Speaking of Galician architecture it is tempting to start right at the beginning, with the mysterious walled stone settlements known as castros that have been found in remote countryside and coastal areas across the region.
They, however, form part of a merger of Iberian and Celtic culture that dates back thousands of years, and while elements of this form of architecture can still be seen in the rural cottages of Galicia, the styles and buildings of cities such as A Coruña are a different thing altogether.
A coastal port straddling deep inlets, A Coruña has always derived much of its wealth from the sea, be it in fishing, trade, as a naval centre or, more recently, through tourism. One of the most enduring and famous products of this is the Galería, a traditional multi-storey Galician building with elegant glass façade that has become a striking and instantly recognisable landmark. As such the Galería is an internationally known icon of A Coruña, exporting its image across the globe.
At first glance you may think that these are merchants’ houses in the trend of those in port cities such as Cádiz, Bruges and Amsterdam, but although many were subsequently built by rich and influential owners, the Galería style has its origin in the naval shipyards of the nearby port of El Ferrol, where it first saw light in the 19th century.
Having begun to create glassed galleries in seagoing ships that improved visibility during bad weather and heavy seas, the design applied to frigates and merchantmen gradually caught on in local architecture too. It must have started with an early experimental glass façade attached to a humble single-storey building, but before long the façades grew increasingly grand and elaborate, and the buildings larger and taller.
A Coruña is a city rich in many architectural styles, from traditional Celtic, Romanesque and Baroque to Neoclassical, contemporary and downright futuristic, yet none are as iconic as the city’s beautiful Galerías. Lining elegant avenues such as the Avenida Marina in the city centre, they consist of enclosed glass and white-painted steel galleries adorned with intricately worked patterns that create a very fresh almost embroidered look.
Today these buildings that together transform the Avenida Marina into a little ‘crystal city’ are listed national treasures and form a proud part of A Coruña’s modernist heritage, allowing those lucky enough to savour the views over the harbour to do so in complete comfort, come rain or shine. Even many of the modern buildings in this area sport contemporary versions of the design, yet the more rustic examples are to be found along the streets of Juana de Vega, Picavia, Feijoo and the Plazas de Lugo and de Pontevedra.
The effect created here is rather more intimate and charmingly medieval compared with the tall, elegant edifices on the marine avenue, but either one represents a unique landmark that is the architectural signature of this seafaring city.