The Roman City of Lugo - Lisa Rose Wright

Lugo is our nearest main city and the capital of the Galician province of the same name. It is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and considered the ‘finest example of late Roman fortification in western Europe’. A compact city (the area outside the walls is of little historical interest and even less architectural interest) the centre of Lugo, encircled by the thirty to fifty feet high stone walls is less than a kilometre across but abounds with tiny alleyways, tapas bars, museums and cobbled streets.

"Lugo was probably originally founded by early Celtic peoples (Lugos is the name of a Celtic god) but, as the Roman Empire swept across Europe, Lugo was conquered by Paulinius Fabius Maximus of the Imperial Roman Army and renamed Lucus Augusti.

Lucus Augusti became an important Roman town, in what was then known as Gallaecia, due to its court of justice or Conventus. Following the Roman conquest of Iberia, life became quieter for a while and Lucus Augusti thrived as both a commercial town and a centre of justice. The town expanded down the hillside. Huts, hovels and even larger manor houses were built higgledy-piggledy all around. But both local and Germanic tribes continued to attack the Roman settlement on occasions until, in the 3rd century AD, the decision was taken to fortify the city. 

Lugo is one of the best examples of a Roman walled city still extant. The walls totally encircle the old town, being some 2.2 kilometres in circumference and the only complete walls in existence of this era. They loom impressively as you head towards the centre of town and the Ronda Muralla, as the ring road around the walls is called.

At their inception, parts of the walls with two-storey towers (of which only one of the original 85, A Mosqueira, remains) would have stood over 15 metres high. The walls are wide enough to allow a Roman Century to march in formation around their tops. There are ten named gateways through which one can enter the city. Of those, five are Roman, the rest created later to improve access through the city. From the top of the walls in a couple of places (where ugly new blocks of flats have not been built, obscuring the view) it is possible to see right down the hillside to the river Miño, demonstrating the defensive position of Lucus Augusti.

It is said that one cannot dig in one’s garden in Lugo without coming across some Roman artefact and each time some building work goes on, another historical find is made. Sadly, some years ago, and before it became a World Heritage Site, these finds were often covered up or destroyed to save hassle and extra work. Nowadays you will see examples of discoveries around almost every corner, often below ground level and covered by a sheet of toughened glass to preserve them. Behind the cathedral (which I actually prefer to the more ornamented Santiago Cathedral) there is a Roman bath which was discovered during repaving works. Around six feet long and still tiled in blue and white, it brings history to life. The Cathedral of Santa Maria itself was built in the 12th century AD though the main façade is much later. Inside it has a quiet elegance and impressive stonework.

In the process of creating a defensible, walled town, many of the homes which had grown up on the edges of the town were destroyed. Traces of these homes can still be found. When a new auditorium was being built for the University of Santiago near to the cathedral entrance, a wonderfully preserved manor house was discovered together with a temple to Mithras, a Roman/Persian deity. Cleverly, the auditorium was built above the archaeological remains, the lower floor being one of my favourite museums, El Domus.

After the Roman Empire crumbled, Lugo was sacked by the Visigoths and eventually left to decline until, by the 8th century AD, it was all but deserted. There were attempts to revive its fortunes but its big break came in the middle ages, when Lugo became a pilgrim town in its own right as well as a way station on the Ruta Primitiva to Santiago. Part of the reason for Lugo becoming a pilgrim town was its special dispensation to allow the consecrated host to be exposed to the public 24 hours a day. An occurrence unusual enough to earn Lugo special attention.

In the 18th century Lugo began to host the fairs of San Froilán, a festival which continues to this day in early October. It became a provincial capital in 1833 and, following its status as a World Heritage Site, twinned with the Great Wall of China in 2007. There’s nothing like thinking big!

Lugo loves to celebrate its Roman heritage and, like most Galician towns, to create an excuse for a party. There is a Roman festival every year in June. Arde Lucus is a riot of colour, sound and re-enactments of battles between barbarians (or Celts) and the Roman legionaries."

The above is an extract from my new travelogue memoir about this most beautiful area of Spain. Plum, Courgette & Green Bean Tart tells the story

If you want to enjoy the area too, read on

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