillo de San Anton. It is a lovely place for a picnic, or a bottle of wine, if the timing is right.
We headed back toward the medieval part of town to see the sights there. There is an unimpressive section of the city wall, and several old churches that make up the main attractions.
One of the churches, at the start of the Camino Inglés in La Coruña, is the Church of Santiago, or Iglesia de Santiago. Sadly, we never found this church. As it turns out, we were mere steps away, and had I only asked someone! I suppose I didn't think it was imperative to find, since we started our Camino Inglés in Ferrol.
Below is a photo of the Iglesia de Santiago, from Javier Manuel Freire Guirau. The church building was initiated in the 12th century with additions in the 13th and 14th. Apparently the church houses a very famous 13th century statue of St. James.
Very similar in appearance is the Iglesia de Santa Maria del Campo. The photo below is one I took, since we were successful in finding it. The actual church was closed when we visited. This church was built at the same time as the one to Santiago and apparently houses a museum as well. It was closed when we arrived.
Walking down the hill from the churches, the way opens up into the Plaza de Maria Pita. The square is named for Maria Pita, a woman who is given credit for reducing the loses inflicted on A Coruña during the Francis Drake attack.
The city's town hall is the focal point of the square.
The center of the square is dominated by a statue of Maria Pita herself, seen on the left, below. Around the corner from the square, although not in the square itself, you can see the Church of St. George, in the photo to the right.
We walked closer the church, but it too, was closed. What I didn't realize at the time is that our visit to the medieval town was during siesta, from about 2:30-6:00, when absolutely everything in Spain is closed.
By 6:00, when we thought it was dinner time, the square barely came to life, as we sat down in a café in the square to have a beer and a tapa. We were serenaded by the gentlemen below, right photo. The ambience on the square was magical!
We were to learn later that night, that the dinner time is after 8:00 p.m. when the town really came to life! If you want to read more about the differences in Spanish culture, click on my Camino planning tips to get you oriented more quickly than we were!
Exhausted from our flight, after appetizers and beer, we stumbled back to our hotel to call it a day. My Camino partner, younger and full of more energy than I, hung out in the bar at the hotel, using her iPhone translator app, to attempt to commune with the locals. Apparently she did quite well and was full of cheer when she returned to our room later.
The following day, we checked out of our hotel, and with our backpacks on our backs set off to explore more of A Coruña. The lovely promenade that continues around the peninsula, is depicted here, on the more northern and western side. We couldn't have asked for a more wonderful day!
Traveling onwards (we were heading north from the West side) to the Western tip of the peninsula, we soon came upon the Torre de Hércules or Tower of Hercules. There are lots of legends surrounding the story of this tower. It has held a prominent place in the history, commerce and safety of the harbor at La Coruña.
One legend is that Hercules slayed a giant here, after three days and nights of continuous battle. He then buried his head and ordered that a city be built on the site. This is how the coat of arms of the city of La Coruña came to have a skull and crossbones on it, representing the buried head of the enemy, under the city!
The other legend is that a king of Galicia and ancestor to the Gaels by the name of Breogán built a tower so tall that his sons could see a green island from its top. This island turned out to be Ireland, and this is how the migration to there began.
What we do know is that the Tower was originally built by the Romans and has been in existence since the 2nd century. It is the oldest Roman lighthouse still in use! Over the centuries, the original building was rejuvenated and refurbished, most notably in the 17th century.
As we walked towards this historic monument, we passed the most idyllic little beach called the Playa de las Lapas. It was inviting to say the least, but we walked on to visit the Tower.
As one walks toward the Torre de Hércules, one sees an enormous statue of Breogán, see photo, below.
My first clue that the region of Galicia, Spain was very Celtic, was this bagpiper that was playing along the walkway to the tower. It came as quite the surprise! I really had no idea. Little did I know that this influence was to get stronger and stronger the longer I was to do the Camino Inglés and the closer I got to Santiago de Compostela.
Inside the Torre de Hercules there is a nice museum, with excavated areas showing the actual Roman foundations of the tower itself.
But the real treat is the view of the town and harbor of La Coruña. I took a shot, below of the very prominent, eight - pointed compass rose at the base of the tower. It marks the spot, supposedly where the Celts divided themselves to go to eight different regions, Scotland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Wales, Turkey, Spain, Cornwall and Brittany.
The view alone is worth the admission price to the tower!
Continuing eastward on the tip of the peninsula of A Coruña, one comes to the Parque de los Menhires. The Park of the Standing Stones is a rather interesting place, and adds to the Celtic vibe of this town. This group of stones is La Coruña's tribute to their Celtic heritage and was created in 1994 by a Galician artist, Manolo Paz. He calls it the Menhires por la Paz, or The Standing Stones for Peace.
My Camino partner and I, Shelly spent lots of time here, contemplating our upcoming journey through this foreign land, a mixture of the Spanish, Portuguese and Celt. The views were fantastic as we picnicked on meat, cheese, nuts and wine.
Adding to the power and mystery of this land of crossroads, is the Monumento aos Fusilados da Republica, or Monument to the Republic, shown below. This Stonehenge-type monument was built to commemorate the lives lost on this spot in La Coruña in the Civil war of 1936.
And finally, we circled back the way we came to end the afternoon on the long Playa de Orzán. This beach is in the middle of town, on it's western side of the peninsula. Being in La Coruña in September, there were still many sunbathers, and a few daring swimmers that braved the 60-degree water!
I was one of those brave souls, and here I am after my very brief dip, with my t-shirt thrown over my bathing costume (nowhere to change - but there WAS a fresh water shower!), backpack on my back, ready for the bus trip to Ferrol to start the Camino Inglés.
There are many, many more medieval buildings and sites to see that I have not included in this brief article. I recommend the Galicia Guide on La Coruña for further reference for your trip planning to this town.
If you have an extra day, prior to or after your Camino Inglés, I highly recommend you spend it in La Coruña. It has something for everyone! I could have spent another day there, and still not seen all it has to offer. May the Irish blessing be true for you and may you indeed find what you're seeking wherever you roam!
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