Visit: 30th April 2016
Natalie and I arrived from Santiago de Compostela in Lugo by coach, where I was surprised by the size of the hill it was built on. Lugo is a small city of about a hundred thousand people, most of them living outside of its famous walls. It isn’t much to look at in the outskirts, but when we walked out of the bus station we found ourselves right next to one of the main Roman gates.
Lugo was founded by the Romans under Emperor Augustus in the first century AD. The walls stretch 2 km in a circle and are 10 metres high. Originally reinforced with 84 watchtowers, they comprise one of the best-preserved Roman fortifications in existence today. The walls were kept in use by their builders for a century and a half, but following the fall of the Roman Empire they continued to be utilised by successive rulers of the city. These included the Germanic Suebi and Visigoths.
Like the walls of Dubrovnik, the wall at Lugo is still a public space and it is free to walk on them. We walked most of the way round in the early evening sunlight of an uncharacteristically cloudless Galician sky. This contrasted greatly with the dense fog that accompanied our visit to that most famous of Roman fortifications – Hadrian’s Wall – back in October last year. Lugo’s walls are in better shape than Hadrian’s, but that is more than can be said for some of Lugo’s buildings: both within and without there are numerous dilapidated old houses and industrial units covered with graffiti. Rather like Matera in southern Italy, it felt like a place that could do with some government money to give the historic features more dignity.
Inside the walls the most notable building is the grand Gothic (amongst a hodgepodge of other styles) Cathedral of Santa María. Lugo became the seat of a bishopric in the fifth century, and the first church on the site of the present-day cathedral was built in 755. We exited the wall when we got to the cathedral in order to enter the its dimly-lit interior.
I found it rather underwhelming to begin with, but the darkness was soon pierced by the brilliant silver of the altarpiece in the choir. The ceiling paintings above were much to my taste, as I have also found at Würzburg, Florence and Brühl. Although not a World Heritage Site, the cathedral is on Spain’s cultural heritage register.
We spent a night in a hotel just outside the city walls and dined within them at a downmarket bar. The food was fairly disappointing, but we had been unable to find any proper restaurants open at the hour we wanted to eat. The Spanish, of course, like to take their meals far later than we English are used to.
The next morning it was back to the coach station for the final leg of our weekend tour, which was to be another two hour journey. This time we were headed north-west, to the coast, and to the Roman lighthouse at La Coruña known as the Tower of Hercules.